Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Earth Circling the Sun

I keep thinking 2018 will magically make my life better.  I feel as though the 8 replacing the 7 will change everything.  This isn't a new thought, is it?  Lots of people make resolutions and wax poetic about the new year.  I know, however, that tomorrow night will not erase my grief, guilt, or mental illness.  Nothing but the date will change.  Still, the earth did circle the sun and that must mean something.   

2017 started off well.  I entered into my last semester of grad school, and I felt proud of what I had accomplished up until that point.  I won an academic award for having a 4.0 each semester, which was a specific goal I had and reaching a goal is always worthy of celebration.

Early 2017 was also a great time of stability in my life.  My medications were working, and my moods were mostly healthy.

Then I got that call in April.  "Your brother took his life this morning."  I actually challenged her and said, "No he didn't."  The tears came.  From that moment, my life halved itself.  I still attended school, and I still tried my best, and while part of me was excited about graduation, most of me was numb and simply surviving.  I graduated in May, and my family took a trip to Universal Studios.  It was a sweet distraction that lasted only as long as it could.  During that time, I recognized that some people are true friends, through any and everything, and some people are there for the good times only.

The summer came, and I found other distractions, some healthy and some not, but all welcomed.  I rediscovered the way writing helps me.  In a short few months, I made and lost a friend who had a deep impact on me.   My marriage fell into a black abyss, and the last vestiges of my stability fell away.  The help I sought was barely enough.

The summer ended, and I began searching for a job, which came quickly.  Working again has been a positive experience.  I have supportive co-workers and supervisors, and I enjoy the job.

These last few months, stability has been returning, somewhat too rapidly to be believed.  The help I have sought is beneficial, and my coping skills are mostly healthy now.  My marriage is floating back to the surface.

I find myself saying "2018 will be better."  Truthfully though, there is no way of knowing, and it is wishful thinking to claim it.    It isn't pessimism exactly, just the knowledge that I have no control over what happens in a year.  All I have control over are my thoughts, behaviors, and feelings in response to what happens, whether good or bad.

I do wish everyone a Happy New Year, especially when it personally means beginnings and a sense of second, third, or fourth chances. I'm still making three resolutions:  To cope better, to read more, and to write more.     

The earth circling the sun must mean something.   

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Poetry Passing Time

Seeing the Alliterative Psychiatrist

A cedar ceiling and
Color of walnut shell walls
Secrets, hallucinations, horrors are
Told within these neutral nodes
As pitiful people tap their
Fingers, feet flutter
A fox betrays a bull pin
On a box betraying brevity.
Currently, guns gargantuan
Too soon or not soon enough
To talk tactics
Anxiety, like aromatic bread,
Warm raisin, rises.
Some stare, cramped neck at
a smaller box, cartoon caricatures
fake feelings real faces
can't contract.
Dignify my designation so
I can take my turn.
Tell my tale
Land Latuda
Verify Viibryd.
Manage monthly.
Fucking fuck.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Grieving When You Have Older Children Watching

My husband is home on a two week visit, and even though I have often said I just want him to hold me while cry, I still cry on my own. In theory, I don't really hide it. I usually cannot control the first few tears before I lock the door to the bathroom and sob in the shower or announce I'm going to lay in the bed and "get some of these tears out."  He seems to understand that although I don't want to grieve alone, the outward show of grief is somehow embarrassing for me, and when there are others around, I cannot be true to the grief in all its ugliness.  I need to be able to make noises as I run out of breath, and I need to make those contorted faces that come with the waves that make your stomach actually hurt like a contraction.  The fetal position in a bed isn't pretty, but it is the helpless infant we revert back to.

My husband and my daughter left to go to the store, and I could not join them.  I'm too randomly weepy.

The youngest child is not here, but the oldest is.  My bedroom door was closed, and he knocked.  "Mom."

"What?"  I gargled this word because I had just experienced a breathless contraction in my stomach.

"Can I come in?"

"No, the door is locked."  What I didn't say:  I can't get out of the bed to unlock it.  I don't want you to see my face splotchy, shiny, and wet.  He knows though.

He asked what he wanted to ask through the door, and he got the answer he wanted.  He moved on.

What am I teaching him?  That thought came next.  If I am embarrassed to be seen experiencing this pain, what was I taught growing up?  Or did I not learn this at all and it is more just a personal preference? I think maybe a combination of both, but I also know I need to have a conversation with him and the other kids.  Even if my actions do not match my words, I have to let them know that it is not a rule that one must hide in a room to cry.  There should be nothing shameful in loving others so much that when those others are gone, our face contorts, we can't breathe, and the tears just flow.  I don't know how to bridge that gap of processing this with them and actually showing by example, but I know they are watching. Perhaps the first step is telling, then building up to showing.  Maybe it is tagging them when I share this on Facebook.

I love Chad tremendously and the loss of him hurts me so deeply.  The loss of him brings up earlier losses as well, my mom, my grandpa, my godmother.  I do not want my kids believing that loving someone and losing them means secrecy and isolation.  I welcome suggestions and personal stories of how grief is expressed in your own family. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sacred Tears, Holes, and Jokes

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
–Washington Irving

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
— Edna St. Vincent Millay

I wanted to call him today to tell him that in the shower this morning I randomly remembered a horribly corny joke that our step-grandfather told us when we were kids. 

You are trapped in the jungle with a gun with only bullet.  A camel, snake, and lion are all coming at you.  What do you do?

You smoke the camel, erase the lion, and shoot the snake.

(The joke rests on the teller having an accent when pronouncing "lion.")

I originally did not get the joke; I was too young, but our step-grandfather repeated it for years and one day, I got it.

So today I fell in the hole and the power is flowing from my eyes, which is not to say I have been immensely better.  I just have not been in a hole. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Out of the Darkness

This morning was the Out of the Darkness walk for the awareness and prevention of suicide.  I had actually forgotten about it until about 2:00 am this morning.  I was sleeping well but awoke with a start and remembered the walk.  I thought there was no way I would make it; the emotion of it was too great, and I went back to sleep.  At 7:00, Trent and I woke up, and I still waffled about going.  As I sipped coffee, I remembered my friends and family who donated money on the premise that I would walk.  I was positive none of them would fault me for staying home and crying, but I couldn't rest with that thought, and I felt certain I should go.

As I drove to the coliseum, the tears flowed and I experienced an unusual (for me) sense of social anxiety at the thought of walking into a crowd of people by myself.  I was wearing the t-shirt with the above picture and Chad's name with the years of his birth and death.  I felt exposed and raw, as though I was carrying a great ball of pain and holding it out for all the world to see.  I regretted my decision to go alone, and I wished for a hand to hold. 

I was forcibly calm as I walked into the crowds of people, registered, got my t-shirt prize from the money raised, and walked among the tents with brochures about suicide in the elderly, the military, and in the LGBTQ community.   I collected as much information as my purse would hold.  Suicide prevention is now a professional interest for me.

As the ceremonies began, different metaphors and stories brought me back to tears:  the pebble in a pond, the minimum of 100 people affected by each suicide, the memory of a service member who presented her life as perfect, even as she was suicidal.   A young woman in a rainbow shirt held a sign that said "It is okay not to be okay" on one side and "You are not alone" on the other side.  I wanted to hug her and tell her she was wise beyond her years.  Everywhere, people had pictures of lost loved ones, smiling in their frozen moment of time, just as Chad smiles above.  Yet, there was a joyful quality to the crowd, which confused me.

 As the walk began, I was delighted to see we were walking on the beach sidewalk.  At that same beach, I had once spent a day with my siblings.  I was 11 or 12 and Chad was 16 or 17.  I wondered if we had touched the spot I was looking at, if I had begged Chad to wait for me as he went further into the gulf.  Were we both blistering in the sun?  Had we helped our younger siblings make a sand castle?  Had we collected seashells with hermit crabs?  The tears flowed again.

 As I walked, I heard conversations around me.  Many were not about suicide, pain, or lost loved ones.  I felt a bit angry but then noticed their t-shirts gave death dates from years ago.  I was reminded that my loss is still fresh, and that in time, I will be able to walk and think of Chad but not feel so adrift and swallowed by pain.  I will be able to have a conversation about something else.

The turn around point for the walk was near this lighthouse.  Perhaps the metaphor is too heavy-handed, but there was beauty in that.  If we are taking people out of the darkness, we need a lighthouse to guide them back.  The sky was beautiful and the light breeze helped dry my tears.  Each of us can be a lighthouse for our loved ones.

After the walk, I talked with a new friend and couldn't control my tears.  We hugged and she validated that my loss is still so new.  Although I have always thought suicide awareness was a worthy cause, it had never been one of my causes.  Now it is.  I sometimes wonder how many causes I can hold dear, but the heart is elastic.

Another new friend asked if I would be interested in starting a support group on the eastern side of the coast.  I immediately balked at the idea as excuses flooded forth:  I've just started a new job; the kids have all their extracurricular activities; I need a babysitter; on and on.  Then I thought:  A principle in the social work code of ethics is service. When I got home, I read it:

Social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems.
Social workers elevate service to others above self-interest. Social workers draw on their knowledge, values, and skills to help people in need and to address social problems. Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return (pro bono service).

As a professor once said, "This is where the rubber meets the road."

Next year, I will not walk alone.  I hope to have my siblings, my children, my husband, my father, my aunts and uncles, Chad's children, and many friends.

Monday, August 28, 2017

October 2013 and now

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post about song lyrics that meant something to me.  I quoted The Fray's "How to Safe a Life", particularly the lyric:

Where did I go wrong?
I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness 

I spoke about all the friends I have lost over time, often because when a person gets too close, I tend to pull away.  Back in 2013, I was already somewhat stable but still struggling to keep friends.  After that, some new friendships were formed but also faded away.  Or rather, I pulled away or I self-sabotaged or the friendship simply ended for a reason that had nothing to do with me.  Either way, the losses hurt over and over again, and I reinforced the negative behaviors of pulling away as people pull close.  I told myself to stop needing people, and I idolized Estelle from Great Expectations, ignoring the happy ending of the story and only caring about her superb, controlled, and supreme coldness.

Then I started grad school and there were new friends, and as I learned what I learned, I let two people in further than before.  They nurtured me, and I tried my best to nurture them.  However, since Chad's death, the problem has returned.  Even with those two very special friends from school, I feel myself pulling away even as I need their friendship so badly.  It has happened with others as well; they get too close; I need too much; I become frightened of more pain, and I close the door.  I lose people in the bitterness.

My social worker told me today that it is similar to having a phobia of emotions instead of spiders and snakes.  She hit the nail on the head:  I am afraid of emotions because emotions can become too overwhelming, and it is easier to have no emotions than uncontrollable ones.  

I have been repeating to myself "This is what his suicide left behind" because I'm reminding myself that pain after a loss is normal, trying to avoid the pain is also normal, and engaging in negative coping mechanisms is normal, albeit not healthy.     

In a way, I'm back to the 16 year old girl who lost her mom and had no coping skills, didn't know how to ask for help, didn't know how to talk about any of it, and acted impulsively as a result.  Fortunately, I have therapy, education, and honesty this time.  

Ending these posts is always hard for me; I want to end on a positive note so everyone is left with a sense of closure, but honestly, there is no positive way to end this.  It is what it is.                

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Thematic Seasons

I have a theory that our lives pass in seasons, and those seasons typically have themes.  Before my current season of loss, graduate school was a season of improvement.  I improved my mind, my discipline, my writing, and my skills as an empathetic and reflective listener.  There were other, less prevalent themes of friendship, love, and advocacy, but the umbrella was always improvement.  Other seasons of my life have overflowed with themes such as love, motherhood, lust, and dysfunction.  There were seasons that seemed to have no theme, although I now question if the theme was not simply stagnation.

This theory melds well with something my social worker and I explored during a therapy session not long ago.  I was weeping for the loss of a season that was filled contentment, with smaller threads of love, happiness, and stability.  I asked why;  WHY does life, when we are so happy, rain down horror and sadness on our heads?  WHY are we punished for being so happy?  Specifically, what did I do to deserve such punishment?  My social worker challenged me to think of life as sadness and horror and of happiness as the reward.  Instead of being punished, I was being rewarded.  The happiness was fleeting because rewards are fleeting, while sadness tends to be prevalent because it is the matter of which life is made.

At the time, that answer gave me little solace.  I rebelled against the ideas that life is composed of sadness, that happiness is fleeting, and that we are rewarded with happiness.  I thought, shouldn't happiness be the default?  However, maybe my social worker is correct.  Seasons of happiness are our rewards, but seasons of loss and sadness are more frequent, or at the very least, feel more frequent.

I am currently in a season of loss and sadness, but it is not only Chad that I have lost.  During this season, there have been losses of friends, identities, mental stability, dreams, seasons that were better, and healthier ways of coping.   I am grieving so many things at one time, I am unable to tease apart the knot of yarn. 

Today, I told my social worker that I do not know how much longer I can survive this season.  I am so raw, and the pain is so overwhelming.  Every loss, no matter the size, now compounds the loss of Chad and magnifies the pain.  Next Thursday, I will experience another loss, and I will have to wall in the pain and find a way to numb it while I work through it.  I do not see an end to this season or the forthcoming reward, but that is the way the theory works:  the season we are in is the only season we can see.  We may be able to remember past seasons, but we are unable to predict future ones. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

What Suicide Left Behind and Friends

I had another episode today.  There were variables that led to it, but I will leave those be as there is nothing good that comes from telling it. 

What suicide left behind is grief confused by cognitive distortions, which is a $5,000 term for wrong beliefs.  Of course, I learned a great deal about cognitive distortions in grad school.  I know how to recognize them and challenge them, but knowing both of those things also means I know how to talk myself right back into thinking those faulty beliefs.  A person without my education, when their cognitive distortions are challenged, may say, "Oh wow, I've never thought about that!"  For me, I have thought of it, and I've also thought of 10 more reasons the challenge could be challenged. 

So today, this happened:

I felt guilty.  I read my brother's poetry years ago and saw the suicidal themes, but when I saw him, he was smiling and telling jokes so I let the language in the poems go.  I was once asked by a family member, "Aren't you in school for this?" and that is what repeated itself today: Wasn't I in school for this?  How on earth did I miss the signs? (Rereading his poetry is like a huge neon sign.) And I am paranoid other people are thinking it as well:  How does someone with mental health training and education miss the suicide waiting to happen in her own family?  And how does that bode for the future practitioner in me? 

As I regurgitated these and other cognitive distortions to the amazing Megan, she text back the following:

It is unwarranted guilt and a major distortion. Also, the lack of guilt from others compared to you possibly stems from the fact that you are your family's confidant, you know each of your siblings on a very deep level, and feeling like you missed it makes you feel like you failed them. Also, you nailed it on the head with those last texts. You feel inadequate as a mental health provider that you couldn't prevent this from happening. Holly, they are not going to blame you, but you have to find a way to accept what happened, because chances are, with the population you want to work with you will lose a patient to suicide, even though you did EVERYTHING you could, EVERYTHING right, you may still lose someone. You have to remind yourself 1) you are human you may not catch everything, especially if someone didn't want you to see that. 2) recognize the steps you did take, and given the
history there wasn't a risk, he was going to bed. 3) it's okay to hurt, it's okay to feel a little guilty, but it CANNOT consume you--grieve yes, but don't let guilt get in your head, that doubt, that voice saying you could have done something--fact is, Chad had that same voice I am sure, he did have a choice in this, and he made his decision and it has destroyed you, but my question to you is do you want that guilt to have that much power over you?
I don't know exactly why I'm sharing this.  I have been keeping a private journal for much of this mess that I will likely not share with anyone, but there is something in this, perhaps Megan's words, that need to be published for all to see.  Because even if you, my reader, aren't grieving a suicide, you are probably grieving something.  You are experiencing cognitive distortions about yourself and your family members.  Just know that there is hope, and if you can find "your Megan" in a friendship, or a therapist that is half as good as Megan, reach out and be honest, even if it is the hardest thing you to today.   

Monday, July 24, 2017

Death Anniversaries

July 25th marks 22 years since my mother passed away and almost 4 months since my brother died.

I have not been quiet regarding my struggles with grief complicated by mental illness, but I am attempting to be more proactive and less reactive, which my writing has been.  To prepare for this death anniversary, I spent time meditating on pleasant imagery.  As an atheist, I struggle with afterlife imagery.  I do not believe my mother or my brother can see me or are proud of me.  I do not believe they are together in some place such as heaven, but oddly, I found myself imagining that very scenario a few days ago.  Perhaps family and friends who are believers will attempt to tell me that my imagination is actually trying to convince me of a cosmic truth, but I ask for mercy.  My atheism is a result of many years of research, contemplation, and severe emotional distress.  This is not an open door for evangelizing, and in complete honesty, such efforts would cause me pain, which would result in anger and mistrust.

A few nights ago, I did 20 minutes of yoga then I laid in the corpse pose and slowed my breathing.  I cried a bit and attempted to imagine a beach, but the beach turned into road.  The road was long and my brother and my mother were walking towards each other from opposite ends.  They both wept as they embraced. I let go of the image because it was too much, but I sought out poetry. For me, words have a way of comforting and producing other, perhaps easier, images.  A friend who knows thousands of poems, both popular and obscure, assisted my search.  I was clear about what I was searching for but will not share that here.  Here are two favorites.  There was a third, but it could be considered offensive, and I do not wish to offend. 

Wanting Sumptuous Heavens  
by Robert Bly  
No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.
Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous Heaven.
But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

By Emily Dickinson

"Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Today at the Mall

Today, I remembered why being the mother of a child with Down syndrome, apraxia, and Sensory Processing Disorder (currently not recognized by the DSM-V) can be really, really hard.

Every year, I have to buy my children school uniforms, and every year, I swear that I will get a babysitter for my son.  However, I convince myself that he needs exposure to people and places in order to gain some tolerance, so I pack him up, and we go with the best intentions.

Immediately upon arriving at the mall, I had a bad feeling.  The parking lot was too full and there was water on the concrete.  He wanted to splash and run, and I had to hold his hand tightly.  He squirmed and fussed.  Once in the food court, he chose pizza with relative ease but wanted to hold the floppy plate and drink, which was not a good idea considering the amount of people walking around us. As I spotted an open table, he followed but kept increasing the distance between us, and people hurried in that gap.  He finally settled at the table and began eating.  A couple a few tables down stared at him as he ate in his typical messy way.  When their eyes met mine, they did not smile or frown, just looked away. As he ate, he yelled, which is typical for him when he is happy, which is typical when he has food.  People everywhere stared. I asked him to be quieter, but my heart truly didn't care.  I like that he gets excited about his food; it would just be nice if people didn't act as though he is from another planet.

After eating, we went into a store and began shopping.  The music was loud and the lights were bright.  He worked to calm down, and I was proud of him.  He laid on the floor a few times and more people stared.  My heart raced, and I just wanted my other children to pick out their sizes, try on the items, and finish.  I became snippy with them.  I became snippy with my youngest.  "Get off the floor."  "Don't rub your face on the clothes."  "Don't unfold that!"  "Come here."  "Stand here."  Don't, don't, don't! After awhile, constant correction made him feel like a failure, and the lights and noise took a toll.  More people stared, and my heart raced faster.

Typically, he loves escalators, and it was my fault for assuming he would this time.  I got on right before him, but he hesitated.  As the distance grew, he called for me and took a big step.  He had one foot on one step and the other foot on another.  He began to lose his balance, and as I turned to step down, the heavy bags on my arms threw my balance off.  I began to fall as well.  A woman behind my son caught him, and I gained my balance enough to step down to him.  He was laughing, but I felt sick.  I thanked the woman and unleashed my fury on the other two kids.  "Why am I holding these bags and your arms are empty?  Why am I expected to do everything?  Hold these bags right now!"

The rest of the shopping trip witnessed a miserable scowl on my face, unhappy children, and a rush to just buy whatever fit and was affordable.  I kept muttering "never again", but what am I supposed to do?  Never take him places?  Never force him out of the safe spot of our living room with his favorite movies, where he can yell, dance, and roll around on the floor with complete happiness?

So many disability posts remind people not to stare.  I just read one a few minutes ago, but who am I kidding?  People will always stare.  Some people will even roll their eyes and sigh.  I'm just tired of it.   I know typically developing children also have fits, disobey, and embarrass their parents; it is just so much harder when your child gets stared at for things beyond his control.  For simply existing as a person with a diagnosis. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Weary of the Girl

The girl was always me.  Putting her in a bell jar, looking at her from the outside, was safer, but I'm weary.  I'm tired of pretending, then ranting about stigmas on mental illness and suicide.

A friend texted today and asked for an opinion.  I struggled to give my opinion, then I was honest.  "I'm sorry but I can't help you with your decision.  I am so depressed, it is hard for me to make the decision to get out of bed each day."  She did what good social workers do, she made sure I wasn't suicidal, and she gave great suggestions.  "Don't isolate yourself."  I know all of this as it is exactly what I will tell a client one day.  I will also understand that sometimes the depression is too deep and sinking lower means rock bottom.  If you don't do what my brother did, you bounce up from the bottom.  I will not do what my brother did.  I will not cause that kind of pain in others because if there is a hell, I will be there from guilt.  I'm already there now, from pain.

So then my husband, helpless 8000 miles away, told me I should be honest to his parents so that they could help.  The theme of not isolating myself was repeated.  Yet it is what I do.  I isolate, and I pretend that the girl who is seriously mentally ill isn't me.

Another friend calls, and it is fun for a minute to rant about rape culture and injustice.  We hang up and I crumple to the floor.  This friend would have been here in a minute if I had told her I was drowning, but I could not and it is easier to isolate.  I come to this blog where I can spill all this pain, weeping, then when someone calls I say "No, really I'm ok.  I'm not in bed."

I tell my 16 year old to come home quickly.  Children shouldn't ask "What is wrong?" to be told, "I'm really depressed.  I need you to bathe and feed Trent for me."  Trent asks "What's wrong mama?"  I have never told him his uncle is dead.  But frequently, he names family members and Uncle Chad is one of them.  He will stop naming him in time.  I don't know if I crave or dread that moment. 

I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder at 18.  I have been suicidal.  I experienced Postpartum Psychosis after my first child was born and actually had visual hallucinations and delusions.  My diagnosis changed to Bi-Polar II a few years ago, and new medication made all the difference.  Then Chad did what he did, and I cannot grieve normally.  A mood disorder makes grieving normally impossible.  

So I look for any way to feel better, some ways healthy and some not.  Changes in meds and an added prescription that gives me mixed episodes, which means I am hypo-manic but depressed at the same time.  So I can write and I can clean and I can shower, but I cannot stop crying, and the cognitive distortions continue.  My doctor doesn't necessarily mind the mixed episodes, but when the stimulant wears off, I am in full depression.  No writing, no getting out of bed, no showering, very little eating.  This is one view of mental illness.

There is no working like this.  I cannot help a client when I can't help myself.  I graduated and wanted to do great things for other people, I was full of fire just a few months ago.  I wanted a career in mental health.  It makes me laugh because it would be like the inmates running the prison.  Until I am stable for at least year, I need to stick to jobs outside of mental health.   

I wonder what cognitive distortions my brother and I shared.  That we aren't anyone's priority?  That we are bothersome to other people?  That everything someone says to us is actually negative and judgmental?  That we will never be better?  That we will never be happy again?  That a certain amount of happiness is allotted to each of us, and we used up our allotment at some other point in our life?  That love is finite and can only take so much?  That we are shitty parents continually fucking up our kids?  That there is no transcendence at the other side of this pain?  That hell is actually this life, right now?  That loneliness is the only true state of being?  This is one view of mental illness:  where every thought feels true, even when some logical part of your brain tells you isn't.    He lost all hope, likely because of these thoughts.  They swirl so fast and so frequently, they become overwhelming.  He was overwhelmed and I can picture the last moments.  I just wish he hadn't isolated.  That he had gone to the hospital.  That he had wrote a fucking blog and published it so that the darkness was vomited in public, like coughing up a disease.  There is power in telling this to people and being honest. 

I have therapy at 6:30 tonight.  By then, the stimulant will be wearing off so I will have to force myself to drive there, but she will see the truer depression.  She will have to gauge my safety, and that aggravates the piss out of me for some reason.  I cannot fully explain how much suicide feels like a personal insult at this point.  I know the clinical, scientific truth of it, but it feels like a really low insult.      

August 11th, my husband comes home for three weeks.  The end of that three weeks frightens me the most, when he gets on a plane and the loneliness immediately seeps into my bones.  I am already frightened for something almost two months away. 

This is one view of mental illness, and I'm not putting the girl in the bell jar anymore, where the air and dust are removed.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday Morning

A friend shared a poem with me this morning, Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens.  A poem about religious uncertainty, it is achingly beautiful, and I wept as I read it. 

My grief over my brother has been both incredibly lonely and oddly mystical.  The loneliness comes from the night time being my worst time of the day.  I lay in bed and cry myself to sleep without my husband to hold me and smooth the hair from my face where it sticks to my wet cheeks.  At least when the sun is up, I can call my friend in San Diego  and receive her invaluable counsel.  I remember this feeling when I grieved the hardest with my mother, when I felt like being alone was the absolute scariest position in which to be.  I also remember the cognitive distortion that everyone I love will leave this earth before me, and only I will remain. 

The mystical part of this grief is that it has a life of its own, like the Babadook in the movie.   It stalks my bed at night and the living room, specifically the far right side of our sectional couch.  I only sit there occasionally, in the dark, with a glass of any liquid.  We likely all have our favorite spots on our couches, but this one is my grieving spot.  The window's placement allows me to stare outside and contemplate what it means to feel pain this deeply.  I also have a writing spot, which I am sitting in now.      

I will one day explore the religious uncertainty of the poem from a view point not tinged by my overwhelming grief, and I expect to see something different then.  Perhaps something poignant about the feeling of a Sunday morning to an atheist that does not seek fellowship and liturgy with the majority of the rest of the world.   The way a Sunday morning can feel dreadful, lazy, full of promise, or silent. 

Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul. 

It was that stanza that brought forth the tears.  My mother died in summer, and that date is fast approaching.  My brother died in spring, and I have a little less than a year to prepare for that anniversary.  Winter is a fairly unremarkable time for me, but just the nature of the dreary weather can cause changes in my mood.   Winter is a depressing season all on its own. 

We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night, 

These lines also brought forth emotion.  My rhythms of day and night are scattered right now.  Some days drag on and on and blend together.  Some nights are short, full of distressing dreams I can't interpret, while other nights feel like what I imagine my brother's last hours must have felt like.  I depend on the sun and moon to tell me when to sleep and when to rise, both bring order to the chaos of my grief. 

The poem is cathartic, just as writing this has been.  I will spend some of my evening tonight searching for more catharses in written word or music.   

Saturday, June 17, 2017


I've been pressing repeat on Imagine Dragons' "Believer".  The main refrain tells 'pain' to "break me down and build me up" and "make me a believer."  Then "My life, my love, my job, they came from pain."  The word 'believer' is left ambiguous.

I've had many conversations with my younger brother about the yin and the yang, how nothing can be complete without it's opposite.  The conversation was always a little too metaphysical for my taste, but here I am recognizing that recently, for every laugh I have, I will have 20,000 tears hours later.  The tears empty out my heart so that laughter can surface again, and the laughter is so much sweeter after the tears.  So which one is better?  Is it actually possible to have a better?  As long as the pain does not become chronic and unable to manage, it is simply the darkness to the light, the empty to the full, the deep to the shallow.

Pain grounds us at times, and it inspires us to create art.  Some of my best writing has come from pain I couldn't keep inside.  It has a purpose. 

Embracing pain and putting it in the necessary-for-life box is new to me, but it feels healthy.  The walls I usually build around the pain to keep it from spreading also keep out the laughter, so then I'm left feeling nothing.  Just a person constricted by walls in a maze of numbness.

Break me down and build me up, I'm a believer.  


Saturday, June 3, 2017

The things I would have said and done.

As usual, the only way to stop the thoughts is to put them on paper.  I do not believe in an afterlife so it is odd that I should try to tell you things, but I can't  stop thinking them and the thoughts are making it hard for me to go about my day.

If I had known you were going to take your life that day, I would have said:

There is nothing on this earth that can't get better.  Try therapy, try meditation, try medication, try quitting a job, try trikking across country, I don't care.  Just try anything to make it through the hardest time.  Suicide is such a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

I love you immensely.  Dad loves you immensely.  Drew and Heather.  Your kids.  So many people.  Can that be enough?  It has to be enough.

I'm driving over there.  I will slap you, hug you, get you drunk, take you to the hospital, bitch at you, tell you beautiful stories, cook for you, trikke with you, ANYTHING to make you not do this.

You are an imperfect human being.  We all are.  We have made so many mistakes.  Those mistakes do not define us.

I'm sorry.

You are good enough.  I would not say it if I didn't mean it.

I'm not above guilting you.  You will devastate this family.  Trent will not understand, and he will wonder about his Uncle Chad.

Now that you are gone, I have these thoughts:

I have enough education to understand self-determination, hopelessness, and mental illness.  All the education in the world doesn't make this easier, and in fact, it might be impeding me because I analyze every thought and feeling.

I've been hopeless at different times myself, but when the act is complete, it leaves a trail of destruction behind you.  I'm not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but you have left this mess behind.  And I'm angry with you.  So angry.

I shouldn't feel guilty and I know that.  But I do.

I interviewed for an amazing fellowship a few days ago.  I didn't get it.  I blame you because my heart and mind is elsewhere, and looking back, I probably blew the interview. 

My career has stalled because of this.  That makes me feel even guiltier, as if it is all about me, but that is how I feel. 

"I CAN'T BELIEVE" was your and his joke.  I will probably never hear it again.  I'm not sure I want to.

If you had seen the amazing people that came to your say goodbye at your funeral. You were loved.

There were things I believed about you that weren't true.

Trent didn't like most of Universal, but I keep wanting to tell you about the parts he did like.  I keep waiting for you to comment with a Jesus meme or corny comment.  I wait and wait.  

I can't follow one of your directives.  I'm trying and I'm sorry, but I can't right now.

Hasn't this family suffered enough?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

To Chad, With Love

You held me not long after I was born.  There are pictures of your goofy grin and the awkward way your arms cupped my body.  You lost your only child status when I came along, and I have no doubt you resented me, at least a little.  But you likely kissed my head and said "awww, baby sister."  You were 4, and I was your baby sister.  

We sat on a porch and ate wild blackberries with sugar and milk.  There is a picture of us and our mouths and teeth are deep red, but we are tremendously happy.  You were 5, and I was your baby sister.  

You were going to school and I wasn't.  I imagine I cried on mom's lap, wanting to ride the yellow bus too.  You were 7, and I was your baby sister.  

You sat next to me Saturday mornings, watching Thunder Cats, Sheerah, or He-Man.   We ate cereal and lamented that other kids had cable and could watch cartoons anytime they wanted.  You were 9, and I was your baby sister. 

We were in the yard making mud pies, which were filled with grass, twigs, and maybe rolly pollies.  The pies dried in the sun and we watched the process.  My kids have never made a mud pie, and I need to remedy this problem.  You were 10, and I was your baby sister.

Your friends came to spend the night, and I wanted to play too.  But you said, "Mom, tell her to leave us alone."  And I cried, "But mom, I don't have anyone to play with.  It's not fair." She told me to ride my bike.  You were 12, and I was your baby sister.

Your friends came to spend the night, and my crushes began.  I hid in my room most of the time but snuck glances at your friends from across the table at breakfast.  You were 14, and I was your baby sister.

We were in the living room, and I was jealous of your report card, your time in the woods with dad, and that you were older than me.  Everything about you made me jealous.  You were 16, and I was your baby sister.  

You got in a car accident, and I was worried about you.  I also took a small amount of pleasure in the fact that you totaled our parents' car and they were angry with you.   You were 17, and I was your baby sister.

You graduated high school and began college.  I was proud of you but jealous again.  You were 18, and I was your baby sister.

Mom became sick and you were living in Baton Rouge.  She died as we sat on her bed next to her.  I'm not sure we ever talked about that exact moment.  You were 20, and I was your baby sister.

You found out I was no longer a virgin and that I was drinking heavily.  You were furious with me.  You said girls shouldn't act that way and wait for marriage, and I told you "mind your own fucking business."  You were 21, and I was your baby sister.

You danced at my wedding with a broom decorated with a dress and wig.  You did it without any sense of shame, and I adored you for it.  You were 22, and I was your baby sister.

You found out I was getting a divorce, and you supported me.  I didn't want you to mind your own business because I needed you.  You were 24, and I was your baby sister.

You found out you were going to be an uncle, and you were happy. You were 25, and I was your baby sister.

We had both finally found the love of our lives and had children.  You were 27, and I was your baby sister.

My family was in the middle of Hurricane Katrina, but I still had cell service.  I called you and told you the water was coming into the house, and I thought we might die.  You remained calm and told me you loved me. You were 30, and I was your baby sister.

I had Trent, and you sent me poems, stories, and videos about Down syndrome.  You told me I was chosen for Trent.  You became an advocate for people with Down syndrome.  You were 33, and I was your baby sister.

My family went to Disney with your family, and I remembered how much I liked having you as a brother.  You were 37, and I was your baby sister.

Your sadness overtook you.  You were 42, and I am your baby sister.