Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Little History

The Backstory:
My father and I became estranged when I was fifteen, when I wrote a letter to the courts explaining why I didn't want to attend visitation with him anymore. He never met my husband. He wasn't invited to my wedding. And he died two months afterwards, a couple days after Christmas 2006. In between that time, right around my senior year of high school and into my first years of college, I tried to mend fences. I wrote him letters. I sent him three framed copies, a set, of these linoleum block presses I'd made. I had carved into the blocks a fishing scene with two people in a boat, my most treasured memory of the two of us on the Quabbin Reservoir when I was kid. He was high, but it was just the two of us, and he was so nice to me that day. I'll never forget it. I never received a reply, but grapevine messages that my paternal grandmother thought I was an ungrateful, hateful girl. For all I know, that's how my father thought me, too. He never wrote back to me. As in ever.

When he died, he didn't leave a will, and there was no sign of the presses or any of the letters I wrote him. Nothing. I'll never know if he received any of them.

Today -- or rather, Last Night:
It's no secret that I dream strong. They're the initial source of my stories, my writing. My dreams are vivid and colorful. There are smells, actual smells where I'll wake up and look for the cause of the smoke in my nostrils. And taste. Do you ever taste things in your dreams and it's not the memory of the taste, but The Taste? I do. Although, I'll admit it's rare.

Last night, I was cleaning out my grandfather's house. My grandfather passed away a few years ago, something I still feel, and his wife, my granny very recently passed away, so in the dream I was putting their home to rest. I found a secret bedroom in an elevator (because it was a dream), and along with my grandfather's real estate secrets (apparently, he bought and sold Grange halls and Odd Fellows halls -- again: dream) were my father's affects.

As I went through the framed pictures on my father's dresser, I was so so hurt because he didn't have one of me. The pictures were old, from when the four of us kids were, well, kids, but it was as if I didn't exist. Graduations, holidays, frolicking snowy days -- it was as if I'd been wiped clean. And it made me realize that I was the ungrateful, hateful daughter my grandmother always said I was.

Then I came across a folder, tucked under the happy moments and shrine to my siblings, mixed in among Grandpa's real estate secrets. They were letters, unsent by my father, to me. It was his handwriting, which, despite not seeing for nearly two decades, I still recognized immediately. The paper was thin, translucent even, and the pen -- blue ballpoint -- was so faded and fat to be almost completely illegible, but they were his. And those illegible words were to me.

I didn't read them, at least not in their entirety, because it was so difficult. The date on the most recent one read 2005. I remember thinking in the dream, but this is 2016! That's a full 11 years since he last tried to write to me! And a twinge of that ungrateful, hateful daughter came to me. That's how he saw me. But then I noticed the post-it notes stuck to the corner of each letter. The post-it on the corner of the 2005 letter read, "I'll send her this one."

It was so clear, in that moment, that he had been trying to reach out to me, but he couldn't because he was my father, and I was his daughter, and things were so very complicated between us.

I awoke this morning with my alarm. As in fiction, so in real life, it interrupted the dream. It wasn't until I was standing in the bathroom smoothing my hair, puzzling over why the last letter he wrote in the dream was from 2005, that I remembered he died in 2006. And that difference, isn't so very big after all.

Friday, November 11, 2016

In which I publicly admit (in part) to something I've never told my family...

I grew up on a small farm in western Massachusetts. Our only source of income came from our farm stand, an 8 by 12 shed made from pallets my father had pulled apart. When the door to the shed was open, which it was from dawn to dusk, our farm stand was open for business. At eight years old, I tended to the customers, weighed their vegetables, cut the grubs from the end of the corn (we were organic), counted change, and recorded all our sales in the ledger. Sometimes now, I'll be out with my mother and an old customer will remember me as that little girl. Mom will say, "Oh, you remember So-and-so," but I don't. I don't remember any of them. Except Ben.

Ben had two cars, one gold and one maroon. He was in his sixties, and he came to the farm once a week, sometimes twice, to buy his vegetables. The first time he kissed me was after my parents had stacked a whole bunch of milk crates against the shed. The crates made it so the door wouldn't stay open all the way, and thus, they blocked the view between the shed door and our house. He blocked my way, so I couldn't get out of the shed. And then, when he was done, he gave me fifty cents and told me to keep it. It was my tip.

Once a week, sometimes twice, he came to the farm. Sometimes he drove the gold car, and sometimes he drove the maroon one. I tried and tried and tried to get my brother to tend to the stand when I saw Ben's car in our driveway. I tried and tried and tried to slip out a different door before my parents could notice. But the money in my wallet grew, fifty cents at a time.

I remember the feel of his tongue in my mouth. It was mushy, and while I never saw it, I can still see its pink, because the eight-year-old me imagined what it looked like. And the nine-year-old. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. That has never left my mind.

Do you know what else has never left my mind? Anyone someone steps in front of me to block my path, even if it's in jest, my heart flattens. What else hasn't left my mind? Snickers bars. I can't see a Snickers bar without remembering the one time I went trick-or-treating and accidentally ended up at Ben's house. He gave me a full size Snickers bar. My daughter got one this year when she was trick-or-treating. From an older gentleman. And every time I see it in her Halloween bucket, my heart flattens.

And then there was the time I was in seventh grade, when a boy from my science class would grab my butt because he thought it was funny when I turned bright red and hurriedly asked the teacher if I could go to the bathroom so I could get away. And then there was the time...I wanted to kill myself because it was so bad. I almost killed myself because I couldn't cope. You know the time. You were here for it.

I've been doing better. You haven't heard from me in a long time, I know, but I haven't had a panic attack since June. I've stopped hearing screams at night. I've started sleeping again. My dreams are almost normal. My psychiatrist has lowered my depression meds. And I've stopped taking my anxiety meds altogether. I've started sewing again. I've even started to write again.

You didn't know this, but this is where I've been, putting my life back together. But since the day the video of Donald Trump was released - you know the one - things have been harder. I wake up screaming again. I've had to take my anxiety meds to fend off the attacks I feel coming. My dreams are stressful and violent again. And sometimes, I have to get out of bed at night to make sure that those screams I know I hear are not my daughter's.

So, when I post on my private facebook page, that I think we, as Americans screwed up (that's not the word I used), it's not because I'm being a sore loser. It's not because I'm hating on or bashing anyone who voted or didn't vote in any particular way.

It's because I don't feel safe.

And there are millions of other people - POC, LGBTQ+, women - who don't feel safe either. And millions of their family and friends who see that they don't feel safe. We're going to surround ourselves by people who love us, people who will protect us.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Energy Level: High

It's been an amazing two months--amazing because I've actually felt like myself more than I have since, well, since my daughter was born almost five years ago. Things with my husband are great. My daughter is just wow. She's reading and mathing, and her jokes are hilarious (only to me and my husband).

I've started focusing on my career, which has been oddly affirming. I've spent so much time writing query letters that cover letters were a simple task. Constructing my curriculum vitae reminded me what I like about myself. Things I'd forgotten--like getting a fellowship, being awarded grants, and being asked to present at a STEM conference--were little pieces of myself I'd overlooked this past year. Now that they're remembered, it's stemmed me to do even more.

I've enrolled in two online classes at MIT, one on data analysis and the other on teaching and technology. I've begun looking at grad schools so I can get a second Master's degree or so I can (this is my favorite) get a PhD. Have I ever mentioned how much I want to pursue a PhD? Well, I do. It's nothing new, and it looks like I might be able to manage it with as little as one course a semester.

My energy level is high, so so high. Last time I posted, I was waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. It was supposed to drop, truly it was. MDD is the shadow, and you're the ant. Inevitably, you get crushed. But the last two months have been so different. I feel like I can breathe again, like I don't have to worry as much, and just having that threat removed (although, not completely) has been liberating.

I still have troubles dealing with loud noises. Sudden ones still send an electrical current through my body, and that instinctive fear, the one that makes me want to hide, is still present. Long bouts of loud noises (re: spending three hours at Chuck E Cheese for a birthday party) still leave me feeling drained beyond belief (it took me two whole days before I recouped from that party). And nightmares--of human trafficking, rape, fire, terrorism, global ecological catastrophe, mutilated kittens--why must the kittens be mutilated?--still plague my dreams. But it's okay. The day after these dreams I'm tired, but I still have energy.

I'm not drained of all that's good in my life.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Part of Me

Six days. That's how long it's been. Six. Good. Days. In a row, even!

I mention it because, well, six good days is quite the accomplishment. It's a reminder that six days could become seven could become eight. It's winter in New England, we haven't seen the sun in over a week, it's -4 fahrenheit out there (which is--what?--negative 20 C), and I'm not really into hard candies, so it's not as if I'm not expecting everything to be all sunshine and lollipops. Life isn't like that anyway. But it gives me a glimpse of hope that someday I might live a mostly normal life again.

Let's face it. I'm always going to have depression and anxiety. Twelve-thousand days ago, give or take, a sperm met an egg and genetically sealed my fate. Sure, childhood probably played some role in my makeup, and having a kid did scramble my hormones, but the fact remains. Depression and anxiety are part of me.

Other things are also part of me. For example, I'm highly intelligent and good at my work. I know my way around a kitchen and a garden, and yes, I can probably come close to plumbing a house. Numbers don't come easily, but I'm pretty good at mathematics. I'm well-read and articulate. And I have a four-year-old who loves Downton Abbey and Star Trek.

I'm also a writer, as in a real writer. I'm not someone who wishes I were I writer. I'm not an aspiring writer (aspiring novelist, on the other hand...). I am a writer. The bad days can't change that. The good days empower it.

I say this because I want you to know it's part of me. It's not something I pretend. If it makes me arrogant or conceited, so be it. I'm learning to accept myself, both the good and the bad. You should know. I've got what it takes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Here I am

Radio silence here, which—now that I think of it—is very much like the publishing world. Anyhow, let’s get down to an update. Yesterday, I read over my last post. The optimism and cheerfulness struck me. September Me was full of hope. She was ready for normalcy, ready to put her hospitalization experience behind her. She expected a modicum of routine to return, and with it, she thought she had finally beat depression.

September Me was naïve.

To be completely honest, I’m floundering here. I’m a great big fish with a sideways head, stranded on a beach. The tide runs water over me with enough regularity to keep me alive, but that’s about it. Last week was a particularly difficult week. Monday my therapist dumped me. Or more correctly, her parents forced the break-up. We’d been seeing each other since September; these were a few frolicking months of fields and flowers and butterflies. I bared my soul to her, and as is true in all good relationships, she listened very well.

Then her parents got involved. The office she works for was bought by another company, and when the new company took over, they decided the office wouldn’t accept commercial insurance anymore. Now I am without therapy and without med management.

Enter my crazy. When I say I feel like I got dumped, I really feel that way. Why had this happened to me? What did I do wrong? My therapist was wrong. It wasn’t an insurance thing. I said something wrong. It was that time I told her I liked knowing death was an option. No, that wasn’t it. It was that time I said hurting myself was pleasurable. It’s a game I like to play. I know it’s wrong, but flagellant priests used to do it as a sign of devotion and unworthiness, and it was okay for them. I scared her. And it’s not like it hasn’t happened before. My first therapist was scared; she’s the one who sent me to the hospital. She’s not even a therapist anymore. I broke her. Now it’s happening again. Telling me it’s an insurance problem is a convenient excuse.

Oh my god. I’m a horrible person. I did something wrong and I wasn’t even trying to. I’m trying to be better. I’m trying. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how hard I try because I’m going to screw it up. Now she’s not going to be my therapist. The universe hates me. This is why I can’t catch a break. I can’t catch an effing break.

I’m intelligent. I’m educated. I don’t swear. I let people go first. I live by high moral standards and am accepting of others. I care. But none of it matters.

See? I told you. Crazy. But it’s how my mind works. Thoughts like these are nearly impossible to avoid. They place me—or I place myself, depending on how you want to look at it—farther and father onto the shore, but fish that I am, I can’t breathe.


And that’s where I am now, struggling to breathe the same air as everyone else. Damn it, I need a new pair of lungs.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Back to the grind...

Today was my third/first day back to work (first day with students). This is how I know I am ready, how I know I can do this:

1.) I'm more excited than anxious.
2.) My administrator peeked in on me, lending subtle support.
3.) My department head gave me a pound of honey from his bees.
4.) I'm awesome (but in a totally humble way). And I believe it.

Get that?

I believe it.

That, in itself, means something.

As you can probably guess, writing has gone on the back burner for a while. I didn't write all summer, other than to journal my way through the mess that was my brain. But I can feel the itch coming on again. Each day has been better than the previous day. I find myself zoning out, but instead of zoning out because I'm trying to use my coping skills, I'm zoning out because I'm thinking of Sarah and Bonnie. I'm thinking about how I've neglected them and their story. And I'm thinking about how I can fix the holes in their lives.

In short, I'm getting ready to write again.

Give me one, maybe two months. Then, Sarah will be mousing and Bonnie will be strutting their ways into agents' mailboxes.

This might not seem like a big thing, but it is to me. Writing has been nearly impossible for me to enjoy for the past year. When I was in hospitalization, I even told myself who was I kidding? I was never going to write another novel again. I wasn't going to revise WINTER ON BRIMSTONE HILL. And this isn't new. Last winter, I wrote an entire novel and haven't looked at it since. I haven't wanted to. I wasn't exhilarated when I finished it, just blank. Everything made me blank or made me anxious or made me cry. Now, I know I'm going to return to Lee, Jesse, Jake, and Matthew as soon as I'm done with Sarah and Bonnie. I'm excited about it.

This is going to work. I can feel it.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Story of the Wicked Girl

Once upon a time, there was a wicked girl who often vacillated between Self-Hate and Sadness. She wasn't all wicked, because she understood this wasn't how she was supposed to feel. In fact, she knew an evil force cast the spell of Depression on her. So, in her attempt to free herself from the grip of Depression, she sought out three good fairies.

The first good fairy told her to travel to the Land of Medicines and seek out a remedy. The wicked girl did, and she slowly began to felt better. Alas, the remedy wasn't enough. The wicked girl soon fell harder into Self-Hate and Sadness. Unnatural Urges tickled at the sides of her brain. They told lies of knives and flame to the wicked girl, promising relief from Depression.  Not unconscious of these lies, the wicked girl sought out the second good fairy.

The second good fairy took the wicked girl to a land called Group and surrounded her with others like her. For three weeks, the wicked girl grew to understand she wasn't so wicked after all. There were many like her, people whom Depression sought and for whom Self-Hate and Sadness made the same evil promises. The second good fairy bade the not-so-wicked girl to once more venture to the Land of Medicines in search of an additional remedy the first good fairy hadn't suggested.

As time passed, the not-so-wicked girl became happy. Unnatural Urges slowly disappeared. Self-Hate and Sadness retreated. She began to picture herself once again in the world outside Group. She sensed something great was in her grasp. The second good fairy saw her desire to leave, understood it, and he deemed her well enough to leave. But then, on the eve of returning to the world outside Group, the Ringing came. Her ears filled with such sound! Her skin turned bright red and blotchy!

The second good fairy, in his attempt to make the no-longer wicked girl happy, had unknowingly given her poison. For many of the people in Group, this remedy from the Land of Medicines was not poison, but even though it banished Self-Hate and Sadness, Unnatural Urges and Depression, it was still poison to this girl. Unfortunately, the second good fairy had already released the girl from Group, so to find the antidote to this poison, the no-longer wicked girl sought the third good fairy.

Distraught, the no-longer wicked girl continued her journey. She was scared Depression, along with its promise of knives and flame, would return to her. The third good fairy gave the girl an antidote. The ringing disappeared. The blotches vanished. But the fairy told the girl she could not find what she was looking for there. She must continue to seek it elsewhere.

To this day, the girl journeys. She fears she'll forever be bound by Depression's wicked ways. Unnatural Urges threaten to appear from the shadows of her mind, so she is ever vigilant, ever careful to avoid the horrible promises of Self-Hate and Sadness. Despite the darkness that surrounds her, she feels confident--optimistic--that she will find what she needs to be happy. She refuses to be the wicked girl ever again.

Not The End.