Fool me once

2021 really sucked. This year was extremely rough, even moreso than 2020. I’ve never been so bogged down by depression and anxiety before. I’ve never been physically injured so badly before. I’ve never felt so profoundly burned out. The word “exhaustion” doesn’t even cut it.

I worked on myself a lot. Physically and mentally. Felt like most of the time I was struggling to break even, to keep going. To get through the day. There were definitely bright spots. Traveling, as simple as getting out of town for the weekend, either with friends or family. That’s the crux, really – the word simple. As the sequel to 2020 in a shitty franchise that goes on forever, I’ve had to focus on the simple pleasures, and honestly that’s been nice.

I really hope 2022 is better. Dear lord I need that, we all need that. I’m also hesitant to place a bet because this rollercoaster has fooled us all multiple times now. Fool me once.

In 2021 I read the second highest number of books in one year in my adult life. This year I read 25 books, three of which were Harry Potter read out loud to my kids, a few pages each night, complete with all the voices. Man, that was fun! Such a joy to read a Quidditch match as fast as I can to try and spark excitement and action. It’s amazing reading Fred and George’s lines and getting laughs. Books are the best.

This year, I made a point to choose some books with the aim to educate myself on race and the black experience.

  • White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo
  • I’m Still Here – Austin Channing Brown
  • You Are Your Best Thing – Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, editors

All were informative in their own way. You Are Your Best Thing was the most emotional, as a collection of stories and essays from black authors.

I finally finished Barack Obama’s book, which was tough to consume as bedtime reading. Perhaps I should have invested in the audiobook – his voice is quite soothing but would that have made the experience even longer?

  • A Promised Land – Barack Obama

I read a bunch of titles that were just meh for me. I wouldn’t really recommend them. I suppose I enjoyed Anxious People the most out of this bunch.

  • Anxious People – Fredrik Backman
  • Welcome to the United States of Anxiety – Jen Lancaster
  • The Sanatorium – Sarah Pearse
  • Hush – Dylan Farrow

Here are the other non-fiction titles I read this year.

  • The Power Worshippers – Katherine Stewart
  • Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
  • Burnout – Emily and Amelia Nagoski

Power Worshippers was about how evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are working in America (and overseas, actually) to infiltrate the public school system and get people elected to public office, among other things. I had no idea how many churches use public school buildings to save on costs, and in an attempt to recruit young members. Anyway, I saw the book on a shelf and grabbed it and it was an infuriating read. Yes was fun to read and learn more about the woman behind all those hit shows on TV like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. Burnout was a self-help book, but SUCH a good one. It speaks to women in context of the patriarchy and explains what burnout is and how to complete the stress cycle in our lives. I’m pretty sure it was written pre-Covid, but my glob, it was exactly what I needed.

This year, The Bloggess, aka Jenny Lawson had a new book come out and it did not disappoint. That woman is skillful at chronicling her experiences with mental illness in such a way that is honest, humanizing, and extremely funny. It’s beyond validating to read.

  • Broken, In The Best Possible Way – Jenny Lawson

For my Halloween book this year, I stumbled across Grady Hendrix and he is masterful. He created a slasher book that reads like a movie with exquisite dry humor woven in. I identified with the anxious, protective, badass, sarcastic leading Final Girl and wanted more.

  • The Final Girl Support Group – Grady Hendrix

I am a huge Brene Brown fan. I love her work and I love her, both as me the clinician and me the person. Her podcasts have helped me cope over the past 2 years and her new book should be required reading for being human. I’m fascinated with language and how it’s used, and how that shapes our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We need a fan club. What are her fans called? Brownies? Friends of Brene?

  • Atlas of the Heart – Brene Brown

I won’t list every single book I read this year, but these last four are my top four fiction books of the year.

4. Outlawed – Anna North

A friend recommended this one to me, and I knew enough to take her up on it. It’s an alternate history western that is after the “Great Flu” and is feminist AF. Very fun and interesting to read.

3. The Whisper Network – Chandler Baker

Recommended by the same friend, this one is Big Little Lies meets The Morning Show. It’s a group of women working in corporate America dealing with all the shit women deal with…and it’s a whodunit. It’s good, y’all.

2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

This one was recommended by a different friend, one who knows my love of WWII civilian life. This is based on the true story of two people who meet and fall in love living in the Auschwitz concentration camp, if you can call that living. It is an awe-inspiring account of the horrors of war and the resilience of the human spirit. Brought me to tears.

  1. The Alice Network – Kate Quinn

By far the best book I read all year. I couldn’t put it down. This one intertwines the storylines of two different women in two different time periods – one is a spy in The Great War and one is pregnant out of wedlock in post-WWII Europe. The way the characters are written are detailed, nuanced, full of trauma. I was on the edge of my seat, and afterward I researched just how true to life the story was. Several of the spies in this book were real people. Real badass ladies.

So there you have it. 2021 was definitely the year to get lost in a good book if there ever was one. Happy New Year, all, and happy reading.

You don’t know me

Today I went for a walk.

I reeeeeeally didn’t want to. It’s raining, and it’s super cold. Which is shitty because if it were just a few degrees colder, it’d be snow, and that would make all the difference.

But no. It’s cold and wet and I forced myself outside because I’m told it’d be good for me and because I’m desperate to feel better.

I wake up most mornings these days feeling like there’s a sack of flour on my chest. I don’t know why. It’s become automatic at this point. Sometimes, a lot of the time, I forget what it’s like to feel relaxed. Truly, simply, relaxed. Calm. Peaceful. Content.

It makes me sad. It makes me frustrated. It makes me feel despair. It makes me feel broken.

It makes me feel like my anxiety and depression is my fault. Because I’m type A, numero uno on the enneagram, I like feeling in control (or at least having the illusion of control). And if I’m in control, that means that things are my fault. That I should be able to feel a certain way or not feel a certain way if I want to. That if I can’t feel a certain way, then I must be doing something wrong. Only I’m doing ALL THE THINGS. And I still feel this way. And I’m fucking exhausted.

So, clearly, logically, it’s not my fault. Go figure. I think that’s been the single most impactful intervention my therapist has said to me in the past 6 months. That my anxiety is not my fault. You know what? No one had ever told me that before. I don’t think it had honestly occurred to me until then. Well, shit.

At the same time, the part of me that knows this isn’t my fault wants some more fucking credit for all the shit I’ve been doing. And when a professional implies that I should be doing more, or that I’m not doing enough, I implode. Do you know how hard I’m working?! I want to scream, Don’t you get how much effort I’ve put into getting healthy?!

My therapist asked me if I’m journaling. Fuck you, was the response in my head. You want me to do one more thing? Like I’m not already doing enough? You don’t know me. (Those of you who are Brene Brown fans and follow her podcasts will especially get that last line.)

My psychiatrist wants me to get some kind of exercise every day, if I can. Is that good advice? Yup. Is it always feasible? Nope. Do I want credit for busting my ass to get to 3 classes a week and taking walks in the freezing rain? You bet I do.

I’m realizing that I want to be taken care of. As a mom and a woman, I take care of everybody else’s shit. All day errday. I don’t get people cleaning up my messes or kissing my boo-boos or telling me what a great job I’m doing. And I’ve been seeking that out from paid professionals in my life. In the past 6 months, I’ve employed a physical therapist, a chiropractor, an individual mental health therapist, a psychiatrist, a couples therapist, two yoga instructors, a pilates instructor, and a partridge in a pear tree. That’s me asking for help. That’s me getting the care I need and I deserve.

And through this process, I’m realizing just how closely linked to shame my anxiety and depression are. I’ve never had them stick around so long before, and it’s freaking me out. It’s exhausting. I am depleted. Something must be wrong with me. And I want a parental figure to say I’m doing a great job. Look at all the hard work you’re doing! I see it and I give you credit. It’s such a primordial need; such a young and vulnerable feeling.

I took a walk today in the freezing rain. I closed my rings today. That good enough for you? Am I good enough?

You want me to find time to journal on top of everything else?

Here’s your fucking journal entry.

Just a minute

I needed a minute

To gather myself

Picking up the pieces I dropped along the way

I made it here in one piece

Only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle

I needed a minute

Before you noticed me

And yelled at me to come inside

Let me find my grit

And smear some on my face

For you

Or for me

I’m not quite sure

I needed a minute

To breathe

To think

To not breathe

To not think

I needed a minute

Without you

Just a minute

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.

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.

The World Is Not Ending

I’ve realized I need to remind myself that the world is not ending.

Somewhere along the way, I figured all the stores are closed and school is closed, so I should be too.

This is it. Accept it. We don’t get nice things anymore.

But then I hear other people are going out.

Having experiences.

Seeing people.

Doing things.

Living their lives.

And then I remember. Huh. Maybe I should too?

Staying home is nice.

Safe.

Warm.

Comfy.

But is this what I want?

I’m so tired.

Weary.

Sad.

Numb.

But is this what I want?

Sometimes I don’t know what I want.

Oftentimes I change my mind.

Or my mind changes me.

Just remember, self: the world is not ending

And neither are you.


Day 22: Pepper Day!

Short story: Together in the Muck

 

Two times this pandemic, I did something I’ve never done before.

I entered two short story writing contests. And – you guys – I came in second in both. I’m super proud of myself, especially because writing fiction is not usually my jam.

To be fair, the first story I submitted was about 90% fact with some embellishing thrown in. I had originally written it here, on this blog, about being pregnant with my first. The second story I wrote from scratch and it’s based on my experience working as a therapist in a nonprofit. I’m very proud of how it turned out. Here it is, dear readers.


“I know what you’re doing,” she interrupted me, “and I want you to stop it.”

“What am I doing?” I asked, genuinely perplexed.

“You’re trying to make me feel better, and it won’t work.”

I sucked in some air, immediately defensive.

Of course I’m trying to make you feel better! I’m your therapist, for Christ’s sake.

“Look, Madison, I’d like to be able to help you, but I can’t do that if you’re unwilling to answer my questions. I’m curious to know more about the positive things in your life.”

“My life is shit! That’s why I’m here.” Fresh tears made Madison’s heavy black eyeliner streak down her cheeks and disappear into her oversized black t-shirt.

“Your life is not shit. You just told me about your dog who loves you more than anything. Your artistic talent is incredible! That’s not nothing.”

“He’s just a dog! These are stupid doodles! And what do you know about my life?! You’re just a shrink that my mom pays so she doesn’t have to look at me.” Madison started shoving her sketchpad and pencil into her backpack.

I’m losing her, don’t lose her.

“I’d love to know more about your life if you’d let me. I think you downplay what could be sources of real happiness, like your mom. I’m sure she loves y-”

Madison was already standing. Tears had been replaced with fire in her blue eyes.

“I told you to stop it.”

She strode to the door, yanked it open, and stomped down the hall. I slumped down in my chair, defeated. We still had fifteen minutes left.

Session 3. Client presents in a depressed, irritable mood. Exhibits poor eye contact, sluggish movements, intermittent crying. Affect is blunted at times but mood congruent. Resistant and uncooperative in working towards treatment goals – client left 15 minutes early. Next session in 1 week.


The chunky, rough rope cut into her hands, but she gripped it tighter, resolve flowing through her. Feet planted, arm muscles tensed as she held the rope steady. She wasn’t able to pull it toward her, but for now, that was okay.

Just don’t let go.


“So, how have you been?” I gingerly chose my words as Madison settled in across the room. The more sessions we had, the more she seemed to move-in each time. Today I watched as she unpacked her sketchbook, a few pencils, a sweatshirt, and a half-eaten granola bar that she unwrapped and shoved into her mouth.

“Mmruph.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

She took her time chewing and swallowing. “Hungry. I dunno.”

Sigh. What do I do with that?

“What would you like to talk about today?”

Madison shrugged, then busied herself with sharpening a pencil and turning over a fresh page in her book. Wordlessly, she began to draw.

Not knowing what else to say, and worried I’d say the wrong thing, I asked, “What kinds of things do you like to draw?”

After several beats, “A bit of everything. You know. Animals. Landscapes. People.” She answered me from under a curtain of long, blonde hair dyed purple that had fallen in front of her face.

Rather than respond, I decided to try riding out the silence. Often it felt like I was doing too much work to try and keep the conversation, any semblance of a conversation, afloat. Clearly, she prefers doing things at her own pace. I should try letting her.

Minutes went by, where all we heard was the soft scratching of Madison’s pencil on the paper. Every once in a while, her eyes darted up and back down again as she hunched over her lap, focused. I watched her and waited.

“So do you have kids?” Madison asked without pausing her drawing.

Caught off guard, I robotically gave the classic therapist response they coach you on in training: “What makes you curious to know?”

She bristled while meeting my gaze. “You can just answer the question.”

I made a conscious effort to soften my tone. “I honestly don’t mind answering the question, I just want to know why you’re curious first.”

She paused, evaluating me. “I don’t know. You seem like you’d be good at it. And you’re always trying to get me to talk to my mom more.”

“Well, thanks.” Did not expect that answer.

“…so do you? Have kids?”

“Ha. I don’t, although I would like to someday.”

There’s something here, something she’s mulling over. What is it?

Our eyes met for a moment longer than was comfortable, and Madison hunched over her sketchpad once more. Silence fell for another minute. Wait for it.

“I got into art school. My mom wants me to go.” Her voice was a fraction above a whisper.

“What?! That’s incredible! Congratulations!” My surprise and excitement came bursting out. She deserves this! She’s suffered way too much trauma; it’s about time she had some good news in her life.

“It’s not a big deal. I probably won’t go.”

“What? Of course it’s a big deal! Why wouldn’t you go?”

Madison looked me dead in the eyes. “Why do you even care?”

She’s testing me. What’s the right answer here?

“I-I care about you, and you deserve good things, Madison. It’s okay to allow yourself to feel happy.”

Madison’s eyes narrowed. “…Did my mom talk to you?”

“What? No. Why?”

“Whatever.”

I felt all her remaining energy drain from the room. Mine went with it.

I glanced at the clock on the wall behind Madison’s shoulder.

“We’re out of time for today,” I sighed, “But I would like to continue talking about this next session.”

As she got up to leave, she tore the top page from her sketchbook. She crossed the room and before she turned for the door, she let the paper fall facedown on my desk.

I watched her disappear around the corner and then went back to my desk and turned the paper over. It was the most exquisite portrait of me, down to the mole on my left cheek. I was drawn seated in my cheap office chair, hands clasped smartly in my lap and my eyes gazed straight at the viewer, as if I were desperately trying to win a staring contest.

Session 6. Client presents in an irritable mood, reports feeling “hungry.” Exhibits intermittent eye contact, hunched body presentation. Affect is blunted at times but mood congruent; speech often quiet, slow, halted. Presents as resistant and defensive. Next session in 1 week.


She was being dragged forward, in the wrong direction. Her feet dug into the ground, but it wasn’t enough to keep her from sliding. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this up.


“I need to get outta here.”

Madison was visibly upset, about what she wouldn’t say. She was rocking back and forth in her seat, tugging on her hair (now dyed blue), and if I didn’t intervene soon, she was going to start hyperventilating.

“Of course. Do you want to take a walk?” I motioned towards the door.

She nodded and grabbed her backpack.

As soon as we got outside, her breathing slowed. She seemed less agitated.

“I want to sit down.”

“Sure, let’s go over here.” I pointed to a park bench in the shade.

We sat at opposite ends of the bench and Madison bent over and put her head in her hands. I angled my body towards her.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked. What is going on?! I wonder if her dad tried to contact her again.

“No. I don’t.” Her voice was muffled.

I just want to comfort you! Tell me how!

“Okay.”

We sat in silence for several minutes. I wondered if Madison could hear the birds or feel the breeze. She seemed a million miles away, unreachable.

“My life sucks.” I could barely hear her.

What happened?

You have so many positive things in your life!

You’re the strongest, most resilient person I know.

Your life can’t suck. I won’t let it.

I took a deep breath. “Everything is going to be oka-”

Madison let out a sound somewhere between a groan and a wail.

Stop.

Stop pulling and go to meet her.

Meet her where she’s at.

I sighed and turned my body to face forward, mirroring hers. “You’re right. Life sucks, especially yours. You got dealt a shit hand and it’s not fair. I’m sorry.”

Madison looked up and held my gaze for a moment before looking away.

“Yeah,” she said, “it sucks.”

Each of us dropped our section of rope. I waded into the mud pit to meet Madison, who was already there. I let myself sink down in and the sludge encircled us both.

We sat in silence, together in the muck, for the remainder of the session.

Session 8. Client presents in an anxious, depressed mood, reports “life sucks,” because it does. Exhibits normal behavior considering the circumstances. She’s doing the best she can. We both are. Next session in 1 week.

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.

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.