The monsters of the deep are made;

Dead Sea

A decade ago I voluntarily sought out counseling for emotional and mental difficulties, after an upheaval unlike any other I’d experienced; an upheaval seemingly impossible to overcome. I remember my counselor, a very gentle woman with grey, careworn curls and a soft voice, giving me a questionnaire on my life experiences. I answered as honestly as I could. She reviewed my answers on paper and informed me I qualified for “mild to moderate depression”, before lightly setting the paper aside to interview me further.

Upon her pronouncement – well, honestly, I felt as if I’d passed a test. On one hand I was mildly discouraged to discover something unwholesome had taken me over despite my best efforts. On the other, it felt a bit validating to know I had a reason to seek out this kind of help. I wasn’t just making it up, for fun. (for fun!)

This latest episode of depression has differed quite a bit from my experiences in the past. Unlike ten years ago, I am more consciously aware of my innermost difficulties. Perhaps a good analogy is that of receiving dental work with, or without, anesthesia. The same procedure, the same pain, the same violation of the body occurs in both cases. But with an analgesic the mind is in a sense less aware of what it is going through. Many consider painkillers to be a mercy – even a necessity for all of life’s discomforts. There is some doubt about the wisdom of such an approach, as medical and spiritual traditions continue to inform us.

As I cope with this latest bout of depression – without the use of intoxicants or medications, or my previous habits of smoking, over-spending, over-activity, and over-eating – I am acutely aware of my discomfort. Without the anesthesizing effects of Valium or alcohol, without looking to my partner to “make me feel better”, I confess I go through some very scary spells indeed. Today I felt a paralyzing coldness creeping over me, dragging me to the depths, a more powerful experience than I’d ever had. It felt like drowning, but in a muffled darkness, not a liquid element. My husband, asking after my pneumonia, says, “Does your chest hurt? Is it your head?” Depression like this is a bodily experience, a bloom like influenza, down to my bones.

I am sad my partner and children do not live with a woman who is entirely well. I think I could somewhat cheerfully step through my own pain, but my sense of responsibility to them is a tripping-stone on the path, an obstacle I struggle with. A hangnail I worry at, not allowing patience, and healing. I know I am not seeing clearly, because to require I do not suffer illness for their sake is to spit their unconditional love back in their faces.

I know I owe them not perfection or Wellness precisely – but honesty, gratitude, self-love and self-care, humor, gentleness, and my presence. And for me – because I practice while things are good – I know it is entirely possible to be present while in so much pain. It really is one breath at a time, an exercise in mindfulness, breathing, awareness, lovingkindness, and acceptance. It is no different than when things are easier, and perhaps that is the biggest mystery of all, one I find a great deal of joy in discovering, over and over again.

Tonight while my children attend a community hockey practice I wash my son’s coverlet; I light candles, file papers, and dress for yoga. A headstand will help! Time with friends, sweating on a mat, enjoying my body – will help. My gratitude practice – through wellness and illness – will help.

I am glad for you who read here, and who can accompany me in some way on my path. The rocks are sharp underfoot; a foreboding stoniness of the cliffs loom around me, and a bitter wind slaps through my jacket. But the thought of you keeps me alight, the little flame in my chest, that shan’t be extinguished as long as I draw breath. I make my way to your campfire with a gladness in my heart that may not be happiness, but it is joy.

BALLS, yet again

About an hour ago as Ralph and I were out doing late-night errands (Home Depot, Safeway), I got some yucky news. Most smarties who rent their homes (like we do) benefit by saying adios to the paid deposit – right off the bat. And I knew this. But I am discouraged as after meeting the ex-landlord two weeks ago, he told us that if we fixed X and Y he’d refund us the entirety of the deposit. And, I believed him. And, he was lying.

I am not surprised given the man’s past behaviors, but I am depressed. I don’t know what our hundreds of dollars mean to this ex-landlord, but to me I’d hoped for groceries. A few days ago Ralph gave me a certain sum of cash for me to secure so I could buy provisions for our son’s birthday party. I’m glad I at least was able to buy a few party things so that is going to happen, no matter what.

I don’t want to hold anger in my heart. I know that the misbehaviors and the perpetrations of others are not things I have any control over. It’s telling I have to keep reminding myself of this. I do not want to fight with anyone, nor hold any resentments. They are anathema to the gratitude I want to experience, and in turn practice. I feel sad to think of how hard my husband worked cleaning the house and repairing it and setting it to rights. I feel foolish I believed this landlord at his word, since I’d had previous experience with him. But then, I reconsider. I know Ralph and I know he did the work because it was the right thing to do. I know that doing the right thing benefits the one who does it. I know that I have no control over who wants to mislead or betray me, however symptomatic these slights are of his character or behaviors.

This financial setback came at a time of stress and sadness, all around me. I have family sick and struggling with illness, a friend’s daughter just lost a baby, another friend’s husband’s hand was crushed in a horrible work accident, a friend’s father-in-law recently died, and I’ve run across two friends in Recovery, in active relapse.

But, this is life. As for us, I know we will figure out how to buy food and presents and pay our bills, as we’ve done for the past ten plus years as a family. What I’d like is peace of mind. It will come, with time.

a setting on the dryer

I’m not sure at what point my day, and my mind, asploded. I worked hard in the home and on an art project, much to my satisfaction. I had a tense discussion this morning with my husband, but that seemed to resolve okay. (Other peoples’) kids came and went through my house and we fed one or two and kicked another one out to have a meal, just the four of us. Friends were over, another friend canceled a dinner date with us. I helped at a Recovery function and paid for a couple plates of spaghetti and salad for those who might not have the suggested donation.

I met a few new people today too, including a man who reminded me of my father so much it hit me like a physical blow, he had the same earring and trained into electronics in the military, in Vietnam, and I listened to him talk and stared and thought of my father, too tired to even feel the sting of missing him. I met a few new people today, including a man who cried talking about the people who surrounded and loved him and got him help when he needed it most, this was over ten years ago and he still had tears in evidence. I met a few new people today, including a nice young man recently released from incarceration and (more shockingly to my provincial mind) who related his experiences divorcing from in-house White Power groups (I talked to him a bit later, as he’s newly a mechanic of a type I could use).

At some point I guess I started to feel some kind of intense spiritual or emotional or mental fatigue, although I didn’t recognize it until later during volunteer work. Maybe my brain went *click* into exhaustion hearing the fourth young person say, “I’m _________, heroin addict,” and so on. Or maybe it was investing myself in yet another story filled with more hate and sorrow and abuse and neglect, stories so incredibly personal yet now stunningly familiar, and yes there’s triumph and courage and tremendous love and affection and salvation and gratitude, but still I have the visceral image of a young man left to cry himself to sleep night after night in the back of a car while his parents went into the bar to drink, a boy then a teen then a man who learned to never let those feelings show for many many years but now they’re coming up. More tears.

Even surrounded by all sorts of this kind of stuff I can’t entirely say I’m depressed or brought down. Humbled is a better word. I used to feel separate from these concerns or maybe I had no idea how much suffering there was, right where I could reach out and touch it, or maybe I would have considered some people “really sick” or thinking I was, essentially, better, or better off at least, than they. But today there is nothing that separates me at all from all of this, and I feel floored as if an ant with a large boot to crush me to Nothing, because in fact we have all the same affliction, and at the risk of starting controversy it doesn’t have much to do with the use or non-use of chemicals and if you can’t see it you’re just not seeing what I’m seeing.

Tangentially I have also discovered all the aspects of my best alcoholic behaviors, well I have them today in sobriety and they are some of the qualities that make me a rather terrific parent. Example: we have $11 in the bank and out of nowhere this afternoon I tell the kids, “Let’s get a tree!” and of course I mean one supporting our locals at the Market, not the cheapest tree at all. And when we get there they are just closing up but a nice older man lets us tree-shop and we find a brilliant noble fir, I’d never noticed how pretty they are. And the nice fellow helping us out, I see he’s also a Santa-for-hire (there’s a flyer) and I say, “Oh you’re Santa,” then after he tells me a bit I laugh, “We’re a no Santa household,” and he says, “Well okay!” Ralph “ropes” the tree to the top of my car and in the parking lot we see a lone purple ornament rolling around and we pick it up to hang on our tree.

And the kids are One Hundred Thousand Percent so happy to see Ralph bring in the fragrant greenery. “That is a beautiful tree, mom. Good job!” my oldest tells me. The kids get to decorating it and I’m happy to see the tree develop in the way it was in my family of origin, not an Avon-perfect or shopping mall tree but the ornaments handmade, many of them gifts from others, handstitched and glued and pasted and lovely, and the kids and the cats are simply delighted. The children go about their painting and drawing and reading and when they ask for my attention I turn and give it to them as best I can,

as fierce I can.

I come home and bathe and wrap myself in a blanket and sit quietly by the family, who likely have no idea how much it hurts sometimes. My daughter told me she stared at me today, and she says “because you’re so beautiful”. And I think I know what she means and today, that’s pretty good.

eh, i think i want a do-over. but i don’t get one.

I got to follow a three year old around today while his mama was occupied at a child-unfriendly event.* It was a wonderful and terrible thing. Wonderful because I had my head straight as to what a three year old needs (to run around and be followed, to have questions answered and to have my calm attention. To be taken to a nearby pet store. Quite simple, really!) and it was a joy to enjoy this little one and to help his mother who has no family and rarely gets help at these events that I’ve seen.

Terrible? Why so? Well, I gritted my teeth thinking of how poorly I’d done for my own kids when they were little, and how poorly I’ve done since, I still do, because I can’t shake my residual training and my bad habits. But back then, yeah, I just couldn’t figure out, back when I had babies, that it was my environs that were so often fucked up, making little practical room for what children need and extending very little assistance to carers, usually mothers, who were responsible for all this (Arwyn’s written about this a lot better than I can). I just ate myself up trying to make myself and my kids not inconvenient, I gulped conversation with other moms at the park when the kids would play, I was dying for time out of pressure, which is why I lose the compassion and love people often tell me I have when I hear some weekend dad or non-carer or non-parent complain about moms who take kids to the park and don’t play with them or text or whatever. Like, seriously, playing with kids is awesome, but prescribing it when seeing a beleaguered mama population at one of the few places kids are allowed to run around and make noise? Please directly Go Fuck Yourself, and I mean it in the kindest of ways, I’ll wait for you to get back.

Yeah, my husband used to get pissed we’d go to a film with the young kids and he’d end up taking the squirrelly one out to the lobby and miss some of the movie. He still gets this way sometimes. I understand he’s pissed but I mean, shit that’s what I had to deal with my nine-hour shift out in public day after day after day after day (go into the coffee shop and a person with a laptop sitting at a fourtop who gives us an icy glare and others ignore us, outside at a picnic table and a kiddo runs across the grass and not one person laughs and gently herds young child to safety, but people look up angrily for – ME), and that’s been so much, so many years of my life, my child(ren) unwelcome unless he/she/they were silent and near immobile (I hear it’s not like that everywhere) when he/she/they wanted to ask questions, to talk, to run, to climb, the very things they really should be doing and not just when they’re tiny but I think for many many early years.

And yeah there are situations and people and oases that get that kids are part of the population, and those are lovely. But seriously I mean this event today, apparently people expected a three year old to sit quietly, and no there was nothing at all for the kid to do, no room to play in, nothing (a seven hour event). I am not upset about the event or even thinking about it much, truly, I’m upset about my stupidity when I was a younger mom, about how hard I worked to be “good” and to have “good” kids, and about all the twisted stuff this set up within me and how much I sacrificed and how much less I enjoyed my kids, the most lovely people on this earth to me.

It just fucking kills me.

I dunno, sometimes I think since we all spent a lot of time being kids, maybe some of us should consider regularly putting some time in a grimy parking lot keeping a three year old safe (and actually having a good time with him because he was lovely) so Mama can have thirty minutes to breathe, have a cup of coffee, or take care of her other responsibilities. When we see a child run across the street we can slow down and laugh and wave and say, “Careful!” and smile, or take a few minutes and talk to a child, because who are we to be in such a Big Goddamned Important Hurry we can’t acknowledge some of the most vulnerable and impressionable and inexperienced and (usually) disempowered populations of the human race, the very creatures who decide the fate of the planet and who might stand to grow up free and lovely and well-taught and loved-up instead of – pained and anxious and servile and scared and angry?

Eh, besides other mamas in my life – who were also themselves working so hard – very few people helped me in these generous and level ways when the kids were little, or maybe many did but the intolerance and ignorance of others was way more, or at least loudest in my ears. I can’t change that I internalized all this as being Not Good Enough and I Need To Work Myself Harder and Sit Still and Be QUIET! or we’re GOING  HOME! But I can, as long as I’m able, remember to look out for and be loving to little ones and their carers. I guess if there’s one thing I’ve gained it’s that. It’s that I knew to offer this woman time. It wasn’t much but I didn’t see anyone else volunteering.

And the little guy S. was more excited about a fiddler crab at that pet shop than anything. And you know what, now that I spent a minute checking it out, I discovered a fiddler crab is pretty fucking awesome.

different names for the same thing

Today sucked. First? I was up all night – at least up to something marginally entertaining, watching the television show “Justified” on instant video. It was instantly deeply entertaining (Timothy Olyphant FTW), besides being more or less standard very dudely television fare (kiss kiss bang bang, ladies leave the room cuz menfolks is talkin). I eventually fell asleep and had a dream I made out with a local lawyer, non-related to any television viewing or any desire to make out with anyone besides my own actual man, and while the dream itself wasn’t the most unsavory I’ve had, it still to this moment leaves an ick-factor I haven’t entirely brushed off.

After I (eventually) staggered out of bed and washed up and opened blinds and brushed my teeth and got some laundry started, I dragged myself to the computer, cup of coffee in hand, to continue my day in a positive way – but, sadly, I was immediately exposed to something awful on the internet. And you know what? It doesn’t matter much what it was. It involved people I knew (and people I love), and ugly, soul-sucking behaviors, and apologism for the kind of social constructs I find most personally abhorrent, reprehensible, and hurtful. And I don’t know why, reading and doing the work and activism I do, I could stand to say I feel any sense of surprise to see such regressive and destructive attitudes and behaviors and why I haven’t just “evolved” (my mom’s phrase) into where I find these sorts of human behavior just kind of, shake-my-head funny. Or maybe sometimes I can – but not this morning. No, I sure didn’t.

I felt like shit the rest of the day, or most of it anyway. Depressed, overwhelmed, deeply sad. The timbre of the day’s experience felt like the rainy-and-dark depression that can overwhelm me seasonally, which I’d noted had been lifting lately. I took the best remedy I know, which was to go outside – in this case, a walk, joined by my children and later a couple girlfriends (who delivered excellent conversation). This helped, a bit. When Ralph got home he knew I was feeling bad and he did his best to take care of me, including dinner out. It helped. A bit.

Days like today I cannot imagine my life without my family. Yes, living without Ralph and the kids would be entirely different, I know that, enough it is silly to speculate on anything much. But while I have much to be grateful for, and a shared life with many passionate and incredible people who are supportive and loving and inspirational, there is something restorative about family life – and specifically my children – more constant than just about anything else. Even my daily and regular efforts in caring for them bring me to a mindfulness and in-the-moment experience that feels more Me than anything else – yes, even more than my beloved writing and sewing and my social interactions (in fact these three often distract me from my children, my husband, and my practice of mindfulness).

In the final analysis there is nothing that can take the place of the meaning and joy I find in the most simple things, plating up a ham sandwich and apple slices, or brushing hair and washing faces, or cuddling on the couch or simply bundling up and stepping outside for a walk while talking, the kids’ observations, their questions (which I feel honored to be trusted so implicitly with), their worldviews, their laughter. It’s rather confusing because people tend to frame joyful experiences with regard to grand or extravagant events, not those little things we have in our day, every day. As I get older and the more time I have with the children I feel an increasing experience of gratitude. It isn’t just that I like them, and love them, and find them my favorite people on the planet. It’s that I wonder how much passion would have passed me by had I not them in my life, and I feel grateful not to miss out on that passion.

A multi-part healing prescription: sunshine, exercise, friends, family, dinner out with my best friend and husband, and a bit of writing. Yes, I am feeling much better now – after all.

you may escape without a mauling

It’s 11:30 PM and I’m standing in the aisle staring at the frozen food chest. Ralph is trying to find me something, some convenience parcel I will find tasty, perhaps Amy’s Indian cuisine, palak paneer? He’s so tender and he’s been so stubbornly sweet that after several hours of his ministrations it’s almost like I’m finally going to crack and cry. It’s been easier to spend the day committed to not expressing feeling, but that can only last so long.

Depression consumes everything. It dampens joy, aggravates worries and anxieties. My five or fifty minutes late. The project that doesn’t turn out perfect. The project I decide not to do. The project that turns out well enough, but took away time I could have done something else. The friend who doesn’t respond to my messages. Any pain my children suffer, ever. Anything out of place. Anything I could have done better, or smarter, or earlier. Anything one could possibly blame me for, depression is on it.

Nothing is immune. There are wonderful things in my life but it devours them in its slow-chapp’d power. I feel better for a few moments then later I feel nothing but panic and anxiety but more to the point dread, and considering how many people support me and love me I feel ashamed to let them down. But for more than a few moments at a time, it’s impossible to feel good about myself. Even when I accomplish something well, or when I’m reminded aloud or implicitly I’m a Good Person. I worry by not being happier I’m going to lose my friends, one by one, but I know I could only fake happiness in any case. For now.

That relates to this space here. I’ve felt pressure not to write about depression, sadness. I worry I sound boring. Or like I’m trying to get attention. Neither of these are true; I write because it has always helped me more than almost anything; and yes, I do get enough attention, really. But the feeling persists: no one wants to hear this. It is tiresome. And rather pathetic, besides. Make something up, something better.

Then I think what the hell. No one is required to read here, Ever. Also: I’m really sorry if my suffering inconveniences people. I typed that sarcastically but I rather mean it. I don’t actually want to inconvenience people, and I’m not even sure I can meet this meager goal. I don’t want to be given up on. I want my friends to think enough of me not to pull back, I want them to tell me if they need something different. Maybe I’ll be able to handle it, maybe I won’t. I want them to try, if so moved.

It helps me very much to have others. I know that cleaning the house, preparing food (for my family and other people), doing right by my children and my husband, these are things I can do in the space where I am No One. It grounds me. It feels like the part that is really Me, the awareness there even while my brain tries to tell me terrible, horrible things about myself.

At the store with my husband and son, now, I’m saved by a stranger. “This is embarassing, but can you help?” a handsome, very tall man with a long braid asks us as he approaches. “My girlfriend sent me with a grocery list and she doesn’t know I can’t read.” He holds forth a scrawled piece of paper listing a few items, including something amazing and crystal clear: “Marionberry Pie Ice Cream”.

I kick into action. Friendly voice and accommodation, I could do this in my sleep. Help people? I know how. If I can just keep doing things I won’t have terrible thoughts.

It works pretty well until it doesn’t. But then it works again, later.

a pie en Hoquiam:
On Foot To Get Coffee

The bus, Grays Harbor Transit, just as I’m feeling about to puke:
Red Light

this is the face of depression

Today everyone was perfect. The kids were wonderful and beautiful and my husband and them were like in the kitchen laughing gaily while sipping cocktails. They were a bucket of kittens. They were a unicorn painting. Everyone was stellar.

Except me. I sucked.

I didn’t sew. Not a stitch. I wrote this arcane little social justice piece no one will give much of a damn about and those who read will likely think I get all frothed up over unimportant stuff*. I didn’t lift a finger to sort out domestic life (leaving Ralph to clean house, cook food, grab groceries, set the table and serve dinner, and raise our children). I tried to knit something but I’m too inept to figure out how to do a provisional cast-on (yes this is AFTER watching YouTube tutorials). I didn’t even get any television-watching done. I bathed and got dressed – because I have never been in my life so depressed I didn’t do that – but that’s about the only thing I did that made me feel like a human being.

So really? You know those days where you just end up ungrateful and dispirited and you suck? Yeah. That was kind of the overarching sentiment.

* OK, rescinded, a few people liked it and a few more people at least “Like”d it.

Sunset on the Hoquiam River #1

I forgot to mention, it’s so beautiful here

Itsy Bitsy

Today’s trip back to the park yielded no key; this included lots of traipsing and my mother’s extra set of eyes searching. She brought her dog along and he enjoyed running about; it seems to me he’s been feeling better since he was x-rayed and diagnosed and given a daily dosage of pain medication.

Afterwards we met up with Ralph and did a little shopping at the Christian health food store then the five of us went out to dinner together. Even with my exercise and walks and sewing projects and snuggling and film it’s hard not to let depression sweep over me (this is because depression is not circumstantial but an internal struggle one can’t always bootstrap out of). A warm meal with family sometimes can make a great deal of difference.

Here in Hoquiam we are having that lovely cold weather with clear sky and crystalline air that’s like a drink of cold water. It’s hard to feel too bad when you’re outside.

Sunset on the Hoquiam River #2“Sunset on the Hoquiam River #2” by Mickey Thurman on Flickr

Phoenix
(Small Stone #23*)

It’s morning. My daughter says “Mom,” from the bed, then nothing else.
I climb under the covers and we put our arms around one another.
Her hair feels dry and smells delicious,
a fragrance I’ve known since the moment I first held her close.

Small stone project

Won’t spent my time / Waiting to die / Enjoy the life I’m living

When things in my life start to unravel from the relative ease I know, I typically feel shame, fear, anxiety, and low-grade depression. The hardest feeling to disentangle Myself from is the shame, the feeling I am At Fault for scenarios that are embarrassing and public (whether I admit them or not) and proof of my failures and – this is the worst part – Could Have Been Avoided were I smarter, more efficient, had I worked a little harder. The car problems, the cats who have colds (Seriously. How can I blame myself for this? But I do.), the refrigerator cluttered, the table not set artfully for company, the sewing work that remains undone, the emails and messages from readers (and a few others) I have fallen behind on (perhaps not to recover), my unimaginative presence and my lack of beauty and worth, a wretch really. There is almost no point to talk about Failure as it is a fact I have failed on many accounts; and to do so, to be honest about my failure, risks the experience of those who’d rush in with Rescue or Advice. Even more scary at times is the knowledge of those who will step in with bona-fide Help. It is one thing to have someone do something nice for you when things are going well (“Thank you!”); it can feel miserable to have prostrated myself, even though done without goals of personal gain, to have someone hand you up and you know there is no repayment, it was merely a gift, simple and devastating. When I consider this I often just wish I could talk and have no one take action except to listen; but I also know I must allow people to follow their hearts and minds.

Releasing Control in my parenting and family life has brought a happier, healthier home and is nurturing children stronger and more joy-filled and humorous then I would have previously imagined. In the times I am weak I see how strong they are and nothing can take away the joy that re-ignites, wells up, inside of me. And after all, I am weak now but it was not always so and won’t always be so. My hard work, although spilled out and squandered and Done Wrong, has nevertheless reaped spiritual benefits both tender and tough. Within me I feel a deep love, an amusing and abiding love, and an interest in other human beings stronger than I’ve felt before. The table may have not looked lovely, but it was loaded with delicious and simple food I made with my hands. I may have been tired but I was still there. The house may only boast the meager (but beautiful) paper decorations of my children, colored with Walmart markers, and the house have little other ornamentation or beauty, but it is the dwelling of myself and those I deeply love.

Today I had the wonderful and simple experience of taking a walk in the sunshine down to the art gallery where my mother was getting off her gallery shift. I like walking in good weather more than ever; the watery light of the sun and deep draughts of our fall air is so familiar and soul-sustaining to me it seems amazing some day I will no longer experience it. At the gallery, the new pieces displayed and the Halloween accoutrement crafted by one of the artists were soothing and inspiring at once. My mother and I took her dog home and then shared lunch at the Italian restaurant – one of those meals so simple and satisfying. We talked and drank tea and enjoyed one another’s company and I felt an expansiveness, having at least done my work of house-stewardship and a breakfast repast for my (very happy-to-receive) children – homemade cinnamon rolls, bananas, and hardboiled eggs from Hoquiam hens. The mug of hot tea in my hand was a modest delight to my exhausted body.

Later I spent forty-five minutes volunteering at the Theatre (as we’ve been doing for a few years now). The conversations were normal and mundane and perfect; older fellows came through the door and flirted and I didn’t feel offended nor afraid.  I took tickets from two of my girlhood friends’ mothers; I was more happy to see them than they probably knew. I have a great caring dwelling inside me and it probably means very little and is worth hardly anything and maybe even it doesn’t show much because I’m afraid of showing it sometimes due to pride and fear. At times like this it is hard to be so public as I am here where I write. I want at times to be my tiny ugly little self and not be noticed by anyone but my family. They are in the final estimation the only beings I feel wholly safe with, as limited as this makes me.