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.

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.

 

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.

You Have Died of Dysentery

I happen to live quite close to the end of the Oregon Trail.

Yes, that Oregon Trail. Covered wagons, food rations, the gold rush, and that super awesome game we all know and love that was made in the 70s, but captured our hearts in the 80s and well into the 90s.

Today, we went and visited the quite lovely and very kid-friendly museum located approximately where the wagons came to a halt and the log cabins started going up.

Part of the exhibit was about all the indigenous populations that were totally driven out of the area (either physically displaced, or by disease), and I was glad to be learning about that on Black Friday instead of participating in some mass demonstration in consumerism.

I’ve been living here in Oregon now for almost exactly 6 years, and going back and re-learning about the Oregon Trail was particularly exiting for me because all the places and landmarks at the end of the trail are places I actually know and some on which I have actually set foot!

The Dalles! I know where that is! I see it on the weather map each day on the morning news! HISTORY HAPPENED THERE.

Everything is cooler when you can put it into context.

Anyhoo, I was so jazzed by the museum that I came home and found the old game on the interwebs and played it again for old times sake. Dude, it was such a fun blast from the past! I had forgotten so many intricacies of the game, like the shitty, plunky music you hear at each landmark you reach, or that you get to raft down the Columbia River at the end!

 

My husband didn’t stand a chance. Sorry, love.

I encourage you all to carve out some time in your day and some room in your hearts and play this game one more time.

Not for me, not for Oregon, but for yourself.


nanopoblano2019

I wrote letters to my representatives about gun control

Today, I am reposting this older post because not enough has changed.

When I originally wrote this post, I had one baby boy. Now I have two kids in school and shit is getting real. As a mom and citizen, I am getting increasingly scared, angry, and frustrated.
Let’s place human life above politics and money, research the hell out of the American gun violence phenomenon, and then implement evidence-based practices to prevent it.
Moving forward, no politician gets my vote unless she/he has a comprehensive gun violence prevention plan.
No more excuses.

nanopoblano2019

Psychobabble

The shooting in Roseburg, OR last week motivated me to write letters to my representatives encouraging them to pass sensible gun control laws.

I’m listing the Oregon reps (and their contact info) to whom I wrote, and below that I will include the basic letter that I wrote and adapted for each representative.

It’s not okay to take my writing from this site without my permission, but today, everyone has my permission for this post.  Please- take my letter and use it!  Write to your representatives and adapt my letter to make it say how you feel.  Make your voice be heard!

I’m sick and tired and frustrated, but I am also realistic.  I know there’s a good chance that all these reps will ignore my letter.  That is what it is.  But at least I did something.

Today, I did something.

What will you do?

———————-

Oregon Representatives

View original post 306 more words

Ways I Combat Seasonal Depression

Hello, dear Psychos, and welcome to Day 8.

Seasonal Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately SAD) is a real thing. Oregon is cold, it’s dark, and it’s freakin gray. It’s hard to get out of bed some mornings, and I often can’t get warm, even in my own house. It’s no mistake that Jo Rowling (we’re on a first name basis, people) gave the dementors, a metaphor for depression, the power to create an icy chill in their midst while sucking the soul out of their victims. When I’m cold, like that chilled-to-the-bone feeling, I’m irritable. Moody. Unable to feel contentment. I feel like crawling back into bed.

I have several tricks up my sleeve to try and keep the soul-sucking dementors at bay. I wish I had a magic wand, but I guess my Hogwarts letter got lost in the post.

Until that ruddy post owl is found, here are the things I try:

Note: This post is not a replacement for real, amazing therapy. These are simply things that work for me personally. Psychology Today is a great place to start looking for a therapist if you’re in the market, as it were.

  • My light therapy lamp

Last year, I finally went out and got myself a happy lamp! Getting up in the morning is hard for me, especially in the winter time when it’s pitch black outside. Somehow, that just seems wrong for a person to have to function in those conditions. I just got my lamp back out for the season, and I put it on my bathroom counter and flick it on as soon as I get out of bed. It’s on and shining into my eyes for about 10-15 minutes as I get ready in front of the mirror. It helps to perk me up in the mornings and makes me feel less dead inside. I wish I could get the effects for longer, but I have active kids who need to be places and I no longer sit in one place for very long. At this point I’ll take whatever I can get.

  • My slippers and hats and sweatshirts and blankets. And sometimes my cat.

Did I mention that I get cold in the winter? I’m actually always cold, but in the winter I’m knocking-on-death’s-door cold. I still can’t believe that I survived living in Boston for two years. I attempt to stay warm by wearing fuzzy slippers. I have ones with down feathers in them. And memory foam. I also have those buttery-soft slipper-socks. When I’m feeling saucy, I’ll wear slipper-socks and slippers at the same time. It’s also not unheard of for me to wear a jacket indoors, or one of my many knit hats. The couch is covered with blankets. And when I don’t hate my cat (and when she doesn’t hate me), I will allow her to sit on my lap to keep my nether regions from frosting over. When animals aren’t total assholes, they can be kind of comforting.

  • Those microwavable ricey/beany heat pad thingies

They are warm when I am not. The end.

  • Hot drinks, sometimes with sugar and caffeine

In the winter, I’ll often make hot decaf tea in the afternoons and evenings (in addition to my normal caffeinated morning beverage) to take the chill off, but also because they provide this psychological cozy boost. I enjoy feeling the warm, solid mug between my palms and breathing in the sweet, warm vapors. The Dutch call this feeling gezellig, which roughly translates to “cozy,” and I find myself often chasing it.

  • FIRE. (Candles and the fireplace)

First off, let me just say that Oregonians have a weird obsession with scented things and lighting shit on fire. Haven’t any of you heard of a spare the air day?! Having said that, I do enjoy the occasional scented candle or switching on our gas fireplace because Oregon creeps up on you after a while. It’s the warmth, but it’s also the psychological boost from the bright, flickering lights and the yummy, spicy, earthy, comforting scents that can fill up the house and my soul.

  • Music

Music is the perfect drug; there is a piece of music to induce any mood you’re after, with little to no side effects. Spooky Halloween music, cozy Christmas music, after dinner dance party music (pants optional). Music shoos them dementors straight back to Azkaban. Also, if you don’t get these Harry Potter references, consider yourself on notice.

  • People

I tend to isolate when I’m anxious and depressed, so I schedule events on my calendar to get me out of the house and interacting with humans over the age of 5, even if it’s cold and rainy and gross and disgusting outside. We might get wet or cold or muddy or all three, but at least we have a fun time hanging out with others, and then we’ll get warm and gezellig once we’re back home again.

  • HUMOR!!!!!! DEAR GOD, THE HUMOR!

Humor is my EXPECTO PATRONUM!!!!!! Laughter boosts the mood and the immune system. It brings people together, and holy crap it makes me feel less alone. The best cross-section of humor and mental health I can think of can be found at The Bloggess. Jenny suffers from anxiety and depression, but she doesn’t let that get in the way of being fucking hilarious. She’s the reason I started blogging, and I love her and I met her once and she signed my DSM because that’s how deep her commitment to hilarity runs. She normalizes and humanizes mental illness, makes me feel less alone, and makes me laugh – which makes me feel better. Boom. If you’re at all interested, read her blog, check out her books – geez, I wonder if she’ll pay me for this? Shout out, Jen! Call me.

As an example to show how much Jenny Lawson just gets me, here are her calendar pages for October and November:

 

She gets me.

 

The timing is no mistake

 

Ok, I’ll stop here. I hope this is helpful for some people. TELL ME – What do you do to combat the cold, dark, gray, damp winter months of torture?!

nanopoblano2019

 

 

 

Wake me up when September ends

Fall has hit me like a pile of bricks.

I was worried that it would feel like this, and I found myself bracing for it as our Hawaiian vacation came to an end last week.

In more ways than one (and especially in hindsight), our vacation became this paradise compared to the slog of everyday life here in Oregon.

41151260_10108483731949973_5000675352385683456_n

We had been in gorgeous weather. Delicious warmth, invigorating ocean breeze, and humidity that I actually welcomed. We stepped off the plane in Portland and it was frigid and drizzly. Ugh, welcome home.

On vacation, my husband was right there with me, making decisions and plans, helping to clean up messes and deal with meltdowns. We went to bed at the same time and we got up at the same time and we had quality family time and we had fun. When we got home, we went straight into the Fall routine. By the time I got up in the morning, my husband had already left for work. I was alone to draaaaag the kids out of bed, convince my older one to get dressed, and beg them both to PLEASE EAT BREAKFAST. I was yelling and pleading before we even left the house for school. On top of it all, I was exhausted and frankly mourning the loss of summer and dreading the coming winter months.

Another piece to this is that I terminated therapy this past week. (That’s the clinical term – termination. I don’t like it; it feels extremely violent for just describing a goodbye and an end to treatment.) This was a planned termination, and it was good, albeit bittersweet. I could sense that we were at a stopping point for some time now, as I had started to come to session and just tell stories about my week. Holy cow, somehow over a year in therapy had passed and I had actually accomplished what I had set out to do. My anxiety has been reduced, not eliminated but reduced. The unexpected work became more about accepting that anxiety is normal and not to let its presence completely derail my daily life. I’m proud of the work that I did, and I am happy to have met and worked with my awesome therapist. The bitter part is twofold: now I find myself mourning the relationship and the placeholder that sessions had been for me. They were an oasis of calm in my week, and they provided a guaranteed break from my kids and partner. Second, now that therapy is done, my safety net is gone. My anxiety might (no, will) come flaring back at some point and then what am I supposed to do?! It’s scary and sad.

So. Let’s just say that coming home from a magical vacation and thrust back into a chilly reality has not been fun. I’m trying to keep perspective. I’m trying to look forward to Halloween. (Anyone have any costume ideas for a family of four?!?!)

Please send me comforting Fall vibes. Maybe I just need an effing PSL already.

The Tulip Fields

There was a storm brewing; they were on borrowed time.

But they were on a mission.

The troops were already fatigued and in low spirits when they arrived on the battlefield. The General and Officer oversaw the unloading and packing of gear and made sure there were enough rations on hand, then they set off.

They trudged through muddy trenches and seemingly endless fields. The icy winds whipped around them and tugged at their uniforms. It was hard to take in the natural beauty of their surroundings from under the weight of their collective burden.

Barely halfway to the rendezvous point, two of the weakest soldiers began to break down. There were flashbacks, tears, and one even collapsed in a mud puddle of despair.

There was brief talk of deserting the fallen solider. Perhaps another unit would take her on.

Enough! barked the General. We never leave a solider behind! On my count, heave!

There was no other option- she was carried by the General herself. Later, she’d receive a bronze star for her heroism (The General, not the solider).

More began to fall, and again, they were carried. It began to feel overwhelming. They didn’t think they could go on. Some were pressing to turn back, scrap the mission.

No. We’ve come too far. We’ve sacrificed too much!

Their objective was clear – keep going.

The General ordered the Officer to break out and distribute a portion of the rations, which were to be eaten during the march. There was to be no stopping. Delaying the arrival at the rendezvous point could prove a foolish mistake.

The hard tack revived the troops. They kept marching with renewed vigor, even loud, boisterous whoops of hope and joy.

And then, through the clouds, they could see it. Their destination. A warm welcome, fresh food and water awaited them.

They had made it, and they lived to fight another day. (The return journey back to their transport would be another story, of course.)

DSC_0566