Tag Archives: Life

Adrift In The Space of The Hardest Year

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The thought occurs to me I’m broken.

It’s still a little dusky light out, and I’m lying in bed with my daughter, who’s already asleep.  Tears slide down my cheeks as they usually do at this time of day.  It’s become somewhat of a ritual. My crepuscular cry. 

It pisses me the fuck off.

I’ve never cried so much in my life.  It’s dumb.  It feels shitty.  Crying is supposed to make you feel better.  It’s science. It releases good chemicals in your brain. I tell my clients all the time about the beautiful and sacred purpose of tears. All. The. Freaking. Time. But it never fails to make me feel like a failure and a fraud and just so fatigued.

It’s been a hard year.  Probably the hardest.

I feel I have some sort of obligation to buy space in a newspaper and print a public apology to anyone who has known me over the past year.  I’ve been a horrible train wreck of a human.  I’ve been messy and loud and weird.

If you all could have known me a couple years ago, I want to say.  If you had known me then.  Those were the good days.  Those were the times I bore some semblance to normal, when I could contain my Self better.

That was when I was at my old job.  With E. just two doors down from me every day for years and years.

Those were the days when E. would leave me random clippings from the New York Times Sunday paper on my desk at work.  She’d cut out stuff she thought I’d find interesting.  I remember one about the healing power of fairy tales.  

The memory of these flimsy papers brings a fresh wave of grief crashing down over my head.  I’d read them and think of something pithy to say in return, then travel the five paces to her door to chat with her.

Those were the days when I was witty and reformed.  If you had only known me then. Sure, I had my rough times, plenty of them.  But I wasn’t broken.  Not like I am now.

Changing jobs was really difficult in ways I never could have predicted, but I think I could have adapted a hell of a lot better if I hadn’t had the sudden trauma of E. up and dying on me last October.

It’s not just work and death. It’s motherhood and marriage and financial instability. It’s never having enough time or energy to brush my children’s hair and feed them breakfast. It’s all the piles of things that make me want to curl up in bed and daydream for three hours. 

All the things. They have broken me. 

The thought occurs to me that I might not ever get fixed again.

I blame a lot on E. and maybe that’s not fair. But seriously…  

E.’s death changed me.  I kept thinking I would trudge through the grief and get to the other side and things would “get back to normal” and I would “feel like myself again.”  That doesn’t seem to be the case.  I think E.’s death altered me at a molecular level, shifted my DNA in ways I won’t be able to figure out how to switch back.

The light is fading and I’m so tired.  I consider falling asleep next to my daughter, but there is still a lot of laundry to do, coffee to set up for the morning, and messages to return to friends.  

I think about going to work this week and my heart starts to race.  I think about the stack of bills lying in wait on my desk and my stomach lurches. I’m no longer sleepy.

I try to think about how my five year old daughter rode her bike with no training wheels for the first time this weekend, and how my nine year old has his first band concert this week in which he will play the trumpet.  What brilliant triumphs!  

You see, I’m not a total Debbie Downer.  I still get blissed out by these every day miracles.  Life still has color and flavor and lots of sound.  I take every opportunity I can to indulge in rampant laughter.

But mostly I’m adrift inside myself, lost in the space within me.  I’m like an astronaut, untethered from her rocket and running low on oxygen, uncertain what will happen next. 

It’s a scary image.  I think of calling someone up and telling someone about it, but I can’t reach out because that is even scarier.

I’d like to go and sit in the grass with E. and talk to her. It is one of the only places where I feel at peace these days, and sometimes I feel frustrated when I can’t get there, but the thought occurs to me that you can’t live your life in a cemetery.

I roll onto my back and look up into the darkness of my daughter’s room.

I’ve stopped crying.

I know I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and panic at the brackish taste in my mouth. My mind will race back over all the things I said throughout the previous day and will try to remember if I said anything gravely wrong or damning to anyone. 

I’ll get up and brush my teeth. I’ll look at my reflection and think it’s so weird to be up brushing my teeth at three in the morning, but it’ll ground me enough to go back to bed for a couple more hours. 

I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I’m sorry I’m so much. I’m sorry I’m so disorganized and self absorbed. I’m sorry. 

I think that’s why I tend to drift away. I get big and crazy and too intense and then feel the need to take myself somewhere else. 

It’s been a hard year and I’m broken and I might not be fixable as I drift farther and farther away from things I thought I knew. 

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https://dailypost.wordpress.com/2017/05/22/adrift/

Mother’s Day, Depression, and Chosing Your Own Adventure 

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Mother’s Day.

What a fucking crock of shit.  

Do you remember those “Chose Your Own Adventure” books from when we were in fourth or fifth grade?

They were these young reader books where you’d get to the end of a chapter and if you wanted to take the character to a cave to fight a dragon it would tell you to flip to a certain page, and if you wanted the character to get in a boat and sail off someplace, you’d be instructed to go to a different page.

As I got in the shower, and reflected on Mother’s Day, I  thought how motherhood is sort of like a Chose Your Own Adventure book.

I thought this because I thought “Mother’s Day; what a fucking crock of shit.”

And then the guilty little people pleaser in me poked me in the ribs and said meekly, “But you should be so grateful!  It really wasn’t all bad!  Why don’t you just chose to think it was nice?”

It’s true.  Overall it was a nice day.  I felt loved and cared for, managed to please my own mother and my mother in law (nailed it!), and had good laughs among family.  My children made me gifts and delighted me by creating beautiful cards for their grandmothers.

I got sweet, supportive texts from dear friends.  I felt recognized by my husband who pulled out all the stops with four bottles of incredible wine, flowers, and a balloon.  A balloon you guys!  I got a freaking balloon!!  I mean, how does life get any better than that?

If you want your character to chose gratitude and happiness, and to enjoy and be thankful for what she has, please turn to page 42 where she lives happily after.  

Learning to chose the way you think about things is an important step in recovery from anxiety and depression.  I know this as both a mental health professional, and as someone who has experienced anxiety and depression.  When we are able to recognize our negative thoughts and rework them into something more positive and helpful, it often creates a more positive and helpful feeling space in us.

And when we feel better, we behave better.  We get along better with our spouses and friends.  We have more energy for negotiating with the little people in our lives.

So, as I lathered my hair with amazing-smelling coconut shampoo, I tried out some different thoughts about Mother’s Day and I wondered why my initial impulse was to be so negative about it.

Why am I always so negative anyway?  I must really suck at life.  I’m probably going to be rejected by all my friends and family because I’m such a Debbie Downer.  Why can’t I ever just be joyful and super positive about stuff?  What the hell is wrong with me?  Oh.  My.  Gee.

It’s cuz I’m depressed you guys.  That’s why.

I have been for a while.  I’ve been ignoring it and working around the super high anxiety that makes me feel like I’m crawling out of my skin one moment and paralyzed with fear the next.  I’ve been isolating and only talking to a few people in my life.  I’ve had minimal energy to be with friends and family.  

I’ve written almost nothing in the past few months because I’ve had so little energy and almost no joy.

Some of it, I suppose, is chemical- my genetic lot in life.  

A lot of it is situational.

Work has been super stressful for me.  I’m burnt out and experiencing a fairly intense compassion fatigue which doesn’t leave me with much of an empathy cushion for family or social life.

My son’s behavioral issues have been amped up lately and this creates exhaustion and a keen sense of failure as a parent which plays into my depression like a lyrical melody.

I’m also preparing for my daughter to graduate from preschool.  While this is a joyful and exciting time and we are so proud, it also brings into focus a new era for which I am simply not feeling prepared.

Then there is preparing for the summer.  As a working mom, arranging all the moving parts of summer camps, transportation, child care, etc. is hugely nerve wracking for me.  Not to mention a drain on our finances.

Oh, also my mentally ill brother has gone missing again which never fails to throw my family into emotional upheaval.

I’m not sleeping well, so I’m perpetually tired.  My body hurts.  About 67% of the time I’m too stressed to eat so my blood sugar is wonky and I’m grouchy.

And because I’m already feeling emotionally fragile, every other little thing that goes wrong sets me off like a firecracker.

It’s hard for me to admit this.  I actually hate the sound of my own voice in my head as I peck it all out into this post.

It’s hard for me to admit my negative thoughts about Mother’s Day when I should just be fucking grateful.

But you guys, it’s all so hard.  It’s all just so fucking hard.

No one ever told me it would be this hard.  Or maybe they did. . .  maybe somewhere in my memory there is a shadowy recollection of my own mother’s bedraggled face dragging herself in at the end of a working day and trying to get dinner on the table.  Maybe she did try and tell me.  But let’s be honest, even if someone had told me, I would not have believed them, because if any of us believed such a thing we would never procreate.  Our species depends on the very suspension of that disbelief.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it is all well and good to chose your thoughts and mood and destiny.  It’s great.  I respect it.

But sometimes the adventures of motherhood chose us and flip us into a cave where it is dark and dank and unpleasant.  When you’re sitting there face to face with the dragon of your depression and your heart is thumping away at a resting rate of 150 beats per minute, it is really hard to have a cohesive thought, let alone a positive one of your own choosing. 

If your character looks up at the dragon and says, “Hey there, guy.  What’s up?” go to page 74 where you will work on acknowledging the shit out of your self worth even on your shittiest day and then eat a taco.  

Yeah.  This isn’t my character’s first trip to the cave.  So I know the least helpful (albeit most tempting) thing to do is to put myself down for being depressed.

I also know that probably the first thing I need to do is look up at that dopey dragon and acknowledge he’s there, lurking and looming like he wants to devour me.  He’s scared of eye contact and he gets a little smaller every time I call him by his name.

It’s all hard, guys, and sometimes holidays can highlight what feels like flaws and make things seem really raw and painful. Part of healing starts with choosing to make room for all those feelings rather than shaming myself for feeling them. 

Breath By Breath

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I’ve put my daughter Emily to bed.  I’ve laid in bed with her until she’s drifted off and her breath is slow and steady and almost hypnotic.

All of a sudden I’m bawling my eyes out, shuddering silently next to her.  I don’t want to wake her, but it feels like I will never stop as my body shakes and tears gush down my cheeks.  I feel like someone is punching me in my face, in my gut.  I feel like someone is wrapping their hand around my throat.

My five year old purrs in her dreams, and the noise tethers me to this reality.

I take out my phone and text my best friend.  I beg her to never die.  She says something warm and then tells me a joke and next thing I know I’m shaking again, but this time in laughter.

That’s how life is these days.

My mood shifts as though I’m dancing on the edge of a blade.  One moment, I’ve got my shit together and the next I’m dissolving.

It’s been four months since E. died.  Almost five.  It seems an eternity and it seems no time at all.  I still just want to talk about her all the time.  Her voice is still right beneath the follicles of my hair.  And yet, despite the immediacy of her presence, she is farther away than ever.

Death is a fucking fucker and that is about as eloquent as I can get about it at the moment. Grief is an even fucking-er fucker.

Someone said to me last week that grief is love that has nowhere to go.  That’s a more graceful way of putting what I feel I guess.  This pent up surge of love and emotion that has no channel.

I go to E.’s grave every week and I talk to her.  I catch my voice rise and fall in the same cadence it would when she was alive with me.  We had this silly, journalistic way of talking to one another, reporting all of the mundane.

She remembered everything I told her, even the dumbest, most minor details like it was something super important.  She relished stories about my husband and kids.  You know, as a working mom, it does not take much to make me happy.  I’d tell her stuff like how touched I was that my husband stayed home with a sick kiddo or remembered to buy toilet paper on his way home from work, and she’d bring it up months later.  Like if I was annoyed with my husband, she would say something like, “But he’s really a thoughtful guy.  Remember the time he brought home the toilet paper and took Jack to the doctor?”

She made me feel so important.  So special.  So loved.  Who on earth is every going to give a tiny rat’s ass about my membership to the big box store and the lifetime supply of granola I acquired?

So I go to her grave and I talk to her.  I tell her everything.  I tell her what I’m wearing.  I tell her what I had for lunch.  I tell her about the unicorn Emily drew, and I tell her that Jack learned how to play the Star Wars theme on his trumpet.  I read her poems.  I play songs for her.

There’s a part of me that knows I’m just talking to myself, and it breaks my heart.

It makes me cry from so deep within myself, from a place that is still little and frightened, from a place that wants to stamp my foot and pound my fist against my thighs and demand that she come back her right this instant or else!

I keep thinking that any day now I’m going to feel better.

Sometimes I do feel better.  I’m not miserable.  I still find pleasure in life.

But lately everything feels so hard.  Work.  Motherhood.  Grief.  Marriage.

You may have noticed I haven’t written much lately, and when I have, it has been these morose little poems.  Ugh.  Yeah.  I’m sorry about that.

It’s like I just don’t have anything else in me.  I feel terrible for not writing more about my kids or all of the other random myriad of great stuff that goes on, but I sort of feel so drained that to sit down and write anything cohesive and thought out like I wrote two or three years ago would just be impossible.

It seems like all around me people are doing amazing stuff.  Friends are going to political events and getting involved in volunteer work.  Colleagues are reading up on the latest in clinical research and going to conferences to stay current.  People on Facebook are exercising and drinking protein shakes and hanging out in clubs.

I’m just over here like, “How the fuck do you all feel like it?”

I just want to go climb into my bed.

I want to lie still and daydream about being  a mermaid, about swimming far far away under the water and not hearing anything but the swishy splash of my own tail.

I’m so freaking tired.  It feels a monumental effort to breathe.  Everyone else is engaging in their cool hobbies and I can basically say, “Well, I managed to keep breathing all week.  It was hard and kind of painful, but I did it.  So, I’ve got that going for me.”

It’s sort of ironic that I want to duck under the water and swim away when I spend so much of my energy just trying to keep my head above water, but then I’ve always been a portrait in contradictions.

That right there would have given E. a good chuckle.

I miss E. so much, and I wish I could talk to her about this.  I wish I could tell her how tired I am and how sad, how desperately sad, every single breath feels.

But then there is the squishy pillow of my daughter’s cheek under my lips as I get up from her bed to leave her room.  I draw breath enough to whisper that I love her into her sleeping ear.  I draw another breath.  Then another.  And I know I’ll keep breathing, breath by breath, until maybe it doesn’t hurt quite as much.

Climbing Mt. Motherhood– My Hillary Step

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A view of Mt. Everest, taken without permission from the inter webs…  didn’t look copywriten and there was no artist name…  so if this is your photo, please don’t sue.  xo!

The Hillary Step is a 40-foot wall of rock and ice at the top of Mt. Everest.  It lies in the “death zone,” the altitude above which there is not enough oxygen to sustain human life for more than a day or two.  By the time most climbers get to this point on Earth’s tallest mountain, their brains and bodies are starved for oxygen, making every step a burden.  Hypoxia can cause climbers to hallucinate, opening the door to danger, disaster, and death.

Or so I have read.

For the record, I have never been to Everest.  Nor do I climb mountains.  Ice, snow, and heights are so not my thing.  But over the past decade, I have become obsessed with stories of mountaineering, and read a dozen books on Himalayan expeditions.

What strength and hubris do climbers possess to scale a 29,000 foot mountain?  How do men and women leave their cozy homes and beloved families to put their lives into risk of dismemberment and death?  The tales of survival and rescue are grizzly, but also spellbinding and suspenseful.

I am also fascinated by the Sherpa.  This Buddhist folk has a rich and mystical culture. Without their hearty endurance for high altitude while carrying huge loads of gear and supplies, ascent of Everest would be impossible.

These stories take me out of my element to an exotic locale where I will most likely never travel.

At least not physically.

Mentally and emotionally, I think of Thursdays as my Hillary Step- my last big push before the summit of Friday, and the descent into the base camp of the weekend, where I can breathe a little easier.

Thursdays are my long day.  I kiss the kids good bye and do not see them for 11 hours.  By the time I get home, around 7:30 pm, the children are exhausted.  Both they and my husband are grumpy.  I am hungry and tired myself, but set that aside to help finish homework, nurse, read stories, and kiss good night.

I wonder what David Breashears, acclaimed mountaineer, film maker, and author of some my favorite Everest books, would say about me comparing my life as a working mom to scaling an 8,000 meter mountain?  No doubt, he would call me an “Armchair Alpinist,” or something of the like, with a haughty snort.  (Mr. Breashears, by the way, if you have googled yourself and hit on my blog, I think you are sexy as all hell and would love to shake your hand, even if you are snorting haughtily at me!)

This much I understand:  There is monumental mindfulness in mountaineering.

Climbers are totally in the present moment.  A climber puts his or her life, and the lives of anyone else on the mountain, at risk if they are not completely aware of their breath, body, and surrounding at every moment.  A misstep could trigger an avalanche or send them plummeting thousands of feet to their death.

My office is plastered with calendar pictures of Hawaii.  I have trained my brain to respond to a quick glance of these pictures of surf and palm trees with a little endorphin boost, to help me through stressful times.  Hawaii is my “happy place,” without a doubt.

But sometimes, I close my eyes and imagine myself clinging to a blue wall of ice and snow.  There is peace, silence but for the sound of my breath, raspy in my oxygen mask.  I hold on and calculate where next to plunge my axe, place my crampon.  I do so, with great deliberation, and then slide my carabiner up the fixed-rope, open my eyes, and move on to my next task.  (Yes, Mr. Breashears, in my imagination, I do climb with bottled oxygen and fixed-ropes. Mock away.)

So, no, people do not die if I happen to screw up at my job or in my home.  The only avalanche in social work is of paperwork, and at home the only thing I have resembling a crevasse is my never-ending pile of laundry.  But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t equally important for me to be mindful of each and every step.

From what I understand, there is euphoria at the top of the mountain, and joy in the art of climbing.  But this is not to say that every moment on the mountain is a joy. I’ve never read any climber write that they relished a bivouac at 27,000 feet with 100 mile per hour winds whipping around their tent, sleepless in minus 30 degree temps.

If that isn’t analogous to my journey as a parent, then I don’t know what is.

Originally posted on Momaste 1/21/13.  Sharing again at this time as a Throwback Thursday post because it just seems particularly applicable.  Thanks for reading, and I always love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!  xoxo.

Grief and Motherhood– Lessons Learned While Grieving as a Mom

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If you’ve been following along over the past months, you may have noticed my once plucky mommy blog has been devoted almost entirely to the death of one of my best friends.

E. died in October.  She died suddenly, or at least it seemed sudden to me.  Had my eyes been open, I might have seen it really was not so sudden.  She’d been ill.  I’d been in denial.  Part of my grief’s rawness these past months is in acknowledging that, had I not been in denial about her age and health, I might have had prioritized more opportunities to see her, to love her, to speak and share with her.

Sometimes I don’t make the time I should.  While juggling the responsibilities of my life as a working mom and wife, I forget to make the call or send the card.  I’m not assertive enough about making plans with people.  It’s a crappy excuse, and an even crappier feeling to realize you missed a chance because you were stupidly blinded by the day to day.

I take comfort in knowing my last interaction with her was loving, sweet, and happy.  And about a week before she died, I left a voice mail for her which ended, as it always ended, in “I love you.”

I’ve also taken comfort in writing about her.

E. was my first major loss.  It doesn’t matter that I’m a therapist with training in grief and trauma.  When you experience this stuff for the first time, it’s like any other new, uncomfortable experience.  I’m bumbling  through the dark tunnel, and channeling my frustration, and sorrow into posts and poems.

Grieving as a mom has also been challenging.

When E. first died, a friend said she hoped I could find space to grieve because it’s hard to do when you are a working mom, already stretched translucently thin.  I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple months- how as moms it is so hard to find the space we need to integrate all of our parts into one cohesive package.  We can’t sit around and cry in bed when kids need to be brought to school, karate, and dance; need to be fed, washed, and snuggled.  We still have to rise and go to work to keep heat on and food stocked.

In some ways, I wonder if my grief is taking me twice as long to “go through” because I pigeon hole it into these tiny chunks.  As moms, we keep bits of ourselves in little boxes, high up on shelves.  It seems we rarely have time to take them down, open them up and spread the contents all over, let alone pack it all back up in the proper compartments.  I tell myself things like, “If I just hold it together for the next seven hours, I can cry in the car on my commute home.”

It’s exhausting, but it is what it is.

Despite the lack of time and energy, I’ve tried staying emotionally open to lessons this time has to teach me.  I’ll share what I came up with so far:

1. It sounds like a cliche, but if I learned one thing about bereavement, it is that talking and sharing about the lost loved one helps.  A selection of special people have been ready, willing, and able to bear witness to my memories and stories about E., and this blessing has not escaped me as it heals the heart.

2. Part of me knows I will look back on this time and see it as something precious, painful though it has been.  E.’s final gift to me was the realization, that in leaving of this earthly plane, love remains stronger and truer than ever.  There are ways we still connect and touch one another.  It is a time rich in wonder and affection.

The intensity of the emotion paints layers of it’s own complex beauty onto my existence.

I haven’t written much about my kids, family, or life as a working mom.  I’m still doing and feeling all the stuff that goes along with being a mother, but in my writing all of that has taken a back seat to my need to process my friend’s death.  Anyway, there isn’t really anything new or different I can say about all of that right now.  I’ve had mixed feelings about this shift in content, but it has needed to be, so I let it.  Which leads me to my next lesson of sorts. . .

3. It is more helpful to hold our pain, sit with it, cradle it and explore its bizarre face than it would be to cover it up and hide it away.  In my professional training, I learned, years ago, that trying to suppress trauma is like trying to hold a beach ball under water.  It is slippery, unwieldy, and untenable.  When I sit with client’s in the crisis of grief, I often share this analogy with them.  I’ve been granted an opportunity to practice what I preach.

These lessons seem to be gifts from beyond.

Even as I embrace these things, I feel uncertain.  Someone remarked that dealing with grief is almost like having another child to care for.  It’s an apt analogy.  And as though I am holding a newborn child, I am wondering if I am doing it right, if it will like and respond to my touch, if I will be able to handle it.

My uncertainty lies in the fear people won’t like or understand my current poems; that people will get bored with me and stop reading; that people won’t appreciate how fully my blog has shifted from life of a working mother to dealing with death.  I worry people won’t see the connection.

But there’s always a connection, tenuous though it may be.

Being a mom is my most important role in life.  I mean, two living and breathing organisms kind of count on me to keep them alive.  But other parts of me sometimes do not get the time and attention they truly need.  My blog gives me space to process and complete my emotional self so I can tackle the other stuff I need to do.  It helps me integrate and  consolidate the contents of all the little boxes into the whole me.

I have faith in myself and in the process.  Being a mom may have prepared me to patiently nurture and understand grief, even as it has complicated my grieving process.  We are always stronger and more flexible than we think or dream.  Sooner or later, I’ll get back to writing about all of the other stuff.  In the mean time, thank you for bearing with me and for bearing witness.  Every like, comment, and share has meant more to me than I can properly explain.