Quiet, Sluggish Chaos

I’m feeling pretty drained. That’s an understatement.

I’m trying to think of a good metaphor for how I feel that won’t make me sound suicidal – because I’m not. But I have no energy left, you guys. I’m just trying to make it through the days and sometimes I dare to hope and then other days my state gets set on fire or RBG dies and I find myself at a new low that I didn’t know was possible.

Three things happened all at once: summer [weather] ended, fire and smoke made it impossible for me to breathe or leave my house for ten days, and distance learning began for my 1st grader. It sent the precarious balance we had achieved in our household over the summer into a quiet, sluggish chaos.

In 2007 the fire alarm woke me up and my boyfriend (now husband) and I grabbed whatever was in front of us and ran out of our burning apartment building. For months after I would go to sleep and hallucinate the smell of smoke. That thick, putrid, choking scent that makes one’s pulse jump. My heart would race, I’d get a rush of adrenaline, and then I’d have to get up and check to make sure there wasn’t any actual danger. After that, it was pretty hard to calm down and get any rest. It was bad.

I was in my master’s program for counseling psychology at the time and I had started therapy for the first time as a client that previous year. When the fire happened I was on a break from therapy in an attempt to stretch my mental health benefits to last until the end of the year. American healthcare – you suck. At any rate, when I returned to therapy I mentioned the fire and the difficulty sleeping I was having. PTSD, you say? Oooh, crap. So this is what it’s like. It’s always so much easier to diagnose other people. Well, shit.

And, while definitely not as bad, it came back recently. Our sense of smell is so powerful, so tied to our emotions. And the smell of smoke is a warning to everyone – it’s supposed to be. But put that together with absolute terror and it’s a horrible combination.

Plus, the chest pains I was getting from the smoke signaled anxiety to my brain aaand cue positive feedback loop. Sore throat, headaches. I felt physically ill on top of everything else.

With my bucket being pretty freaking empty, I’m struggling to be a good parent, teacher, wife, and friend.

As far as the friend thing goes, I struggle to be social. Being social in person really sucks because I’m worried about Covid the whole time. Being social, while I still enjoy it, often requires energy I’m not sure I have. It’s hard to pay attention and remember details. I find myself so worried about my and my family’s health and safety that it’s hard to be concerned with anyone else’s enough to ask. It’s not that I don’t care- I do. Stress just seems to push everything else out of focus. I’m really sorry if I forget about that thing going on in your life. I’m sorry that I totally forgot to ask how your new job is going. Sorry If my texts come across the wrong way. I feel like my stress and survival mode make everything come out wrong, even more so than my socially-awkward normal. I still love and respect my friends, and I still want to be friends.

I worry that writing about my mental health issues sounds…wallowy, self-centered, whiny. Repetitive. Fishing for pity.

While it might be repetitive (and none of the rest), I decided that talking/writing about it helps me. It’s honest, it’s real. If it helps normalize mental health struggles – great. But this is mainly for me. It’s a journal, it’s documentation, it’s creative expression, it’s cathartic.

In closing, I’ll remind myself that I’m surviving. I’m coping. I’m doing the best I can. I’m just happy to be here.

Dig Even Deeper

On Monday night, a severe windstorm ripped through Oregon and caused the already-burning wildfires to explode westward and threaten many communities. My area is still technically on alert, just in case we may need to evacuate, although it seems that the threat of fire has diminished. What we’re left with is putrid smelling smoke that has settled into our valley and is seeping into homes. I’ve heard that the hotels in my town are full of evacuees from neighboring rural communities. Besides getting groceries, the mail, and gas for the car, my family hasn’t left the house in 4 days.

My outdoor yoga class was canceled. Meditation class was canceled. Farmer’s market was canceled. The library closed. School was canceled. My husband’s workplace closed for the remainder of the week. The only good part- apparently Oregonians will only pump their own gas during a pandemic firestorm. Mmm, the smell of sweet, sweet anarchy.

This suuuuuucks. Just when I didn’t think that things could get much worse, holy crapnuggets they did. Now I find myself just wishing, bargaining (with whom, I have no idea) that things would go back to how they were last week, when we had pandemic with sun and blue skies. Either that, or for the rain to come early. Imagine that, me wishing for rain.

If nothing else, all this shit just forces me…us…to dig even deeper into ourselves to cope. In whatever way we can. For me, often times it’s shutting out the world. Often it’s getting creative in how we entertain the kids.

I find that I’m giving myself more and more permission to do what feels good. Staying up late. Sleeping in. Eating sugar. Having more caffeine. Numbing out with really craptastic TV. I’m trying to choose coping skills that aren’t completely unhealthy. Finding a balance looks quite different when you’re standing on a sinking ship, with one end submerged in water and the other bobbing up in the air.

My world keeps shrinking, and with that comes a narrowed, more focused view of what’s important. I got an email about my son’s boyscout pack yesterday and IT WAS FULL OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! This year is gonna be so great you guys!! My eyes glazed over and I sent it flying into a folder where I wouldn’t have to look at it. Not important right now.

So. This brings me to the mental list of things that I find myself newly thankful for.

I am thankful that our power didn’t go out.

I am thankful that the outside temperature has dropped, so we can shut off our AC and still be comfortable indoors.

I am thankful that we got outside and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air when it was here. Boy do we miss it now.

I am thankful that we own a beautiful home with plenty of space for my family.

I am thankful that we had N95s, a respirator, and air filters before all the smoke hit.

I am thankful for firefighters who are putting their lives on the line to save human lives, animal lives, wildlife, and property.

I am thankful that we haven’t had to evacuate. We’ve been able to hunker down in the comfort of our own home.

I am thankful.

Sick and Burning

Nighttime is easier.

The kids are in bed and the sun is down.

I pull the blinds closed, so I can’t see the smoke or the creepy orange sepia glow.

Now I can fool myself into thinking things are normal.

I stand in the shower and zone out while the water pours over me, in an attempt to wash off my grief. The dread. It’s so much that it clogs the drain.

I turn the TV on and eat sugar and numb out. Forget the outside world. Forget the trauma. I get to yell at characters who aren’t real. Consequences that don’t exist. I judge their choices because I know better. People I’ll never see. Places I’ll never be.

Why not stretch it out? It’s easier when the world is dark. One more show.

I go through the routine of getting ready for bed. Like nothing’s wrong. Next I huddle under the covers and read. Old favorites or new worlds. Vampires that sparkle or dystopian kids doomed to die. I judge their choices because I know better.

Eventually, sleep. Far too late into the night, but it’s comforting.

Anything to put off waking up to a world that is sick and burning. Glowing orange and choking on its own smoke.

We left the world behind

This week, my family and I went camping it was exactly what we all needed.

My anxiety had been climbing the week before and it was getting to the point where I was having trouble managing it. The day before we left I developed a massive migraine that left me with this weird, horrible acid reflux and nausea combo of a hangover. I was barely able to finish packing and dragged myself into the car for the two hour ride.

Over the course of that first day, my symptoms faded away, my spirits perked up, and as soon as toes hit the sand on the beach I felt my anxiety start melting away.

There’s just something about the beach that is so therapeutic, so soothing. And that’s despite the fact that I hate wind and sand (or at least I hate that sand gets everywhere).

We were able to book a campsite at a boyscout camp and it was perfect. The actual boyscout camps had been canceled, and so the organization opened up the campgrounds to individual families. We were given a campsite that had 13 huts on it – enough to sleep 26 people – on about half an acre and we had it all to ourselves. Private bathrooms, private showers. We were often the only four people on the entire beach just a three minute walk away. We could see the ocean from our site and we went to sleep listening to the roar of the waves. Aaahhh.

Also, my phone didn’t have service at the campsite, which forced me to put it down. It was the first time I had really put my phone down for any extended period of time in about a year. It was long overdue and very needed.

The kids were able to explore and wander and play and we didn’t have to worry. We took our time and we got dirty and we ran and screamed and played.

We left the world behind for three days and I’m very thankful.

beach

Spaces in-between

We exist in parking lots now.

We have a routine that we do almost every day now since Covid hit. After lunch, we put on sunscreen and bike helmets and we walk or bike or scoot to a parking lot. The kids will ride or scoot or run or kick a ball in the parking lot.  And I will walk laps around the perimeter to try and get some exercise for the day.

We’ve started searching for more unused pockets of space in our town. Little spaces that are forgotten or neglected or just empty. The elementary school parking lot that has been vacant for months now. We venture down to the park-and-ride train station parking lot that is vacant on weekends. In the past week, we found this new-to-us section of parking lot in an apartment complex. The kids were delighted; they gathered pine cones while I walked laps around them, going nowhere.

They are spaces meant for waiting. They are spaces for the in-between, where cars sit and wait to be turned on so that they can take their occupant from point a to point b.

So here it is where we play or bike or scoot or walk or run so that we may pass the time and wait until we can be turned on again and we can continue our journey from point a to point b.

parkinglot

An iceberg in the path of our ship

I wrote the following letter to Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon, because I can’t just sit here and do nothing when I know there’s an iceberg in the path of our ship.


July 15, 2020

Dear Governor Brown,

I am writing this letter to urgently beg you to move Oregon schools to online only education for at least the remainder of 2020.

As I write this, teachers and administrators are scrambling to do the impossible – to continue giving our children an in-person education amidst a global pandemic. It’s impossible to ensure the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff, and ultimately the families and community members all of those people go home to each day.

Please, don’t make the mistake of waiting until our classrooms are overrun with positive cases and people start getting hospitalized and die. Please don’t wait.

Cases in Oregon, like the majority of the country, are spiking. If businesses and institutions continue to open, there’s only one direction in which we’re all headed. If indoor gatherings are capped at 10 (ten!), as per your current guidelines, then schools should be no exception.

Opening schools is not worth the risk. It’s not worth losing lives.

Be brave. Do the right thing and save lives by taking preventative measures.

We’re all in this together, and your policies should reflect that.

Urgently,
Melissa Lastname
Community member and mother of two


If you’re so inclined, write a letter to your representatives.

Here’s the link for Oregon, and here’s one for California, or search for your home state.

Be well.

 

I’m just happy to be here

I have this bad habit of falling into negative thought patterns. Like, all the time.

I’m cynical. I’m sarcastic. It’s a defense mechanism. A maladaptive coping strategy. And it’s become a habit a loooong time ago, and old habits are hard to break, as they say.

Especially during a global pandemic, when the world is burning and my anxiety jumps out and says Yes! This is what I’ve been telling you about all along! Now it’s here; the end is near! BWAAHAHAAAA!

And while anxiety is my main squeeze, lately its cousin depression asked to come stay for a while, and I’m fresh out of room and energy and this is all too hard somebody make it stop.

(As an aside, I’m doing okay. I have good days and bad, and lately I am having more average-to-good days than bad, by far. It’s just that every once in a while I get slammed with a bad day and have trouble recalibrating. Rest assured, I am coping as well as can be expected.)

The point is that I am trying to break this bad habit, or at least learn to interrupt it so that it doesn’t take over and eat all my remaining sanity.

I like mantras. They are helpful reminders that not everything sucks. And language is so versatile that you can craft any mantra that speaks to you, at any time and for any reason.

Lately, when I find myself going down a negative spiral eleventy million times a day, and I actually remember to, I silently tell myself:

I’m just happy to be here.

This is the phrase I’ve used to describe my daughter’s personality. She was/is such a happy, easy-going baby, toddler, and now kid. While other kids would be whining or going into their dark places, she’d smile and ask me what we doing now, mama? She’s the kid in that story with the room filled with poop – the kid who gleefully starts digging through the shit and yells, THERE MUST BE A HORSE IN HERE SOMEWHERE! That’s her, and she certainly did not get her sunny disposition from me, but man I want what she’s selling.

As an aside, I want people who know me to know that I appreciate uplifting messages and I use them and think them…I just also have a knee-jerk reaction to want to make fun of them, too. Like, I remind myself to be extra kind and patient these days with people, but I’m more likely to wear a t-shirt with Pete the Cat on it saying I hate you all than one that says be kind. (Please know, friend of mine who wears these shirts, I like them, I like that you wear them, and please don’t take it personally when I make fun of them.)

At any rate, here I am striking a balance. I want to invite more positive energy into my life because goodness crap, we all need it now more than ever.

Readers, tell me – what are your favorite mantras?

At the top of our lungs

My family and I went to the beach this week.

We hadn’t had a family outing that took us out of town since before Covid, unless you count the one quick trip for curbside pickup at IKEA.

We made it count and spent the entire day there. As the sun was starting to get lower in the sky and the temperature started dropping, we made one last trip down to the water. We were running and splashing and “wave hopping,” a term coined by my son.

At one point, we all ended up more or less turning our bodies to face the infinite ocean and the setting sun and we just…screamed. At the top of our lungs.

We stood and ran and jumped and screamed and we just let it all out. All of it.

Fuck you Covid.

what if

what if you just started writing

to see what came out?

like clawing up a big rock

that was slunk halfway down

into the damp soil

earthworms, rolly pollies wiggle underneath

not eager to be disturbed.

like excavating a dusty old box

you found in the attic

in the corner, under a pile of photo albums

musty papers, keepsakes, ticket stubs, diplomas

memories

seep out of pores

impossible to arrange back in

the way you found them.

Rage. fear. desperation.

My little girl was almost hit by a car today. Almost.

We were on our way home, crossing a busy street. My son was on his bike, my daughter on her scooter and I was on foot. We looked left, we looked right. No cars. We were in a crosswalk. We did everything right.

To the right of the crosswalk is a traffic circle, and I saw a car whip around and it wasn’t slowing down. By this time, I was halfway across, my son was behind me, and my daughter was ahead of me.

I screamed, STOP, [HER NAME], STOP!!!

My girl started to slow down and I lurched forward, groping for her, even though she was still out of reach. I later told my husband that we’d both have been hit if the driver hadn’t slammed on her brakes.

If there was ever a time when I felt like a crazed, full-blown Mama Bear, this was it.

JESUS CHRIST!! I screamed at the car.

SLOW DOWN!!! I bellowed as I threw my arms wide in rage, fear, and desperation. I’m sure my eyes were red and smoke puffed out of my ears. Certainly, adrenaline was pumping through my system.

The driver gave a gesture that I interpreted as apologetic, but it all happened so fast. I just wanted to get back home where we’re safe.

This is several hours later, and I’m still trying to shake the rage. fear. desperation.

A similar incident happened a few months ago, but I was able to shake that one off much sooner. The differences: we weren’t in a pandemic, and I didn’t feel so constantly vulnerable, thinking about health and loved ones and safety and loss. That time, I was close enough to her that I grabbed her hood and yanked her back. Even if the car had continued to run the stop sign, I had successfully pulled her out of the way. Lastly, everyone was moving slower: me, my daughter, the car. It was far less scary, in a far less scary time.

Also a contributing factor: I’m currently experimenting with different cold brew ratios/recipes/techniques and dear baby jesus, I think I made this last batch way too freaking strong. Today I’ve been jittery and strung out. My husband says I’ve been talking a mile a minute today, buthowisthatpossibleIdon’tknowwhatyou’retalkingabout.

Not to mention that I’ve had two nightmares in the past week, one of which was technically a nightmare within a fucking nightmare (so I guess that makes it three nightmares in all). I shit you not, I had a nightmare and in the dream I went to sleep, had yet another nightmare, “woke up,” BUT WAS STILL IN A NIGHTMARE. When I woke up for realsies, you’d better believe it took me a hot minute to be quite certain that I was conscious and the world before me was indeed real. I think it’s high time I made myself a totem, BECAUSE HOW DO I KNOW I’M NOT BEING INCEPTED?! Leo?! JGL???

As a surprise to absolutely no one, I’m also knee-deep in a violent dystopian novel. My choices amaze even myself.

Soooooooo there you have it. Too much, too often I feel like the world is burning and I have a front row seat. I can feel the warm glow on my face and I can see the ash falling from the sky.

Everyone, just please do me a favor and SLOW DOWN when you drive. Check the crosswalks. Then check them again. Thanks.

And go easy on the cold brew.