The Big Reset

I haven’t posted since April, ugh. It’s been the longest break I’ve taken since I started blogging for realz in 2012.

I don’t even know what I want to say now…it’s more that I want to break the silent streak and hopefully gain some momentum from putting fingers to keys and seeing what comes out.

This summer is feeling like a great in-between time. The adults are vaccinated, but our kids are not. For me, getting vaccinated is the benchmark for feeling safe, for getting out and doing stuff.

We’ve been socializing more. It’s been weird. I’ve gone into people’s houses. What?!

Each summer here in the PNW I tend to feel a renewed urge to get out and be active, get fit. In an effort to do that, I fell off my bike and badly sprained my ankle. I think the universe is telling me to slow my roll.

As my depression lifted, and as the world opened up, my anxiety moved back in. Oh hey, look, you have some vacancies to fill. Don’t mind if I do.

I worked hard to find a therapist who 1) had openings – because therapists ARE FULL UP right now, and 2) was willing to see vaccinated folks in person. I knew I’d need the extra support for going back out into the world and processing all the shit we’d just been through. Also, I would like to go back to work at some point aaaaaand I’m gonna need to take care of myself first before I can get back into the therapy office as the shrink.

So far, this has been a summer of patience. Of healing. Of reconnecting. Of deciding on my boundaries moving forward.

This summer is the big reset.

Stare the unbearable in the face

I found this article shared by a Facebook friend, titled: There Is No After. This quote jumped off the page at me:

In the place of a shared sense of reality or collective expression of mourning, I see a torrent of advice on how a person who managed to survive can feel more self-actualized once they return to the shuffle between the office and after-work drinks. To me, this looks like denial, the first tentative step towards what I’m told are seven distinct stages of grief.

Molly Osberg, Jezebel

This. THIS. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but this feeling I’ve had of being “left behind” as things open up and friends gather and vacations are planned…..all as I am still at home, watching the case numbers rise. AGAIN. And this article defined it for me – maybe it’s not that they aren’t affected, but perhaps it’s the opposite, that the masses are so desperate/traumatized that they are willing to deny that this isn’t over – to claim that there is an “over” – to avoid feeling the tidal wave of overwhelming grief and loss. Loss- of life, of safety, of community, of normalcy. I feel alone in my grief.

It’s unbearable, and I’ve always been the type to stare the unbearable in the face. Look at this! Look at how terrible things are! Let’s dissect and marvel and wallow and grieve this terribleness! Who’s with me?!

To be clear, I feel the urge to deny as well, because one can’t bear the unbearable for too long, uninterrupted.

When I was little, I remember having this recurring nightmare. Do you remember that wolf with the glowing eyes from The Neverending Story? It represented The Nothing – fear, destruction, depression. It terrified me. In my nightmare, it would hide in the darkness, under my little brother’s crib. All I could see was its eyes, glowing and staring right into mine. I could hear it growling, threatening me. I was terrified and frozen. I wanted to run but was physically unable. My only option was to stay and stare it down. I mirrored it. I was down on all fours and growled back, even though the first few tries wouldn’t produce any sound.

And that’s it. That’s the whole dream. I still have it, sometimes, even now. That’s what I do, even in my dreams.

Posterboard versus hand signals

I just got Jenny Lawson’s new book in the mail A DAY EARLY – the postal service must really know what they’re doing when the tracking number tells me my beloved package will be here on Saturday, and since I am a creature whose mental health depends on expectations being met or exceeded, they, well, exceeded them because today is indeed Friday (at the time this was written), a survey of my peers confirmed – and I’ve already dived into it, even though I have a library book that’s due soon and it can’t be renewed and I don’t like to read two books at one time so now I’ve gone and fucked everything up but who cares because nothing matters anymore.

Her book inspires me to write in gauche run-on sentences that include lots of italics and all caps because her writing just speaks to me. She also inspires me to write about my own struggles with mental illness, among other things.

I hesitate to write about depression versus anxiety for a number of reasons. First is that anxiety is my main course and I usually only order a side of depression, and not all that often. Also, depression just seems scarier. More dangerous. When I write about it, I always feel the need to add that I’m not suicidal (because I’m not). Depression is so much more than that, anyway. And it’s different for everyone.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to decide to go to social events because things I try to say come out wrong because my depression manifests as extreme irritability. While I want human connection and know that it will be good for me, my worry is that my depression will say something horribly rude and piss off my friends and I’d like to keep my friends. But, if I stay away from my friends for their sake and express myself only with one liners and emojis via text, I fear they’ll think I’m trying to ghost them and I swear I’m not.

My depression also manifests as a profound lack of energy. If you’re seeing me outside my house wearing pants lately, be sure I’ve used up my energy just getting to that state. Another reason I worry about group events is that I’d rather not burst into tears if someone asks me how I’m doing. See, I’m a horrible liar and I don’t want to lie but I don’t necessarily want to discuss every last detail about how I’m feeling with a group of people – partially because I don’t always know what or why I’m feeling. BUT- I do appreciate people asking. I do. Even if I suck at answering. And if I did burst into tears, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. I also don’t want people to be afraid to ask – again, because I suck at answering – mainly because I don’t want my depression to become this huge, ugly elephant in the room (but not indoors in any room, because covid. the proverbial room). Lastly, I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that I don’t want the topic of my mental health to hijack the festivities. I don’t want to be that sick person who sucks all the fun out of the [metaphorical non-covid-filled] room, but I don’t want to ignore the obvious, either. I’d love to strike a balance between totally ignoring the huge elephant I’m riding in on versus bursting into tears and becoming the focus of an impromptu group therapy session.

Nobody, firstly me, wants to have to tiptoe around the issue of how I might be feeling on any given day. I’ve often thought about how I might cut straight to the chase. I’ll arrive at the please-wear-pants garden party and loudly shout I’M AT A 4 TODAY. I MIGHT CRY. I’M GLAD I’M HERE BUT I ALSO MIGHT LEAVE EARLY. GOOD AFTERNOON TO YOU ALL. But, to be realistic I should probably put all that on huge white posterboard and go through them one by one like the Walking Dead guy does in Love Actually when he’s totally trying to steal his best friend’s wife. (Who does that?!) Cuz if I’m actually at a 4 (out of 10), then there’s likely no way I’d be able to say all that without crying. Either posterboard or hand signals. Hand signals would be more environmentally friendly.

Hand signals it is.

So we distance

Nothing’s changed.

My husband is still working from home. My son is still doing school from home. My daughter is still practicing her writing skills from home. I’m still washing dishes and doing laundry, constantly. At home.

None of us are vaccinated. We don’t have any more protection than we had a year ago. And so we distance.

We sit and watch as case numbers go down. Oh yay, maybe we’ll consider putting our kid back in school! And then, as a result, the governor lifts more restrictions. And we continue to watch as case numbers rise again, because that’s what they are gonna do when restrictions are lifted and more contagious variants are in play. Facepalm.

Kids around here started going back to school two weeks before spring break. At first we wanted to wait and see how the school did with enforcing social distancing, etc. We also realized we wanted to wait until significantly after spring break because people would travel even though we’re all still advised not to. And so we distance.

We choose very carefully what events we’ll go to, because each outing comes with risk and a considerable amount of anxiety. I can’t control if my friends and strangers wear masks. I can’t control if other people don’t social distance when I/my family is present. I can’t guarantee that my kids will social distance in public, especially when other kids are present. I can’t control if events are scheduled in person. Or at a restaurant. Or in someone’s home. But we can make sure to wear our masks. We can protect ourselves as best we can while also respecting the health and safety of others. And, save everything else, we can choose to stay home.

Please know that for a lot of people, it’s terrifying to watch as more and more people gather in large groups, stop wearing masks, take vacations. Six feet of distance in schools shrinks to three. Restaurants open for indoor dining. In the same day, the CDC director begs people to keep distancing and my Facebook feed is full of maskless, hugging, smiling faces.

Rapidly and increasingly, we feel left behind. We’re exhausted from making constant risk assessment decisions, trying to balance perceived danger with a need for human interaction. Tired of asking/expecting/hoping people to wear masks and feeling discouraged when they don’t.

So we distance. Staying home is easier than trying to navigate a world we can’t control, a world that is desperate to get past these plague times. A world that is opening up too quickly.

I’m here. I made it.

It’s dark in here. And cold. I don’t like the cold but the dark is kinda nice. It wraps me up so your pity cannot see me.

I’m not sure how I got here or how long I’ve been. I have no idea how long I’ll stay or how I could leave if I wanted to.

Do I want to? I don’t even know what’s outside anymore.


I want to drive and meet people.

I don’t want to drive and meet people.

I need to pack.

I’m excited to pack?

Leave me alone so I can pack.

What do I need again?

Put things in the car. Don’t forget.

Get gas. Wait.

Run errands. Hurry.

Maybe coffee will make me feel…how I’m supposed to feel. Why, I have no clue.

Remember. Don’t forget.

People are waiting.

Pull over. It’s too much. I can’t see.

Breathe.

Driving fast. Novel sights, new smells.

Stimulation.

Breathe.

Get there.

Missed turn. Racing heart.

Drained.

Engine cuts out, so do I.

Resist the urge to run. Keep driving.

Moving fast feels like standing still.

I’m here.

Get out of the car.

I made it.


Say hello to my new Depression Translator.

Me: “Hi. Where’s the bathroom?”

DT: “Hello, friends. I am happy to be here but I’m depressed, exhausted, and fear human interaction. I’m going to go hide in the bathroom for a moment and try not to cry and/or hyperventilate. It may take me a while to calm down and warm up to this social situation. I’m sorry if I seem weird or rude. I know how this must look. I can’t seem to fix it. But I’m here. I made it.”


I feel the need to accompany content like this with disclaimers because I’m aware that I’m writing for an audience. I want to normalize depression and anxiety and I want to suck the stigma out of it. I want to normalize expressing depression and anxiety because that’s healthy. I fear judgement for writing stuff like this, but I feel compelled to do it nonetheless. Take from it what you will, and leave your advice at the door. Thanks.

Field Trip

I had trouble getting out of bed.

My sinuses were all blocked up and I could feel that the pressure was only going to get worse. I couldn’t breathe out of my nose and those of you who know me know that I can’t stand [being] a mouth breather.

It was the day of my kindergartner’s big field trip to the children’s museum and I had signed up to go. I told my husband that he’d have to go instead because I wasn’t going to make it; I felt like death warmed over.

He left the house with my son and headed to school. I got up with my daughter and started getting ready for the day, which included taking a full dose of sudafed. My mind was reeling, and the sudafed made it reel even faster. I was really sad that I’d be missing the field trip, and I was frustrated about feeling so awful.

Once I started moving around and ate breakfast and ruminated some more, I called my husband. When he picked up, I could hear a whole lot of excited little kid screaming in the background.

“I’m feeling a bit better and I want to come! I think I can make it. Am I too late?” The school was just two blocks away.

“Are you sure? You still have time, if we switch now.”

“Tell the teacher that I’m coming. I’ll be ready to leave the house when you get here. Thanks!”

I grabbed my jacket and the lunch I had made for myself the night before. I kissed my daughter goodbye and then ran out the door as soon as I saw my husband coming. I huffed it to the school and waved to my kid’s teacher.

“Glad you could make it,” she said with a smile.

“I rallied the troops…and I’m on a lot of cold medication.”

We went on a bus full (very full) of very excited, very loud kindergartners and parent chaperones. I was in charge of my son and two other sweet boys and we spent the day negotiating how much time to spend in which area of the museum, because we needed to stay together.

Kids were running everywhere, touching everything.

I took pictures of my son with a group of kids climbing on play structures, splashing in water exhibits, sharing mounds of clay whose only purpose was to be shaped into robots of various sorts.

I was struggling to concentrate, as my head had that stuck-in-a-fishbowl feeling and I felt exhausted.

I was standing in the main entryway, waiting for the boys to decide where to go next, and my watch buzzed.

I glanced at my wrist and saw an alert from NPR.

“The WHO has declared the Coronavirus a global pandemic,” read the headline.

I looked up at the pandemonium around me and thought, oh shit.

It was March 11, 2020.

My Sunday Reset

When met with stress and hard times, people develop interesting coping skills. Whatever works and feels good, really.

Without really planning it or meaning to, I’ve developed a covid coping skill around taking hot baths. Like, ridiculously long, hiding-from-my-family marinating.

Pre-covid, I’d only take baths as a special treat, usually on Mother’s Day and any other random day I needed to feel pampered. Two-three times a year. Last spring, I decided out of the blue that a hot bath was in order. Maybe this started with Mother’s Day 2020 and I just kept going? Quite possible.

Back then, I’d dump in whatever bubble bath my kids had in their bathroom and I’d make the water as hot as it’d go. I’d drag in my hamper and place my laptop on it so I could watch a movie. Or I’d bring a book, my phone, or have all three. You know, just in case. I’d light a smelly candle whose scent my husband can’t stand, and I’d be in business. I’d soak until the water was cold and my hands were wrinkly, and then I’d soak some more. Eventually, I’d actually clean my hair and body and then rinse off all the soapy residue in the shower before reentering the real world.

Once winter started seeping into my bones and soul, I upped my game. I ordered proper Epsom salts and for Christmas and I asked for a bathtub pillow and one of those fancy bathtub trays so that I didn’t have to drag in my hamper and crane my neck to the side in order to watch a show or twelve. By the time New Years rolled around, I was feeling bloated and junky from too much sugar and probably dairy (the jury is still out, but that’s another blog post entirely) and my husband and I started walk/jogging at least four miles every Sunday – rain or shine but mostly rain. The only exceptions were when we escaped to the beach for my birthday and when Oregon froze over (not nearly as bad as Texas, but too many Oregonians are STILL without power). So, I’ve been taking a scorching hot bath every Sunday after our run in the cold and wet.

Sometimes – often – I spend some time in the water being still and quiet. No screens, no words, no distractions. I breathe and I let my arms float. It’s like returning to the womb, being vulnerable and suspended in warmth. Evoking my high school freshman English teacher, the water here and the ritual in which it is used is a symbolic rebirth of sorts. It’s my attempt to wash myself of my stress and watch it flush down the drain when I’m done. I shut out the noise and the world and just be. Hopefully emerging feeling refreshed and clean and rested and calmer, more centered.

That’s what’s become of my Sundays.

What coping skills and rituals have you developed since covid hit?


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Tender Digits

Dear Psychos, I’ve been learning piano for the first time. Six weeks ago, I couldn’t read music, and I had no idea what keys played which notes. Of course, I’m in the thick of stumbling around, trying to wrap my brain around junk like the fact that some idiot decided that A flat and B sharp ARE THE SAME GODDAMN THING. Also, no one informed me that I’d need to learn Italian in order to play this instrument. Not unless this outfit comes with bottomless thin crust pizza and gelato. No grazie.

I’ve often been asked if I play piano (or told that I should) because my fingers are so long and amazingly graceful. Well now, all you well-intentioned judgy people can rest easy, because my fingers are fulfilling their prophesized (spellcheck doesn’t like this work and says it’s not, in fact, a word, but I disrespectfully disagree) glorious destiny. However, in my limited exposure to musical pieces, I’ve come across some that require my pinky to be on one note (like a C) and then for my thumb of the same hand to be on yet another C an octive higher and jesus handcramps that’s hard and my tender digits just can’t reach! I’m honestly not sure how I’m supposed to figure this one out.

In short bursts, learning to play an instrument whose sound I consider to be heaven on earth is exhilarating. The first few weeks of class, we were instructed to practice the pieces we were given, and I did, but I couldn’t contain my excitement and almost immediately started looking up music tutorials on YouTube. Finding it kinda by accident, I came across the theme to Harry Potter and just couldn’t help myself. It took me maybe an hour of practice to be able to do the first few measures with little to no mistakes, and as soon as I produced those first eight magical notes (if you’re fans you know exactly what I’m talking about) I got this rush of giddy excitement. ACTUAL MUSIC WAS FLOWING THROUGH ME! Music by John Williams, no less! I learned the first minute of the song and practiced it so much that I have it memorized and didn’t even need to consult my sheet music. What excited me the most was when I found myself starting to sway as I played – the piece has such a whimsical quality and I found myself playing around with speed and intensity. After a while, the piece felt so natural. My fingers knew their places – muscle memory was successfully taking place. Insert mind-blown emoji.

After seven years of being out of the workforce and being a stay at home mom, getting to challenge my brain in a way it’s never been challenged before is both exhausting and exciting. I’ve been having dreams of playing the piano – ever more complex pieces. I’ve found myself keying (musical pun intended) into background piano music in commercials or movies, wondering what key that was in or if I could play it if I tried. I can also feel a difference in my hands. They are literally stronger, more dexterous. My fingers are more nimble and responsive. It’s like they’ve woken up from a deep sleep. I feel like my hands are finally doing what they’ve been meant to do all along. I remember feeling the same way about my boobs when I started breastfeeding my babies.

I find myself frustrated that I can’t magically play complicated pieces immediately. My left hand can’t switch chords fast enough and forget trying to make my two hands play two different things at the same time. But progress is being made, however slowly, many swear words at a time.

My ultimate dream is to be able to play Lady Gaga and sing at the same time. I’m well on my way.

Wrinkle Cream and Lounge Wear

What a year this has been. Holy freaking cow.

I like to blog and take stock of my life on my birthdays, but this year I don’t even know where to start.

I usually get a massage on my birthday, but that didn’t happen. (There is a part of me that just wants to say fuck it and go do whatever I wanna do, but the rule follower part of me won’t allow that fantasy to become a reality.) Even though holy crap I could really use one because I can literally feel the weight of junk that’s been collecting and that I’ve been dragging around with me. After said massage, I usually go and sit in a Starbucks where I drink coffee without kids and I blog and read. As I type this, I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot of a park overlooking a river. I have my Starbucks and I just inhaled a birthday donut. At least it’s quiet and there are zero kids in the vicinity.

Usually, my birthday evokes feelings around my long-ago cancer diagnosis. This year, I have some (because how can I not), but mostly I’m struck by how covid/the pandemic/quarantining has shoved my cancer history to the back burner. Comparatively, it’s made my cancer feel more like a distant memory than ever before. Not sure how I feel about that.

It’s been exactly a year since I’ve had a date night out with my husband. I haven’t seen my parents in 15 months. I haven’t seen my brother for even longer. I can’t count how many face masks I own now. It’s good to acknowledge loss and take time to grieve, and I do that from time to time, but….how do I keep doing that when the trauma isn’t over? And this is me, who’s specifically trained to help heal trauma.

I often wonder how time and perspective will shape how I feel about this experience, this season in my life. How will I remember it? What stories will I tell? How and when will this all end? How will this shape how I live the rest of my life?

I’ve realized that it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Or content, at least. In a time when I’ve been stuck at home and can’t have nice things, it’s been the little things that have gotten me through. Kickball with my kids. Watching disaster movies with my husband. Reading really good books late into the night.

At the same time, I feel like it also doesn’t take much to trigger my anxiety. I anticipate having to retrain myself what safety feels like once this is “over” and we decide we can be social again. (Notice I didn’t say “normal,” because life won’t go back to the way it was before. In many ways, we’re forever changed.) About 3 years ago I went back to therapy for severe postpartum anxiety and in many ways I feel like the progress I made then has been shredded by covid. Covid is my anxiety’s best friend. Fuck you both.

I’m getting to the point where I am craving human contact and mentally crumbling under the cumulative weight of this crisis. Two of my peers lost their fathers recently, one to covid and one not, but both can’t grieve the way they want. I still don’t know anybody personally who’s died from covid but it’s getting closer and closer to home. It’s unsettling and I don’t like it.

I’m getting so sick of my family. I love them, but we’re always together. I have no opportunity to miss them. It’s a blessing and a curse because I wouldn’t have it any other way, but sweet baby jesus I’m ready to travel and go to the movies and hug my friends and have more personal space. I have never wanted a shot in the arm so badly in my entire life. I still have hope, of course, but what I need is some relief.

I know that many can identify with me that this year of deprivation has lit a fire under my desire to get my adult life started as soon as this is over. Life is short, and I want to go back to work. I want to see the world. I want my kids to build lives of their own, apart from me. I realize this will all happen in good time, but right here, right now, we can’t do it and I’m getting tired of waiting.

This morning, instead of a massage, I bought wrinkle cream and lounge wear on the internet.

So. I’m weary, I’m anxious, I’m hopeful, and now, I’m 38.

Wait and Ruminate

I’m spinning out today.

Some days I feel fine. Great, even. Others it feels like the sky is falling. Today is the latter.

I woke up with a cloud over my head and, because I live in a glass cage of emotion, immediately began sifting through the contents of my brain to figure out why. I came up with a few reasons, and my guess is that by embarking on this blog post, I’ll discover one or two more in the process.

Recently some people close to me have gotten their first dose of the vaccine. This triggered a simultaneous range of emotions. First, I am happy for them. I want them to be healthy and protected. I was also filled with jealousy. And I’m owning this as a reflection on me, not on my loved ones. If I were in their shoes, I’d have gotten the shot too. In a heartbeat. This is about my longing to feel safe again. I see others around me getting what I desperately want, and of course it’s going to trigger a reaction. It reminds me of how I felt when friends or acquaintances announced pregnancies when my own fertility status was unknown and precarious. I remember telling my therapist that those yucky feelings were getting in the way of my happiness for my friends. It’s my own junk that I have to work through, made more difficult by the fact that I have no idea how much longer I have to wait.

This is all compounded by my firm, often stubborn, adherence to standards of fairness and justice. Oregon leadership has decided to vaccinate educators ahead of seniors, and it makes my blood boil. They have decided that opening schools is more important than saving the lives of our parents and grandparents. Even so, many school districts are charging full speed ahead and are partially or fully opening even before educators have had the chance to get both shots and have enough time to build the required immunity for full protection, all in the name of getting kids into school buildings for 8 weeks – behind masks and plexiglass and glued to desks and working on computers. All this, while thousands of seniors wait and die waiting for vaccine doses with their names on them.

I have never been more glad that my parents do not live in this state. I’m angry now, but if I had to watch my parents wait through this, I’d be absolutely livid and out of my mind with fear for their safety.

The other fairness piece is that my immediate family and I have been social distancing as health experts have advised. We have sacrificed a lot in an attempt to ensure our family doesn’t get sick and that if we do, we won’t get anyone else sick. It’s hard for me to sit here, feeling like I’ve been a good girl following the rules, and watch other people enjoying extracurricular activities. I understand that my ability to social distance to this degree is a largely a function of privilege. My husband has a white collar job that he can do from home. We can afford for me to stay home and do unpaid childcare, unpaid tutoring, unpaid-keep-the-house-from-falling-apart. We have stable housing and a reliable internet connection, etc. etc. It’s because of this privilege, including that I’m young and white and healthy, that I can afford to wait longer for the vaccine than almost all other populations. As it should be.

At the same time, we’ve also made many, many choices to stay home when we very well could have gone out and socialized and taken risks. In that sense, I can’t help but feel anger and resentment when I see others get vaccinated who haven’t “followed the rules,” whatever that means. My “fairness and justice” button is large and sensitive.

And so I continue to wait and ruminate and worry and doom scroll. (Not to even mention the slow-motion race we’re in to vaccinate people ahead of these more contagious covid mutations and that’s not even mentioning the Brazilian or South African strains that may not respond to current vaccines…welcome to my brain.) I remind myself on a daily basis that I am safe (what a relative word that has become) – and some days require more intense persuasion than others. That I am doing what is right for me and my family. That this hellscape will not last forever. In theory. You know.