The fatigue hit Bessie on a bright day, one made for happiness, not for fraught thoughts of suicide. The reticent seventeen-year-old felt abject misery, knew the emotion was unreasonable, yet she was incapable of resisting the depression. “Why was I ever born? Was it so that I could suffer day after day, with no hope of some kind of reprieve in sight?” she typed on her Facebook post. She stared at the screen for some seconds, contemplating whether posting her comment would be wise, or ill-advised. “The trolls out there in cyberspace are far worse than those of myth,” she cautioned herself, finger hovering shakily over the ‘Post' button. Abruptly, as if ripping off an unwanted Band-Aid, she stabbed down on the keyboard. Seconds later, the post appeared on her timeline. It didn't take long for her Facebook friends to respond. Bessie was overwhelmed by the incoming comments that followed each other in rapid succession. The first one read: You were born to be loved, not to suffer. Reprieve might be out of sight, but believe me, it IS there! It was from her Science study buddy, Ghiyona. The next comment caused a catch in Bessie's throat: If you were never born, I would not have known such kindness. You were made to be loved, Bessie. This one was from her gay friend, Willie. Bessie started to cry softly, the pain in her heart feeling like a knife being shoved mercilessly deep into her soul. “I love you, Willie,” Bessie responded to his comment; she felt at a loss as to how to reply to Ghiyona's, so she simply attached a heart emoji to the girl's comment. More comments followed, each one listing reasons why Bessie should hold on to hope, fight against submitting to life's harshness, believe fervently in herself. As Bessie was about to log off Facebook, one more comment slid in under the post. It caused the distraught adolescent to pause. Your life was given to you as a gift. True, it is your right to accept or reject the gift, but why would anyone refuse to embrace what is more precious than treasure, more profound than the knowledge of the ancients? Why would you, Bessie, forget how inimitable you are, that there is literally no other quite like you? The comment continued for a few more lines, but Bessie's vision blurred because of the tears streaming down her face. She was confused, for the comment was from the one person Bessie was convinced hated her the most. The very person who had brought this despondent mood upon her, who had been relentlessly criticising her each day for the past two weeks. Bessie blew her nose and read the last part of the comment: You are stronger than you know, but that core of steel will carry you across all obstacles. Have faith, Bessie. Some hitherto hidden door of insight swung open widely in Bessie's mind. Her worst critic, her Maths lecturer, was also her greatest supporter…
I simmered with humiliation as Gram insisted on taking challah home from the diner. “Don't make that face. It's a shanda to waste like that mamaleh.” I didn't understand, but I do now. Wrinkly tomatoes become sauce and shriveled blueberries become compote. Gushy strawberries and sparkling wine remnants are summer sangria. Mealy apples and hard raisins become cinnamon-sugar oatmeal bars. Vegetables and fruit are sculpted to remove evidence of decay. You can freeze anything. Fresh spinach, as is. Onions, chopped. Grapes on the precipice of death, make for an amazing late-night snack. Greek yogurt in ice cube trays can use it to make ice-cold creamy smoothies. The pandemic exploded my anxiety. I was alone a lot and food was exorbitant, and mostly delivered, and with so many people suffering, it felt gratuitous to not be appreciative. I exercised freedom in the only way I knew how. Nourishment. I played with textures and flavors. I mixed hot and cold, sweet and salty. Diced bell pepper, mango chunks, tuna, and red pepper flakes. Smoked turkey, white-fleshed juicy peaches, bread and butter pickles. Oatmeal with almond milk and crunchy peanut butter and a soft egg, oozy yellow core dripping. I started with old chipped Pyrex and then, I upgraded. Vintage. An amber-colored etched bowl. I loved the way the sunlight played off its golden hue. I adored its weight. Delicate, iridescent plates, reflecting rainbows on my ashen-stained kitchen table. Miniature blush tinted bowls with the most feminine scalloped edges. Obsession with kitschy cocktail napkins. I hunted. I negotiated. I needed appropriate tools. I often worked through lunch, hunched over my laptop. Occasionally, I had the bandwidth and ability to chat with a friend or family. Whatever my company, I escaped into my creations. I savored. I cherished. During a hyper-stressful time, I allowed myself these few moments of joy. I couldn't explain this to anyone. How could I share that I found a portal into a right-side-up world through my culinary exploration? It felt shallow. Self-serving. Irresponsible. People had lost everything, and I had found respite in candied pecans and vegan mayonnaise doctored with sriracha and chunky sea salt. And so, the garbage pail salad was born. I affectionately titled my mid-day meals as such because nothing in my refrigerator or freezer ended up in the trash. I didn't have a savior complex, I don't, I just had a deep, burning desire to be mindful. Ironically, my meals mildly resembled salads but were mostly not. I felt comfort in knowing that each meal involved some sort of greens and so, the salad descriptor was reasonable. I am an equal opportunist when it comes to greens. Spinach, romaine, butter lettuce, broccoli slaw, shaved Brussel sprouts. I might not fight you for that last bunch of kale, but I'll definitely throw dibs on a meaty bunch of tangy arugula. It feels important to declare this point, to explain that greens were always a part of it. I had become the mistress of food conservation. The queen of combinations. The arbiter of complex taste arrangements. If I went astray, and I occasionally did, I bent my taste buds accordingly. Alexa, what's the quickest way to caramelize fruit? Alexa, what's the best way to store an avocado? Alexa, what's the safest way to defrost cooked turkey meatballs? I've always liked food. I've always been a live to eat rather than an eat to live kind of gal, but this was different. My garbage pail salads became my canvas. My clay. They became an act of self-love during a time when little else was feasible. I couldn't just peel open a yogurt anymore and throw in some granola. That felt rude. Many months have passed, and the world is still weird. There is some modicum of stilted socialization. There are fearless trips to the supermarket. Trader Joes! One can indulge in fine dining. I have every reason to abandon the garbage pail salads, but I don't. I hold steadfast to this tradition, this ritual that I've created and cultivated. I noticed very recently the acronym for my habit. GPS. This makes sense. When it was easy to get lost in the world, I found this odd but most perfect way to get myself back to me. Every time. I drew my own map. A large piece of parchment, meticulously folded, with handwritten scrawl across every inch. Fresh corn cut off the cob, stringy bits included for posterity. Crispy sugar snap peas with the ends still affixed. Lime sprinkled cashews. Hummus with everything seasoning in abundance. Pistachio ice cream drizzled with honey and coated in toasted coconut. A path paved with invention and patience and bravery. Also, humor and a lot of love. That's the thing about being human. Sometimes the world falls apart and we need to find ourselves through therapy or travel or relationships. And then, sometimes, just sometimes, we find ourselves in the most magical and real way, at the bottom of a pre-loved and oft-neglected crystal bowl.
April second 2020, Bryan, my beautiful boy, lost his fight with addiction by an accidental overdose. I lived through those five days of him in CCU, sitting every day at his bedside, but I still have a hard time grasping that it is real. Somewhere in the back of my head I know it happened, but I won't accept all of it. If I do, I will surely fall off the face of the earth. The autopsy would determine the actual cause of death was fentanyl intoxication. I wasn't there when Bryan overdosed. I was on vacation, and I am learning to forgive myself for going and that somehow if I was home, this wouldn't have happened. On that Friday, Bryan had gone to the park with his sister, brother, sister-in-law, and his nephew. They would recall that Bryan was in a great mood, playing with Nolan and running around. They said he was happy. But that's what's hard about anxiety and depression. People can't see what's in the inside and addicts are good at hiding their addiction. They were all to go bowling that night, but at the last minute, Bryan decided to stay back at the house. He told them all to have a good time. He was going to watch TV and go to bed early. They returned three hours later. The lights were all on. They comment to each other that it was weird that Bryan had left all the lights on. Even stranger was the fact that the front door was locked. Bre went downstairs to turn off the lights and when she turned to go upstairs, she heard Justin screaming. “Call 911! Call 911!” Bryan was slumped over on his bed, face down, with one foot on the floor. He was pale and had blood coming from his nose. There was vomit on the bed where he laid. “I knew he was gone when I was pounding on his chest,” Justin would later tell me when recounting how he gave him CPR until EMS showed up. When EMS arrived, they administered two doses of Narcan. They were able to restart his heart and get a faint pulse. He was rushed to the hospital where he was put on life support. The day that Bryan was brought in, the doctor told us that in his opinion, Bryan was brain dead, but he needed to run a series of tests to confirm his prognosis. For twenty-four hours, Bryan was put into cold therapy. This would allow his brain and body to heal at a faster rate. After forty-eight hours, they began to warm him and run tests. Bryan failed the response test. This meant even though he wasn't on any pain medications, he didn't respond to pain, light, or breathing stimuli. He also failed the apnea test, which was, when taken off the ventilator, he could not breathe on his own or keep his blood pressure up. Then they performed an EGG and CAT scan. He had slight brain activity and blood flow to the brain. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that regulates breathing, swallowing, blinking, basically anything that would allow Bryan to function, was completely dead from being without oxygen too long. The part that was receiving blood flow was memory, and was nothing that would matter for Bryan to come back to us. The doctors could not legally declare him brain dead and call a time of death. Wednesday morning, Bryan's kidneys shut down, he developed pneumonia in his right lung, and he could no longer maintain oxygen saturation above eighty percent. Gift of Life deemed him unable to donate. So at 2:45 p.m., I made a phone call and as a family we decided to end Bryan's suffering. I couldn't see through the tears, and I felt suffocated with my mask on. I rip off my mask and take his limp, swollen hand and rub it all over my face. I fold down the blanket and pull his gown over to the side and place my cheek against his chest and breath him in. Under all the antiseptic hospital smells, I can recognize my child's scent. It's a strong, warm, sweet musky smell, and I inhale it as if it is a life source to me. It actually is. At three p.m., the doctor came in and explained what was going to happen. I listened to every word, nodding as she spoke, but inside I am screaming, Don't let this be happening! She turned off all medications. His vitals started slowing down within seconds. Oh God he's really dying! I laid my head on his chest to hear his heartbeat for the very last time. The respiratory doctor announced that she was turning off his ventilator. No, don't leave me! But Bryan did leave me at 3:45pm that day. Every sound, every smell, every second of that afternoon is forever etched into my memory. Goodbye, my Beautiful Boy. I love you and I'll see you when I see you.
The last year has taken so much from us. I am almost certain that I do not only speak for myself when I say the pandemic made me experience life as an hourglass that somehow both increased and decreased in speed. To put it bluntly - we've been robbed of life. Whether this has affected our relationships, opportunities or even time with loved ones, we have all been forced to make adjustments. I distinctly remember the day my country's government announced the groundbreaking news that students in highschool and university would shift to online education. My classmates cheered happily and couldn't wait to get an extra hour of sleep in the morning. However, days quickly turned into months and months quickly turned into a blur of tired eyes and a rapidly growing pile of work. Life has been difficult. However, the pandemic has also given a lot of us perspective. Perspective. What does that imply? Of course the definition of the word in this particular scenario can not be defined. To me, nonetheless, perspective meant that I noticed something I was too busy, too active and too unavailable to notice before. I noticed how much I have improved as a person. Let me explain. When I was a young child I used to write in a diary. However, not the sparkly, fluffy notebook with a heart lock on it. Surely I had one of those too, but this one was completely different. It was handed to me by my psychologist whom I visited every week. I don't remember much of this time in my life as I was only around nine years old. In addition to that, it's a part of my life that I sometimes actively choose to push away. It was not a pleasant time. Almost every night I had panic attacks and more often than not I used to ask myself if this was the time that I would die. During dinner I would go to the bathroom only to calm myself down from the anxiety that was running around my brain like a dog chasing a tennis ball on an open field. When I think of this time I quickly realize how messed up my mind was for a nine year old. Of course I feel sorry for my younger self. But I also try to let it slip from memory. That's why the experience of finding this diary was so important to me. Lockdown made my mental state so much worse than before. I have felt lonely, sad and tired. But what has made it the most unbearable are the spiraling thoughts in my head that never seem to take a break. I understand that the journey and relationship between a person and their mental health is not always a linear one. I understand that certain situations can make it harder to create a positive mindspace. But what I have a hard time understanding is why I can't just get a ticket that tells me when this suffering will be over. When the train of anxiety will leave. When I can wave it goodbye. Sometimes it's not even the anxiety itself that keeps me up all night. Sometimes it's simply the awareness of the fact that it exists, and that deep down I feel it knows me better than I do myself. When I opened the pages to that diary I was taken on a journey through my mind. It was weird. Imagine going on a vivid tour through the most personal and bottomless part of your past. I swiftly remembered writing those words. Those sentences. One part of the book was a chart where you could rate the level of fear a certain trigger made you feel. As I read through that segment I suddenly felt what I believe is the true meaning of perspective. While not a perfect line, I could still observe the progression that only a few moments earlier had been fully invisible. My baby steps were actually the size of a dinosaur's. Not one thing on the list I had made when I was nine even remotely scared me anymore. If I were to fill out the chart once more all the tens out of tens would be zeros. I felt proud of myself. It made me rethink those times that I've doubted the fact that I will ever feel better. That I will ever see that ticket in my hand. I am not cured. Not even close. But it doesn't matter because this story is not the story of how I finally became anxiety-free. Instead, it's the story of how I found the strength to keep working towards that goal. Maybe someday I will be writing essays concerning my full mental health battle, but not today. And that is perfectly okay. I have put that journal back in my closet and I don't intend to look at it for a long time. But it will always be a reminder that even the tiniest improvements are still steps in the right direction. If you've made it to this sentence, thank you. Thank you for taking a little time out of your day and dedicating it to reading about my life. I can confidently say that this little story means a lot to me, and sharing it makes it even greater. While I know nothing about your story or about your journey, I know that whatever you're struggling with will be solved someday. And who knows. Maybe you need to do what I did. Maybe the solution is right there. Maybe you need to see things from another perspective.
Quarantine is a word that I never would have thought would define my life, but the more I think of the word the more I realize this is the perfect word to define my entire life. I have always been isolated to my own mind despite my best efforts. I always wanted to be one of those care free people who seem so unaffected by the world around them but that is the opposite of who I am. I don't share more than I have to of myself and as I get older I find myself holding tighter to pieces of who I am for fear of losing them completely. If someone were to look at me from the outside I think they would see someone who has friends and family and a smile on their face and would never think I was someone who is anxious and depressed. That has been by design and I have worked hard to appear ok, when in reality, I am not ok most days. I have worked hard to not draw attention to myself and to blur into the ordinary. The pandemic has only made me painfully aware of this self inflicted isolation. My daily routine consists of all of the things I did before COVID 19 stole our comfort, freedom and lives as we knew them. I still go to work, although I did lose my job right before the world shut down and was unemployed for almost a year, I still see friends and family and I still give my son the best care I know how. What has changed (aside from the obvious masking and awaiting what new rules the world will have each day) is my ability to be ok with my isolation. That is all quarantine is, after all, it is just isolation. You would think that I have been preparing for this my whole life based on the little information I have given you but it is not so. I have somehow lost my ability to cope with my anxiety and hide my depression all together. My new routine has become some form of dragging myself out of bed to do the bare minimum when all I want to do is sit in bed and sleep and cry and sleep some more. I now feel as if I cannot focus on anything where I used to thrive on having a task to do. Work has become unbearable and I have always loved working. Inadequate is probably the best way I would be able to describe how I view myself now. Ironically I have never suffered from terribly low self esteem, despite not being very confident, I have always been confident in who I am. Not anymore. You see, this quarantine life that we are all living has flipped our world upside down. I did not know how fragile it was until 2020 shoved that fact down my throat and it was an inconvenient pill to swallow to say the very least. Life is fragile and society is fragile and no matter how regular your routine may be there is no hiding from that fact. It scares me. I can only guess this has contributed to my lack of control over my emotions. I now live in my head always. I cannot find my words when I am in a group of people because I am trapped in the quarantine of my mind. I tend to be an optimist and I know things will get better, even if only mildly so, but I now struggle to see how or if it will be too little too late. Will my son remember my smile or my tears? Will he remember that I played on the floor with him or that I didn't have the energy to get up? I am fortunate to have a child who is not yet old enough to remember most things but there is no way that my pain of being trapped in a mind that is dark and sad and anxious most days is not going to effect him somehow. I have to make a change. Being physically quarantined to my own home is not so bad because it is still beautiful outside and I can walk in that fresh air. I have a loving man who never lets me talk bad about the woman he loves and my house is often filled with laughter. I only wish that I could sleep without dreaming because it is exhausting always being trapped in that brain when I am awake, and instead of resting in my sleep, I am dragged deeper into my own quarantine routine. My own anxiety causes me to worry all the time and my depression sucks every ounce of me away until I feel like a walking shell of a girl who used to hide on purpose. If I get nothing else from this pandemic I would be happy if I can just take away the knowledge of who I do not want to be and that is who I am now. I will write and I will get this ugliness out one way or another so I can enjoy the beautiful life I have right in front of me. My new routine will be to escape the quarantine of my mind by writing as I used to when I was young. This new routine will free me from myself and free my family from getting a lesser version of me. I know there are many who have it worse than I do and I cannot let myself worry for them, rather I will acknowledge them and hope for brighter days and strength to come their way. I believe we are all feeling alone together and I am going to start closing that gap where I can in my own life. My new routine will be to smile until it is real and eventually the world will settle and my restless mind with it.
Thank you COVID19 I want to shout and say with joy ,Covid 19 ,thank you. You gave me freedom. You ask yourself , can Covid 19 , a dangerous virus that has endangered the lives of thousands of people around the world , be released? Years ago , as a child , I witnessed a horrific scene of my father committing suicide. When my mother and I came home , we saw his body handing from the ceiling of the room. It was a very empowering scene for an 8 – year – old girl. After seeing this scene , my father's bruised and swollen face was constantly in front of my eyes and I was afraid of being alone. Less that two years after this horrific incident , my mother married a man who never wanted me to live at his house and with my mother. And I had to go to my grandparent's house and live with those who were old and sick. In the same year that I was in shock at my mother's marriage to my unkind stepfather , my grandfather suffered a heart attack in front of my eyes and died , and again I witnessed the horrifying scene of another death. These unfortunate eventa and upset my soul and I was constantly anxious and I was afraid of being alone at home and I felt that my death would come soon. I was suffering from severe depression , I was constantly thinking a bout death, every day when I worke up I thought it was the last day of my life. Most of the time , I was anxious and my heart was pounding and my hands were shaking and my mouth was dry , and they had to call the emergency room right away. When I was taken to the hospital in that mental , and physical condition , I was injected with a sedative a the hospital and I felt calm. I was happy to feel calm in the hospital and the hospital gradually became a safe and saving place for me , I thought I would be saved from death by going to the hospital. Years passed and my childhood and adolescence were spent with fear , anxiety and worry about death. And the only way I was comfortable was going to the hospital , the doctor , taking psychiatric medication and sometimes going to coffee shops and gyms with my friends. Until afew months ago it was announced on social media that a deadly virus called Covid 19 had entered the country and that it was very deadly and dangerous to catch it. Hearing the newa of the deaths of thousands of people around the world due to Covid 19 and home quarantine and , most importantly , the concerns about the polluted environment of hospitals,intensified my anxiety. As I could not easily go to the hospital and the doctor for treatment , or to go to restaurants and gyms with my friends, my stress and fear of being alone increased day by day. Finally,after four months of home quarantine travel restrictions and being away from friends,I thought to myself one night,when trips were canceled and educational centers,cinemas,theaters and concerts were closed,and not having empty ICU beds in the hospital and being away from friends and all kinds of fun,is like living on a deserted island far away from the rest of the world. But still on this deserted island away from the world,with a healthy mind and hope for life,you can continue to live. I regretted that for years I quarantined myself at home for fear of death and depression, and did not enjoy shopping and traveling on the weekends and thousands of other pleasures and entertainment in life. Many people,like me or other depressed patients,did not think about the fear of death day and night,but died of the Covid 19 virus,like apple blossoms falling from a tree. So no one and nothing can stop the death of human being,and death has nothing to do with ago,geography of life,or religion. Thinking and fearing death has no result other than depression and daily life,and depression can turn a strong and capable person into a weak and cowardly person. I decided to clear my mind of annoying thoughts and save myself from depression and get out of the quarantine in which my soul has been trapped for years. I no longer want to think about death. I want to enjoy every second of my life. Without anxiety and negative thoughts,you can live a beautiful and healthy life and fight Covid 19 and other diseases. Now my step are stronger,I feel calm and tasle deep in my heart. A smile on my face, even under the mask. Covid 19 made me open my eyes to the facts of life. Written by Marziyeh Farahbakhsh from Iran July 2020
Each day of this quarantine is a little different. Some days there is energy and motivation, and other days there is beer with lunch. I am trying to manage my anxiety around reopening the world by continuing to stay at home as much as possible and see new people as little as possible. However, I did go to a small business craft store with my daughter the other day and was pleased with how they were making sure people couldn't sneeze on one another. It required suiting up with gloves and taking a sanitizer bath, but I felt safe and it encouraged a great conversation with my daughter around how we as humans will always learn to adapt to new situations. Today was a day that I woke up and thought, " Ugh, what am I going to do to fill the time between now and when I get to go back to sleep?" I wanted to just stay right there and not move until bedtime, watching episodes of Shrill or Bob's Burgers until my eyes were tired and eating bags of chips in bed until I realizing that I would now have to get up to clean the crumbs off of the sheets. But I have kids. My daughter has an open-air farm camp she needs to get to so she can stand in hula hoop away from the other kids while wearing a mask and trying to socialize, (see? we adapt!), and my son is 5 so he obviously needs me to come running into his room first thing in the morning so he can sing me the chorus to "Africa", (he prefers the Weezer version, sorry Toto), while still laying in his bed. So, staying in my own bed and being lazy all day isn't even an option. If it were an option, I would be horribly judged by everyone reading this because that would mean that my children were exposed to too much screen time, whatever that magic amount of "just enough" is, I have no idea, but I am sure a day of Bob's Burgers is probably past that point. Some days I get ready as if I were going to see people and wanted to impress. But like I said, each day of Covid living is a little different, so there are also the days where I decide I am fine the way I woke up and everyone else can shove it. Today, I am sure that putting on makeup would AT LEAST help pass the time, but I think I will save it for when I am super bored. Later, I will probably have to stand outside for an hour, minimum, while watching my son ride his bike up and down the street; a daily ritual that he will never get bored of and that makes me want to set something on fire. After that I will probably start a loaf of sourdough bread to feel like I contributed to the household economy and then let my son have screens for too long so that I can read/take a shower/stare at the wall for a while, and not have someone climbing on me or shooting me with Nerf bullets or yelling for me to come and take the arms off of his lego men. And tonight, after eating a dinner that my husband made and the kids won't eat, I will sit in bed with my husband and watch TV (finally) while the kids fall asleep in their own damn beds. When I wake up in the morning it will be a different day and I will wonder what I will do to fill the space between waking up and going back to bed. For now, it's lunch time and I think I am going to have a beer.
Is it just me or does the thought of going on a cruise ship immediately make you think of the part of "The Life Aquatic" where they get boarded by pirates or the scene in the "Titanic" where Leo is chained to a pipe and water is rising up around him? Knowing my luck, I would be on the cruise ship that was boarded by pirates while it was sinking and be somehow trapped in the room with the pipes. Cruise ships are a hard pass. Is it just me or does the thought of your neighbors being upset with your chickens make you wake up at 6:30 in the morning just to run outside and "shush" them while they strut around the coop screeching/boasting about the eggs they just laid or the eggs they're planning on laying, and then when that inevitably doesn't work you end up giving them all of your rice cakes so they don't wake up everyone in a 3 mile radius, but the thought of getting rid of said chickens makes you nauseous with guilt? Is it just me or is that sound outside probably a murderer? Is it just me or are these WEB MD diagnoses making it sound like I either have the common cold or the bubonic plague? No inbetween. Is it just me or do awkward moments in a TV show or a movie cause you to get up and leave the room with excuses like, "I have to go pee, you don't have to pause it for me," or " I am going to make 5 batches of cookies, leave it on, I can watch from the kitchen," ? Shows like "Extras" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" are basically reasons for me to get things done around the house so I can avoid seeing other people make asses out of themselves. Is it just me or should we give these pickled beets I canned last summer to someone else so they can act as my poison tester. If they don't die after eating them then maybe I will open the other can. But what if they lied about opening them just so I wouldn't be upset that they hadn't yet? Or what if THAT jar was fine but MY jar is actually filled with botulism? Is it just me or is it too late to become that kind of parent that doesn't give their kids screens? And if I take screens away do I have to replace it with something? Or can they just figure that shit out themselves? Is it just me or is my Memoji prettier than I am in real life? Is it just me or did that prescription commercial just quickly list about 500 ways it could kill me, making me want to remember the name of it just so I can tell my doctor what I DON"T want should I ever develop the ailment that those middle aged, white collar, housewives had? Is it just me or did the cat puke in my sandals on purpose? Is it just me or did I say that thing that one time and everyone still remembers it and probably hates me? Is it just me or...?
Today started off really well. I went on a date with a nice guy and we had a really good time. He acts like he wants to go on a third date and when I go home I break down. Why? I realized I forgot to take one of my anxiety pills and my anxiety rocketed. This made me want to crawl up into a ball in my bed and did for a little but I forced myself to get out and do some writing. Writing usually gives me some kind of perspective but I'm having a hard time today. I feel like I'm broken and that no one could possibly be want to be with someone like that. I know I have to keep fighting and that is the most important thing to do but I'm so tired of having to do that every day. And when I think that I will have to make this effort for the rest of my life it makes me feel really overwhelmed. I wish God didn't choose this life for me but I'm sure there was a reason for it. I just haven't figured it out yet.
My school library is frozen in time. A living encapsulation of the anxiety and nervous energy that feverishly descended upon my school during the week of March 9th, 2020. The library, with its cheery Saint Patrick's Day decorations hanging from the ceiling, amidst a cart of books waiting to be shelved, pays homage to all that we have lost; a reminder of swift and bitter change. I spent Friday March 13th, the last day schools were open in New York, in a hyper anxious state, feeding off the giddy nervous energy emitted from my students and colleagues. Misinformation swirled. Rumors birthed out of fear crackled in the air with a reluctant forbearance that our lives were being altered by a force beyond our control. As the final bell rang that Friday at 2:43 p.m. I hastily grabbed what I thought I would need to work from home. Surely there was no need to take down the Saint Patrick's decorations, we would be back in a week. Besides, waiting in line to “stress shop” for toilet paper and meat proved to be a much more pressing issue than some silly green decorations. Today, with no end in sight, the library remains a time capsule, a reminder of the day before everything changed. The day before my elderly parents came to my house to wave goodbye as we sat safely on the steps, crying from over six feet away. A reminder of the last time my four-year-old son saw his friends in person and greeted the sunrise without fear. A reminder of the last time I was able to sit alongside a student to refine a research paper or banter about weekend plans and college decisions. A reminder that this is now our new normal, as we do our best to teach, parent, love and persevere amidst COVID-19 and its heavy veil of uncertainty.
At first, I didn't know what to write for this. I always thought of my life as not that meaningful or noteworthy, but I have a story I want to tell. I had a friend, someone I cherished above many people. At that point, we had been friends for many years, nearly five or six I think. Lets call her Vivian, since I would rather not use her real name. Vivian's parents had told me to stay away from her. I could not visit anymore because of my sexuality. They have a belief that every person is gay or straight. You like one or the other, not both. We found a loophole and still messaged each other when we could. However, I am not a patient person and I really wanted to visit her, to see Vivian and enjoy all her sarcasm and humor. So, I came up with the brilliant idea to message her parents without consulting her first. A stupid and impulsive decision. I gathered my courage and sent a message to her mother from my mother's phone since they were friends on the social media platform I used. I got a reply quickly since she had not yet left for work. I was hopeful that maybe I could change her mind, since I know I really couldn't change the father's mind. At first, the conversation was rather light, not what I was expecting. But it got tense quickly, when I sent her a message she misinterpreted as me being rude. I had not meant to be rude or tell her how to punish Vivian, I just wanted her to listen to me and then decide if I was worthy to mingle with their daughter. By the end of the conversation, both myself and Vivian's mother were upset at the other. And Vivian was beyond angry with me. She told me very blatantly that I should have been patient and waited. All I did was upset her mother before work. I felt bad, I knew Vivian had the right to be upset and scold me a little. My own mother, however, did not agree. She started to argue with Vivian, only making her more upset. At this point, I went to the bathroom to calm myself from the nerves I had knotted in my stomach and veins. Within those few measly seconds, I lost my friend. The only person I really depended on and talked to. My world crumbled. My mother had said some very mean and hurtful words to my friend, which made me lose her. I lost my temper. I screamed at my mother, yelled hurtful words that I knew would cause her pain, and walked away. At that point, I did not care about her feelings or my consequences, just as she did not care in those few seconds. I had lost my friend, my best friend. I lost my two lovely cats, and I lost my will to live. All in one summer. Over time, due to the deep emotions that ran through me, I later experienced an emotional burnout. I did not care about anything. I would cause myself pain to feel alive. I had no will to eat, to get out of bed, to do anything other than sleep. Just when I thought, for a few days, I was getting better, my depression and anxiety started pumping throughout my body. I could not stand to be in public or I would start to cause self-harm to relieve the stress in my body. I would scratch and bite my arms and twist my fingers nearly to the point of nearly breaking. I could never stay in class because that alone would cause me to panic. My depression caused me to loathe myself. I hated my very being. If it were not for my therapist and medicine. My friends and family. I don't know if I would be here. I have a different cat named Stella, who is pigeon-toed on her back feet. I also have a guinea pig named Brutus, from Julius Caesar. I am on a different medication. I am finally starting to feel better. I am starting to feel alive again. To everyone else like me, these feelings can be handled. It is not easy to deal with these feelings, it won't just go away, but over time, you will feel better. So just keep marching through the dark, you will find the light.
The heart races, swiftly moving across the fiery landscape, and hastily dragging its reluctant owner along with it. Its goal, an escape from this place akin to hell, is almost within its grasp. My sloppily thrown together preparations don't seem to be enough though; a figure engulfed in shadows as black as a starless midnight blocks my way. I try to ask who this figure is, and from whence he came, but my lips lock themselves together. Then, as if he heard the thought as clearly as I said it in my mind, he steps forward to reveal himself. Even I knew that every story, including real life, needs an antagonist. Yet, like many others, I never expected to be my own. I mentally ask him why he blocks our way, and he gets even closer. The closer he gets, the more my heart seems to sink, cowering in immense fear. He begins convulsing, shifting into past experiences, present pains, and future worries. Luckily, my brain knows what my heart does not; that creature is not me. Hell, that creature isn't even real. Briefly, I compose myself, and stare at this tangible form of anxiety. Slowly, I begin to walk forward. The walk becomes a jog, the jog becomes a sprint, and within the blink of an eye I've moved forwards and the creature is gone. I continue trying to reach the light at the end of the tunnel, and the land itself around me seems agitated by this decision. The fires grow larger than my life itself, creating a graceful yet malicious dance around me. Sparks with a dark intensity fly past me wherever I trod, grazing my barren skin. A heavy gloom begins to slowly roll in. I try to run away from it, but disobeying my commands, my legs begin to crawl to a halt. I close my eyes and silently beg for any person, or any higher power to lift me up and carry me out of here, spending the last ounce of rapidly draining hope left in my body. I open my eyes, and look up, only to realize my last hope was spent in vain. I feel something grabbing me, preparing to drag me deep into the ominously approaching darkness. The steam from my last shed tear climbs my face as quickly as the tear rolled down. I think to myself, “There is no hope. I will never escape this.” Multiple creatures of billowing shadow whisper cruel words into my ear, reaffirming these thoughts. The figures all swirl around me, forming a pitch black tornado and releasing their intense hatred upon me. The largest, and darkest of the figures slowly comes out of the whirlwind and approaches me. A vindictive smile creeps across his face, and he slowly raises me a knife. A bit of reluctance builds up in me as I take the blade, but the faceless voices around me scream in joy, convincing me of the validity of this decision. I turn the knife around, and point at my throat. The cacophony of blackened screams around me grow so loud and restless that they're basically indistinguishable from typical white noise. I let out what I believe to be one last whimper: “goodbye world”. As I get ready to make death my escape from this hell, I can barely make out a seemingly human voice crying out against my decision. I hesitate, and slightly lower the blade. The whirlwind of shadowy figures around me begin to grow agitated. There it is again, and I could make it out clearly this time: a friendly, human voice. The screams around me that were originally of joy shift to sighs of disappointment, and wails of agony. My heart begins to rise. The tornado around me shrieks in pain and terror as an entrance is forced into the tornado. A figure of what appears to be pure light offers me their hand. I grasp them, hope welling up in me once more. That hope was all it took. The world flashes a white purer than the stars, and I feel grass beneath my feet. I look around me, and instead of my hellscape see a meadow, with the person shining brighter than both moon and sun combined smiling at me from within. That was the moment I realized something I now think everyone needs to know. The light at the end of the tunnel won't always be an object or come from within; the key to your cage is never inside with you. The light can be someone around you, an animal, a river, a song, whatever you want it to be. Light has no defined shape. Surround yourself with as many lights as possible, not figures of malevolent shadow.
You have a story I want to tell. It could be 7 or it could be 20 stories. I am not putting any limitations on it. Take a chance with me as a skilled and educated professional writer and interviewer and as someone who has been there in one way or another. I blog about my mental illness of PTSD--its experience and treatments--and sometime ago about my Recurrent, Severe, Major Depression (yes, that is something you can look up in the psychologist's reference DSM-5 along with PTSD that doesn't quite fill my shoes because Complex PTSD, which I have, I don't think is yet included in the DSM, though it is established in scientific communities). Just the night before last, I had the most weighty of dreams in which I was back on that solitary, isolated, parent-regimed, and, most importantly, depressing, hopeless, infinite home experience. It seemed such a long dream and full of that old emotion memory that I awoke with the feeling heavy on me, lasting all day. I'm not sure I'm quite over it today, though I have been amazingly productive compared to yesterday when I couldn't care enough about anything to really put my heart into it. I'm not telling a lot of you anything unusual, because in one form or another you have been there--those old neural pathways I am working to overcome with EMDR therapy in counseling and with ketamine treatments and other psych meds with my psychiatrist, popping up here and there when you don't expect it. In On PTSD: A Personal Experience I took you down the rabbit hole of scary emotional first person incident and thought life. In others, such as Experiencing Complex PTSD I talk more distantly of symptoms and such. I could tell you more and I certainly would love to hear what you want to know about my life with these things. However, I want your voices to ring out from my pages. You have a voice. You own no shame. I want you to Say Something like I did in my 9-part series I am working on turning into a full length memoir. I want to hear and report your stories using the writing gift and education and platforms that God has given me. The whole point of my speaking up, whatever the form, about my experiences is so that you may feel free to speak up about yours. I propose this. If you are interested, named or unnamed, in sharing your story, via phone, email, or however you are most comfortable, so that I may use my skills to write a story with your prior-approval or, even, may decide not to share publicly at all, I want to hear from you. Please comment or email me at email@example.com with serious inquiries, by which I mean I am not interested in starting any romantic relationships, for instance. Try me out. You can trust me as a professional writer with interview experience that even stood the test of a journalist grad student and professional without change that I will do you justice. I want honesty, but I do not require any details you don't want to share. I share no details, including your name, if you want, that you don't want me to share. I can listen to a a lot and only share a little. You decide what questions of mine you answer. You decide. You get to Say Something if you want. You have a story to tell, and I want to tell it. More than that, many, many others need or want to hear it. You can believe me for all my years reading your posts, talking with you in groups or as individuals, and being in therapy. Serious, if hesitant, inquiries via Comments or my email firstname.lastname@example.org please. Caveat: I AM NOT A THERAPIST, SO I CANNOT COUNSEL YOU OR BE A REPLACEMENT FOR COUNSELING. Please seek professional help if you know what I am talking about but haven't talked to a psychiatric professional before. https://thehopechronicles.wordpress.com/2020/01/28/7-mental-illness-stories-wanted-and-admired/
There is a sign, of course, at the foot of the drawbridge: “Welcome to the inside of my head”. Ah yes... take in the brilliance of my Disney-like castle. The palatial grandeur, the iridescent colours. The bricks are units of time: from small second-bricks to huge year-ones. And those turrets? They're decades. The fourth one is still under construction. Do you see how my castle shimmers on a sunny day? When the skies are warm and blue, marvel at the French doors that swing open to the sound of music. Out pop amazing stories of wild adventures, daring encounters and breath-taking journeys. Out dance passionate affairs dripping in salacious details, followed by hilarious conversations, endearing anecdotes. Inside my Castle of Time it's like one of these multi-screen cinemas where rich assortments of films are playing simultaneously, in various languages and with different subtitles. There's upbeat jazz music – the quick tempo a perfect remedy for the chaos of my ever-spinning thoughts. Fairy lights are a-twinkle and the scent of freshly baked bread magics a smile upon your face. “How clever, how witty!” visitors say. “Super creative… fabulous imagination.” “Aren't you tired? There is SO MUCH going on here,” says a kind soul. “Inspirational.” “I can't stop laughing. Do you do this professionally? No? Well, you should.” “Those psychedelic dreams!” “So capable,” says a tourist, clapping me on the back. “Great potential. When is your book coming out?” But suddenly, thick clouds set in and drown out the sun. The drawbridge creaks and heaves as it clanks down. There, in that muddy moat that hugs the castle, live terrible traumas. Hideous monsters that rise from the murky depths. The tigers crouching under the drawbridge are males who touched me, uninvited. The dragons hiding in the rye are the screamers; dominant men who must be in control at all times. There are more demons in that pond, lurking in the shadows of the Castle. The snakes are the cheaters, the scorpions the contaminators. Worst of all are the piranhas; the loved ones that simply upped and left. They wake up when my castle is stressed, scared or worn out. That's when the CP (Condemning Priest) who rules the place spews his poison, his Sect of Smug Women screeching that nothing I do is good enough. “My book,” I tell the tourist, breathing away the tension, “Oh, I don't know. I…” By now, the grey sky is pressing down on me. I feel exhausted. I want to run inside the donjon and hide in a room marked PRIVATE. It has a sofa with a warm blanket, a TV, books, and mountains of chocolate. “You'll never amount to anything,” the CP sneers. His Smug Women snigger. They've caught up with me, loving the torture. “Others write better, more poignant stories,” they mock. “They're successful. You're not.” “You have no energy to pull it off, a book on the market? You're always tired. Loser!” “Failure!” “You've got wrinkles. Time's up.” “Your body is flabby, you can't stop bingeing.” “You say you work hard but you have only ONE child. Pish.” I try to ignore their scorn. Grunting, I shove the CP and his haters in the pantry and lock it. I have another tourist to show around. “And where are you from?” I ask as I throw away the key. “Macedonia.” “Great,” I smile, opening the golden doors. “Здраво. Јас сум Сузана. Како си? добро или лошо? Мило ми е.” The woman's mouth falls open. “How did you...?” “I learnt some Macedonian whilst studying in Barcelona.” “Which languages do you speak?” “Oh,” I say shyly. “English, Dutch... and to varying degrees, French, German, Spanish, British Sign Language, Arabic, Italian, Mandarin and Turkish. “Can you read the Cyrillic alphabet?” “It was amazing to read signs in Moscow,” I say excitedly. But in the distance, I hear banging and clanking. The CP and his army of Smug Women. They're breaking out of the room. I feel anger bubbling inside. “What about Arabic?” the tourist asks. “Love reading and writing from right to left.” “And the Chinese one?” “Don't push it.” Grinning, the tourist picks up a memory. “Wow,” she breathes. “You covered this posh hotel in the Seychelles? You're a journalist? A writer?” Before I can even reply, the CP comes galloping up, flanked by his faithful followers. “She was,” he barks, “but now...” BAM! My fist hits him square on the nose. He slumps on the floor, clutching his bleeding face. Did I just do that? The tourist is too wrapped up in pictures of tropical trumpet fish and gorgeous Creoles to notice. She grabs a Huge Fact off a shelf. “Who's this handsome little prince? You're a Mum too?” “Lazy sloth…” one Smug Women starts. "She..." But I don't let her finish. “Oi,” I say, yanking the Smug's hair. “I am the Queen of my castle,” I bite at them. “No one else. Shoo!” “That's right,” I tell the tourist as I glare at my retreating demons. "And I do both well.” Yes, I've got some fight left in me. But how do I banish the baddies from my castle forever? Time will tell.
As someone who struggles with depression, the term one of those days has a whole different meaning to me. Today has been one of those days. It has been one of those days where I call it a win to have gotten out of bed. Where it was a Herculean effort to put one foot in front of the other and stay up and moving. When I wanted nothing more to lay down, pull a blanket up over my head, and not move for like a month. You can't do that in society. You definitely can't do that as a stay at home mom. Being a stay at home mom adds an element to depression I never knew before. On days when you can't even fathom taking care of the basic needs of yourself to keep functioning – you have to keep your kid(s) going. You managed to open your eyes – you deserve a medal. You sat up and considered getting out of bed. You deserve a parade to go with that medal. If you get up and out of bed, you get a party. If you get up and parent those days…you get it all. You won't care of course. All you want is to curl up, rock, maybe hum, under a blanket, listening to headphones, all alone. So you know, when you are feeling a little more up to it – medals, parades, and parties. Now add in a toddler who just wants to run, climb, dance, spin and play outside - then inside - outside - inside…you get the point. You get up and you manage to do all that - making sure your kid eats, dresses plays laughs and learns. You get all the accolades and celebrations in the land. Except here's the thing – you don't. I want to introduce you to the mind of a stay at home parent in the throes of depression and anxiety. There are days I wake up and every inch of me is screaming. Do you know what it's like to have a toddler dump all her blocks off the wagon, and use it for a skateboard? Exhausting. This kid never stops. Don't get me wrong, I'm lucky. I have a healthy, smart child with a love of life. It's awesome - and exhausting. Her mouth also never stops. “Mama Up. Mama shoes, out. In. Snack, please. Mama Doc. You ok?" You know what you want and aren't afraid to make it known. Mama doesn't want to watch Doc McStuffins for the 150th time - if Mama hears time for your checkup again, Mama is going to want to run into a wall. When you're fighting to just function, excessively cheerful kids shows DO NOT help. Outside. Yeah. When you are in the throes of depression, the last thing you generally like is nature. Let alone playing in a sandbox, and then blowing bubbles and let's not forget playing drag baby girl around the yard in her pool because she loves it and you love her, but you don't want to even be out here let alone running in a circle. No baby girl, Mama is feeding you lunch, but on a normal depression episode day she wouldn't be eating so please don't shove that cheese stick in her mouth, please don't no, no and now I am eating a cheese stick. Around this time, anxiety will show its ugly face. You will doubt everything you do, say, act. Are you being a bad mom, are you letting your mood affect your kid? Did you make sure they ate right and enough, as you have no desire to eat? Are you taking them out enough because you hate being out right now - or are you going out too much to compensate? Does she need quiet time right now, or do you? Did you play enough and teach enough and love enough and discipline enough....and...and...and... So it continues into the night. You will inevitably lay awake at night while anxiety reigns, making your mind constantly go from one worry to another, examining everything for what you did wrong. Once you finally go to sleep though, depression will take over and you will start the cycle again the next morning. It is rarely just one day. Depression episodes last a while, often with anxiety. Besties – isn't it sweet. So to other stay at home parents suffering from depression and anxiety you aren't imaging the suckiness we're stuck with. Your kid(s) are the best things in your life, but sometimes, you have to force the behavior whether or not that feeling is there. Take it easy on yourself. You love them, you would do anything for them and sometimes the disease that turns your entire life upside down wants to take that away from you. It won't. You have made it through this disease to have a life, a spouse and kids – which makes you damn strong. So keep opening your eyes every day and making it about that kid. It's important for them and you. There is NOTHING in your life before them that could have gotten you out of bed on a day like today. That is powerful. That is important. That is lifesaving. You are NOT alone. There are many others. Just know whether you get out of bed today, or just sit up – I am proud of you. The episode will eventually end. You won't have to pretend to have fun chasing your kids around and dancing. You will have fun. You will treasure it in a way that parents who don't suffer from depression will never understand. I do. So here is your medal. Whether you're ready for it or not.