For in that sleep: what depression feels like

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what dreams

 

Sixteen years ago my brother sat in a cozy chair in front of a picture window that allowed him a view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and ended his life.  He used a gun. The bullet tore through his brain and his family’s hearts.  We stopped breathing for years.  We told ourselves that he chose this because he was in constant pain. His spine was beginning to stiffen; he could not raise his head.  He went sock-less, because it was too difficult to pull them on.

It wasn’t just physical pain.  My brother suffered from depression long before the arthritis that immobilized his spine set in.  Like the color of our eyes or the set of our jaws, depression, anxiety, and addiction are characteristics that run in my family on both sides.

And, for the most part, we don’t talk about it.

I was a teenager the first time I thought about dying.  I took a fist full of aspirin, hoping it would — while also hoping it wouldn’t — be enough to send me to sleep for good.  My ears rang for days and my stomach burned.  Sometimes I felt so inexplicably sad and so utterly weary that I would simply start to cry.  If someone asked me why, I couldn’t give them a reason.  I didn’t sleep well.  Especially on nights when my father was particularly restless and drinking a lot.  I knew there were times when he thought of dying as an escape.  In the dark I stayed awake to listen, fearful that if he went, he’d try take the rest of us with him.

After high school I moved half-way across the country.  I made friends.  I drank too much, I still cried, but only when I was alone.  I laughed like hell with my friends; I was charming and fun.  My eyes darted around the room as I wondered whether anyone would guess how miserable I really was.  I felt like my feet were encased in cement — if I fell in a river, I’d drown.

I wanted just to be happy, to be normal.  I wanted to know what was wrong with me.  I kept those wants to myself.  I thought that in thinking about my unhappiness, I was wallowing in self-pity.  People wouldn’t want to be around me, if they knew.

Eventually, stress and the struggle drove me to the third story edge of an open floor on the house my husband and I were building.  I was alone there that afternoon.  I knew that if I let myself go, my family would assume I’d fallen accidentally.  I was afraid of heights.  There would be no shame.

I chose therapy instead.

Today, I am an ongoing work-in-progress.  I don’t know that depression ever completely goes away.  Even after years of therapy, and many more years of taking antidepressants, I sometimes still get blindsided by a cavity of despair so dark and deep, it seems never-ending.  Other times depression hits me with a flip-flop of emotions, wildly fluctuating from bleak despair to . . . Okay, I’m coping . . . wait . . . nope . . . going dark again.  Often, in the space of 30 minutes or so.  I have to talk to myself a lot.

Sometimes, I just want to hide.  I want to go into my room and not answer the phone or answer emails.  Mostly, I don’t want to tell anyone when I’m depressed. Generally, they don’t understand.  People seem to want an explanation as to why.

I’ve learned when I need to ride out the storm.  I know that when I’m tired and overwhelmed by things my husband and others take in stride; when I get so busy I don’t eat well (or enough), or when the damn world is just too much with me, I have to retreat for a bit and simply be quiet.

A great deal of the time I am happy with where I’m at, content with how I got here.  I laugh a lot and mean it now.  Managing depression is work, but so is living, even in the best of times.  We all struggle with something.

Several months after my brother’s suicide, my family got together, still raw and hurting from our loss.  We went to see What Dreams May Come.  I think we must have thought it would be cathartic.  It wasn’t.  The vision of Hell reserved for the woman who took her life horrified me.

Robin Williams’ suicide makes me crushingly sad.  It’s the kind of heavy sorrow that weighs me down.  He was the brother/son/father/friend we all wished we knew.  A rapid-fire wit with a thousand different characters, the genius of which we are unlikely to see again.  We all knew about his problems with alcohol and cocaine.  Addiction is flashy and loud and calls attention to itself.  Depression is a quiet little liar and a sneak.  It whispers in your ear and tells you lies that no one hears but you.  Robin joked openly about his battle with addiction.  He said little publicly about depression.

I hope that we start talking more openly about depression.  About how quiet, but debilitating it can be.  It won’t be easy.  I have a difficult time talking to anyone other than my husband and a few friends about it.  When I do, I feel awkward and whiny and I end up changing the subject.

For my brother, for a sweet prince of laughter, and for all the other voices stilled, please keep talking about depression.  Keep listening.  Listening without judgement, without asking why.  Be kind.  And if you or someone you know feels worthless and depressed, you can find someone to talk to here.

 

 

Top 10 reasons I’m glad I married the man I did

marydpierce:

It’s August 1st again, another year zipped by with way too much ease and speed. This year we have opted to spend the evening with the Boy, followed by a weekend in Boston. We’re finally going to do the Freedom Trail walk. If you see us somewhere along the way, wish us a Happy 27th.

Originally posted on A Wilderness of Words:

The couple who segway together, stay together.

The couple who segway together, stay together.

It’s my anniversary today (26 years), and because I didn’t get him a card (I’ve been sick and/or traveling a lot), I thought I’d take a page out of Letterman’s entertainment book and list the reasons why I am happy with the choice I made.

10. At our wedding I got to hire a string quartet to play for me us.

9. He truly likes to see romantic movies with me.

8. He can fix pretty near anything I break.

7. He rubs my feet when I ask him.

6. When I call the house phone from bed on weekends, he answers with a smile and says, “Room service.” (And yes, I can hear his smile – that’s how well I know him.)

5. He thinks I’m pretty and tells me often.

4. He’s THE best hugger in the universe.

3. He’s the…

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Tap shoes, dreams, and dust

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gathering dust as forgotten things go

My tap shoes gathering dust.  The dark blotch on the top shoe is my fingerprint.

 

I dreamed of dancing, once
of twirling, gliding, flying
slyph-like
across space and polished floors.
My parents couldn’t afford lessons
so I danced with Judy Forkey, instead.
She was Baryshnikov
to my Kirkland
because she was taller
and could catch me

when I lept.

Later the rage was tap.
Girls who took dance
in the next town over
wore their tap shoes to school
on the day of their lesson.
I loved the

click click click

of metal against
the tiled school floors.
I stuck tacks in the bottoms
of my shoes
trying to approximate the sound

click click click

It wasn’t the same.

Years later
I realized that I was grown up
and in charge of my life
so I bought a pair of tap shoes
and stuck them in my closet
sometimes I took them out
to imitate dance moves
on my linoleum floor
just to hear the

click click click

again.

I can afford lessons
now
when I find the time,
but time is harder to find
than the tacks
I had to filch
from my teacher’s desk
for the faux shoes.

Certainly
harder to come by
than dust.


Intrigued by the thought of leftovers.

If Andy Warhol came back as a horse . . .

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Would he look something like this?

Would he look like this?

A friend of mine has a horse she calls Rohan.  She also owns a tiny horse called Hobbit.  (She’s a huge LOTR fan.)  I took this photo of Rohan last month and then played around with it using various photo apps.  The picture makes me think of Andy Warhol.

What does this have to do with anything?  Nothing.  I just liked the photo.  It’s fun.  It’s summer.  And I’m not really here.

If you want to read something, though, here’s a VERY brief encapsulation of my entire life accompanied by 6 meaningful songs (plus a bonus track).  I’m featured with the very cool Hippie Cahier over at Life in 6 Songs. It’s a fun read, plus there’s great music.  What could be better than that on a summer’s day?

See y’all soon.

 

How to be happy

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Sculpture by Anne Mimi Sammis.  Located at Narragansett Beach, RI.

Sculpture by Anne Mimi Sammis. Located at Narragansett Beach, RI.

 

Lately, I’ve been working on HAPPY – that elusive state of being that people are always trying to achieve.  Seems like a good summer project to me.  I’ve been on antidepressants for fifteen years, and I recently decided to wean myself from them.  I want to see what difference fifteen years of living and learning has done for me.  So far, so good.

As an exercise in mindfulness (or as mindful as my over-active brain will allow), I’ve started making a list of the things that bring me joy.  Sometimes, I surprise myself.

(By the way, my list is not numbered. If you want to know why, it’s because I hate numbers. They are so often used to measure worth, as in too old/too young/too fat/too thin/too short/too tall.  They grade and degrade you. Numbers do not make me happy.  Ever.  If I were a mathematician I would probably feel differently.  But, I am not.)


 

MY HAPPY LIST

Always put butter on your bread when making sandwiches.  Because who really wants dry bread?

Stand up straight.  Your spine will thank you.  When I was in my early twenties I took beginning ballet lessons for a couple of months.  It was hard, but exhilarating.  I know what a plié is.  The ballet teacher taught us to picture a puppet string sprouting from the top of our head pulling us upright. I still imagine this.

Swim in creative waters every day.  See a rose in the dandelion; a butterfly in the wasp.  Paint a word picture.  Sing a story.  Make some noise and call it a song.

If you are lucky enough to have stairs in your home, run up them whenever possible.  Taking them two at a time is even better. Move your body.  Shake it, wiggle it.  Dance your feet off.  Promote yourself to the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Take time to daydream.  Revel in it.  If someone says you’re a dreamer, say — Thank you.  If they point out that your head is in the clouds, tell them  — Yes, I know.  (I’ve had this whole daydreaming thing pretty well mastered since about second grade.)

Always taste the ice cream as soon as you get it home.  The amount of pleasure you get is commensurate with the meltiness at the top of the container.

Be satisfied.  If you can’t be that, be patient.  (I’m holding out hope that eventually I will own a car with four doors instead of two.  It doesn’t have to be brand new.)  Stuff has a shelf life.  Memories last a lifetime.

Embrace your fear.  I am afraid of heights.  This does not bother me.  I don’t believe I am missing out by not conquering this fear.  I have no need to climb mountains, parachute from planes, or bungee jump from insanely high bridges. If anything, I’m increasing my chances of avoiding serious injury or premature death.

Laugh.  Because, endorphins or something.  It’s easier on your shins than running, and doesn’t make you sweat.

Be kind.  Because, duh.  Kindness is as simple as smiling at a stranger.  It reverberates through the universe.

Read out loud, even if it’s only to yourself.  If you have them, read aloud to kids.  The happiness quotient raises exponentially with the number of kids.

Also, just read.  Read for the words.  Roll around in them.  They are lovely. Read for the story; the escape; the characters.  Read for the child you used to be who got scolded for reading at inappropriate times.  You are an adult now. You can read any damn time you want.  (Whoa . . . just writing that last sentence released a whole swirling cloud of endorphins.  I can tell.)


There.  Wasn’t that fun?  Now you do it, go out and create your own list. What makes me happy is not a panacea.  Happiness isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.  Keep adding to the list. That’s what I’ll be doing.  And if you’ve a mind to, feel free to share the things that make you happy, too.

We’re all in this together.

Fragile

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one day they will fly

One day soon they will learn to fly.

 

Reflections: 07/08/1990

A night
in the life of us.
Kathy says
she wants credit
for the title.
Okay
I say.
I am easy.
Tommy has always been
easy
or so he thinks.
I think
we are all too
fragile
for real life.


Several days ago my husband discovered a nest containing newly hatched baby robins in our rhododendron bush.  I took a photo with my phone.  I keep looking at the picture, amazed that such tiny creatures are able to survive at all.  How is that even possible?  I mean, look at them.  They have scant feathers and see-through skin.  Their spines are a yellow dotted line down their backs.  They cannot hold their heads upright.

Something in the fragility of these babies made me think of a night long ago. My sister was visiting from Virgina, about to move to California.  My brother was still alive.  I convinced them to go with me to see the movie, Cinema Paradiso — a magical film about childhood and how it shapes who we become. Afterwards, we went to a bar where we drank wine and wrote poetry on paper napkins.  Then we sat in a park, talking into the night until one of us was sober enough to drive home.  I kept all of my napkin poems from that night twenty-four years ago.  Dated and numbered, yellowing and stained; seven of them in all.  I don’t know if my sister still has hers.  I wish I had my brother’s.

I don’t remember what started it, the writing poetry on napkins.  Most likely the wine and the movie, the looking backwards to the past.  Wondering how any of us survive the chaos that comes with growing up?  We were so fragile then, our dreams as transparent as glass.  Our poetry so self-confessional.

But survive, we do, for a time.  Some of us longer than others.

The baby robins are thriving.  Which is a miracle to me.  In five days they have doubled in size.  Their feathers are coming in and there are the shadowy buds of wings that will eventually lift them from their nest.

I hope to bear witness when they do.

Five days old.  A crowded house.

Five days old. A crowded house.

What the Heart Wants

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stone heart 2

“The heart wants what it wants . . . .”

     ~ Emily Dickinson


The heart wants blood & proper plumbing
valves
un-clogged arteries
electricity thrumming
a steady rhythm.

It’s a muscle
after all
little mouse of soft tissue
no bigger than a fist
wanting us to eschew
the fat
to move ourselves
in vigorous exercise
to breath deeply
of clean air.

A heart cannot live
on metaphors
that speak 
of love
and longing
words best left
to poets
& to time.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

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fforde ffiesta 08 TwistA whirl of caracters rising upward:
a girl in a green dress
a Hawaiian-shirted tourist
a minotaur
two cheese smugglars
mustachioed
horned
and adorned
disguised
and prized
Ffiesta tomffoolery
for the ffun
of it.


The photo was taken at the DeVere Hotel in Swindon, UK, May, 2008.  The occassion was the second Fforde Ffiestaa gathering for fans of the author, Jasper Fforde.  (You can find out about Jasper Here and Here.) My husband, our son, and I have been attending these events since 2005, because these people are like family; each event has become a family reunion of sorts.  Those of us who consider ourselves members of this wacky, wonderful family are celebrating the fact that this weekend is EXACTLY 12 months away from the next reunion.  We can barely contain our enthusiasm.

Posted as part of the Weekly Photo Challange.

Until a tiny thing trips you up (Flash Fiction)

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London Eye pm 1

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a mother in possession of a young child must be in want of a crystal ball.

She wasn’t afraid of anything: Smoldering fire; hail storms of passion; blood-sucking leeches, reeking of desire.  Bring it on.  Her hobnailed boots were made for stomping, and she could dance, by god.  She could move.  She could run long and fast and still have breath enough to laugh in the face of all that friction.  Drive a truck with her old life across country toward her future?  Piece of cake.

She, and the man she knew would never try to change her, made a new life in a place where people lived on fried dough and clams.  A baby arrived one winter morning weighing less than the four-layer fudge cake she was planning for her birthday later; a clear-eyed boy careening headlong into the world so furiously that he took her breath away.

But time is a forward moving thing that cares for no one.  It will not pause for one second, no matter how nicely you ask.  She learned this on a ferris wheel as her child laughed between her husband and herself. The wheel lurched forward and backward, filling and emptying, still moving ever upward, and then slowly around and down, where she asked to be let out.  She walked away and watched as the wheel rolled upwards carrying her heart.

She pictured the wheel collapsing, sending the cars flying through the air, saw her husband and her child (who still believed she could make monsters disappear) hurtling downward while she had chosen to save herself.  She could do nothing to stop the inevitable.  Hobnail boots were useless.

She knew that all she had was now.

 


 

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Flash Fiction.  296 painstakingly sculpted words.  The limit was 300.  As is usually the case, I chose the photograph first and let it tell me the story.  Apologies to Jane Austin for the bastardized version of her opening sentence in Pride and Prejudice.

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