I Duplicated My Daughter’s Instagram Feed (Because the Internets Need a Laugh, Dammit)

Aug 19 2017

Dear the Internets,

This is a cautionary tale.

Let’s say you have a kid at college.

And let’s say that college is in Hawaii.

Let’s say your kid chose that college because, OMG, BEACHES.

And let’s say she’s using those beaches to her full advantage.

Let’s say she has an Instagram account.

And let’s say it’s full of beach and bikini pics, because that’s apparently her area of giftedness.

Let’s say you’re scrolling through one day and you see a pic of her with underboob. UNDERBOOB, friends.

 

Let’s say you think to yourself, “Self, you are the mommy. Self, you should DISAPPROVE. Self, it is IRRELEVANT how adorable she looks in this pic. Self, you taught her to never, EVER, put boobie pics on the world wide webs. Self, you should DO SOMETHING.”

But then let’s say you think, “Self, she’s an adult. Self, she gets to make her own choices. Also, Self, because you can see how very white her underboob is, now you know she’s not been sunbathing topless. So HOORAY! LOOK AT HER MODESTY.”

Let’s say you call her and congratulate her on the underboob pic. Because that’s what a mommy does, right? That sounds like appropriate Christian leadership.

“Nice underboob,” you say. “I see you haven’t been sunbathing topless, so I guess there’s that?”

Let’s say she agrees with you entirely.

Then let’s say you decide, because you lack overall good judgement and common sense, that you think it would be the Very Best Lesson for her if you were to duplicate her shot, except with your own, fluffy, 43yo mom bod.

But let’s say when you tell your kid about your plan, she thinks it’s HILARIOUS and not embarrassing at all, because apparently you have embarrassed her So Many Times already, you’ve burned the ability out of her.

So let’s say you go to Hawaii and do it.

Because the world is a horrible place right now, and God knows we all need a laugh.

 

This, friends. This is why you DO NOT TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR. It leads to this type of behavior, and God knows SOMEONE needs to save you from your Good Ideas.

To make matters worse, my kid has friends who are equally unembarrased by me, and duplicated this pic…

 

 

…with me on a public beach, because their judgement is as questionable as mine.

God, I love them.

(Also, that’s a lot of fabric I pulled up my ass.)

The End.

Literally.

Except for this bonus twinsie pic, because that’s what we do around here. #MotherDaughter #CantTellUsApart

And also this twinsie pic.

It’s a real mystery, I tell you. I mean, who’s who??

In conclusion, we can pray a special prayer for the poor college boy who had to take these photos. He’s the real victim here.

With Love,

……..

 

 

And Now Here’s the Longest P.S. Ever and the Story Behind These Pics…

P.S. Once upon a time, a few months ago, my eldest child graduated, utterly relieved, from her Very Conservative Christian high school. It was the one with the dress codes. The one where the book, The Purity Principle, a horrifying account of how a man’s lust inevitably leads men to pedophilia, child abuse and prison (um, what??) was assigned as a biology textbook — yes, A BIOLOGY TEXTBOOK. The one where my kid was cited for the time her sweatshirt fell off her shoulder to reveal a (don’t be alarmed) Bra Strap. The one where she decided to henceforth quit wearing bras altogether because she is Willful and also Her Mother’s Daughter and so Logic dictated if Bra Straps were a Serious Problem, she would eliminate them entirely, bless her Rebellious Heart. The school where there are far More Stories like this one, from both my kid and others.

Now, to be fair, the school had some lovely, wonderful things about it, truly. There’s no doubt the staff there Meant Well. There’s no doubt they were dedicated to their work. There’s no doubt they were working hard to shape a generation of people who can change our world for the better. Unfortunately, their views on sexuality, women, and modesty rules were simply Not Some of those wonderful things.

Nevertheless, the summer before my daughter’s senior year, she signed the Dress Code. Her mommy stood beside her, telling her if she wanted to attend This School, she had to not only sign it but agree to abide by it without complaint. It was a prerequisite for attendance, and if she didn’t agree with it, I told her, I’d happily sign her up for a different school. She could choose, but she needed to choose to live by the rules if This School was her choice.

She signed it.

Then, in early October, five weeks after school began, the administration issued a new dress code. New rules. New specifics. No warning. Just a sudden shift of policy.

My daughter disagreed with much of it. No yoga pants, for example, but body-hugging, stretchy jeans were fine. Athletes could wear their work-out gear to school if they had practice in the afternoon, but my daughter and her dancer friends — despite 20 hours per week of rehearsals starting immediately after school, and long pants and zip-up jackets as gear — could not.

She felt suddenly examined, under a microscope with her adorable, fit dancer body and emerging sense of self; teachers and staff watching her body closely for rule-breaking. She began to write papers on Modesty Culture and Purity Culture and ways they lead to Rape Culture. She became grossly uncomfortable with the heightened interest in her butt and breasts and how much of those, exactly, the teachers could discern by studying them. She felt yucky every day, and she asked me what she ought to do about the new dress code. Should she abide by it? I told her she should abide by the first one she signed — the one we talked about and thought about and agreed to follow after consideration about whether she could do so. But changing the rules? Nope. She didn’t have to abide by those.

I talked to the principal. She did, too. I explained she would be following the code she’d agreed to but was not responsible for the sudden switch. We both told him how uncomfortable she was with the perpetual eyes on her body, adults looking to see if she was too sexy, blame for boys not being able to pay attention in school. This, in jeans and baggy sweatshirts. But the Bra Strap! The principal said he was “sorry she feels that way.”

The teachers, of course, were trying to be consistent and to apply the rules the administration dictated. They were wrong, I believe, but they were caught between bad rules and their leadership.

As for me, I was raised in conservative, fundamentalist Christian culture. It took me decades to unravel what modesty means, how I was responsible — or, more specifically, not responsible — for the behavior and thoughts of others, and how I might patch together a better understanding of how “modesty” relates to loving God and loving my neighbors as myself, on which Jesus said hang all the laws. The more I studied the more I realized the impetus forced on women to dress in a manner so we don’t cause men don’t objectify us, lust after us, and the more angry I became. It wasn’t only unfair, it also wasn’t what Jesus taught us about how to love one another, and it was purely subjective, utterly illogical, and always in flux. There was no way to “win” in modesty culture. No way to ever be blameless.

There’s not a static definition of modest clothing, after all. It changes, always, with the culture of the time. Christian women these days, in nearly every denomination and sect, are able to show their elbows, their ankles, their knees — body parts that were considered sexual in Victorian times. And yet we Christians forget that it was a rebellious woman sometime, somewhere — an “immodest” lady who shunned the dress code of the time, who refused to follow it — who led to our ability these days to wear capris, t-shirts, to go for a run, to swim at the beach. Instead, I watch Christians defend our current conservative culture’s understanding of what “modesty” means. As though these rules are hard and fast. As though a man lusting after a woman in leggings is her fault and not his. Elbows, after all, were once a temptation, and yet we no longer believe a woman’s elbows will lead a man to sin. You know why? Because culture changed. Because our expectations of men changed, too. If everyone throughout history believed we ought to adhere to dress codes of the time — enforced those codes and never challenged them — we would still be wearing high-necked collars, long sleeves, boots, and long skirts in our recent 90 degree weather. Thank God for the women who challenged those notions! Thank God I can sit outside while I type this, in my sleeveless REI hiking dress — knees and ankles on display before God and man, harlot that I am — and enjoy the sunshine.

Eventually, my kid who attended a private Christian school grades K-12 wanted Anything But That for college. She was exhausted by the rules meant to keep students “safe,” but which caused harm. And, in her words, “I just feel like Jesus cares more about things other than my bra strap, Mom.” Truer words, right? Truer words.

So now my kid is in Hawaii, living by the beach and wearing All the Bikinis, with her ass and underboob showing. She’s also a hard worker, conscientious, smart, hilarious, and she has a fantastic community of amazing friends who support and love each other well. She’s confident, and she knows who she is. She’s fiercely achieving her academic goals. She’s done with the bullshit parts of religion, and she clings to a Jesus who challenged cultural norms to love people well. She knows what she believes and why she believes it. I could only be more proud if she would wear a damn helmet when she’s on her boyfriend’s Vespa. (PAY ATTENTION, CHILD; THAT’S ALL I WANT FOR MY BIRTHDAY.)

How to Host House Guests

Aug 18 2017

The eclipse is coming on Monday, and we here in Oregon in the path of totality are calling it the apoceclipse which turns out to be fairly accurate. There are gas shortages. The stores can’t restock fast enough and have apparently run out of some goods already. Traffic is at a standstill. The state has declared a state of emergency, ostensibly so government services can cooperate without the usual red tape getting in the way, but really because the end is near and they’re hoping we won’t panic.

As for our part, we’ve made sure we’re stocked on potato chips and beer, so I’m feeling good about our survival strategy.

We have friends flying in tomorrow from Great Britain for the event. They’ve been planning for 2 years, and we suckered them into staying with us while they’re here. We technically haven’t met — only on the internet — but I’m forcing them to be my friends anyway. My friends I see in the flesh used to think I was insane, traveling the world to see folks I’ve only previously met online, once in a parking garage in Vegas because that’s not dangerous, but by now I’ve convinced enough people to crash with us — people they’ve come to love — that they see my brilliance now. And that’s all I’ve ever asked of them, really: SUCCUMB TO MY BRILLIANCE, ADMIT I’M INSANE BUT ALSO STRANGELY RIGHT.

So our friends we haven’t met are coming tomorrow, and they’re fancy because they’re Brits. Everyone knows Brits are fancy. Also, proper. Also, have manners. Also, really excellent posture. And so we’ve been cleaning house to prepare. Not because we’re eager to lie about how we live, but because we don’t want them to catch the Black Plague. I mean, we’ve built our immunity to the diseases lurking in filth and squalor, but we ought not make the mistake of believing that just because our immune systems are made out of titanium, theirs are, too.

We’ve been cleaning, in other words. But sort of Woolsey half-assed style. Which is to say, we did some cleaning but not all the cleaning, and now we’ve quit and decided that’s good enough. We’re hoping clean sheets and one clean bathroom (we shall ban them from the rest) will be sufficient, and, if that fails, we inet do to distract them with beer and potato chips.

In lieu of thorough cleaning — I’d meant to organize the kitchen cupboards, for example, that they might find the items they need to sustain life — I’ve decided to provide them with helpful signs. As every road engineer in Washington State knows, if you can’t sort utter and complete chaos or create a system that’s navigable, at least provide confusing (aka, “helpful”) signs so you can pretend you’ve helped them out. Yes? Yes.

In case you, like me, need an Alternative Way to Host House Guests — one that doesn’t involve actual organization — here are some of the signs we’re using to help these poor people out:

Signs like “Breakfast Cereal.”

See? Isn’t that helpful?

And “Cinnamon Sugar and Butter with toast crumbs smashed in it.” Because who wants pristine butter? I mean, maybe fancy British people do, but we want to give them a full American culture immersion here. Just one of many services we provide.

“Bread, Bagels, Tortillas & it looks like someone shoved oatmeal in with the mixing bowls.” I don’t even know what’s going on with that, but in case anyone’s confused about where oatmeal should be kept, it’s with mixing bowls. Obviously.

In the pantry, there are “Possibly Snacks but opening this cupboard will likely trigger an avalanche, so proceed at your own risk.”

“Liquor and wine.”

And in case they wonder whether I know there’s food splattered on the cupboards and walls and doors,

I’ve provided a small tour of I Have No Idea What This Is Or How Long It’s Been There.

Here, too.

Also here.

Also, one bajillion other places, but not even God has enough sticky notes for every spot.

Finally, I gave them a tour of where to find caffeine. Because caffeine is my love language. Greg’s is Acts of Service. Mine is All the Caffeine.

“Coffee. Also tea with the word “British” on it.” We’re not tea drinkers. I have no idea how to buy tea they won’t find repulsive.

“Also-also, we bought you 80 bags because apparently that’s how much we expect you to drink in 5 days.” We would hate, after all, for our friends to come all the way to the States without learning the essential American skill of buying far, far more than you could possibly need. #MURICA

That is all for now.

In conclusion, you can pray for our guests.

With love,

A Brief Hello

Aug 17 2017

I’m coming back now.

Back to myself.

Back to my family.

Back to waking up before noon on my own, and back to not thinking, first thing, “When do I get to go back to bed?” I’d forgotten that part of life; the absence of longing for the constant escape of sleep.

I had a few hours not many days ago when I remembered myself. Who I am when I have clarity. Who I am minus the Muddled Mind. It was like swimming above clear water instead of sinking, mired in mud. It was ah ha and oh yeah and one deep, complete breath of invisible air; oxygen delivered in full.

I became muddled again, but not as muddled as before, as though there are steps out of the sludge at the bottom, and I’ve managed to crawl up a few. Enough that I can see more steps and the Way Out. Enough that I remember there’s air above me.

I visited my college kid last week. We laughed, and sat in the sun, and ate udon, and set up her room, and watched Family Feud and that horrible Stephen King movie about the clown. We hung out with her roommates, and they told me beautiful lies about how they want me to live with them forever. We slept in the same bed, and she hogged all the covers like she always has. I watched her confidence and her poise, this child-turned-adult who I’d like to be like when I grow up. We took ridiculous photos, too, because I wanted to and because she’s magically not embarrassed of her mama. I’ll share them with you soon. There’s underboob involved — mine, because I may have been recreating my favorite pics from her adorable Instagram feed, except with my body in them instead of perfect her.

I’ve been writing again, too. The words are back, at least in part, and so is the drive to use them. I’ve written again and again about racial inequality, and heartbreak in Charlottesville, and my confessions about my own embedded racism and benefitting from an entrenched system that continues to oppress others. You can read those, if you like, here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. Of course, every time I share things like that — political things, and things that call on white people like me to confess the ways we contribute to the ongoing oppression of minority populations — things that beg us to educate ourselves so we can learn to do better — there are waves of “unlikes.” I high-fived my daughter for a few of those waves while I was with her. She said I’m doing the internet wrong again. She said I’m supposed to want likes and not ask for congrats for being unliked. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Whoops!

So I’ve written, but not here in this space. I’ve been hoarding my spoons for waking up, and getting out of bed, and feeding myself, and finding Me again because I was very, very lost. Now I’m still lost, but I’m also found, which Anne Lamott calls grace, and I’m coming back here again.

I don’t know how many words I’ll write on any given day, but for at least the next 7, I’m going to write something. I have spoons in my back pocket for that long, and maybe longer, and I need to spill my words out again, because words are another step away from the murky bottom. The things I write may be political, or religious, or utterly ridiculous like pics of underboob because God knows there aren’t enough of those on the interwebs. Your guess is as good as mine. No matter what, though, thank you for hanging in there with me. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for waiting for me to make my way back. Thank you for being my friends.

With love,

 

Spoons

Jul 20 2017

I’m still alive over here. SURPRISE! I’m like that guy they drag out of the house in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Not quite dead yet.

I mean, I’m still sick.

Still working on it.

Still waving in the dark. And pondering whether the night is all bad or if it’s just gotten a bad wrap. For now, it’s quiet here before the dawn. The crickets went to bed a long time ago, and the birds aren’t awake yet to signal the sun to rise. The moon set, but the stars are still out so I can see the outline of my hand. A little light to see by is enough for now. And the stillness of this night is soothing, sitting inside a warm blanket, watching my breath. It’s OK for now to wait for morning; I’m in no rush to force the daylight.

I went to the doctor again. That’s my profession for now. I told her I’m Not Worse. I was rather self-congratulatory about it. She said, though, that Not Worse isn’t the goal. The goal is Better. So we’re working on that now. Maybe we’re making progress? Maybe.

I’m not quite dead yet. I think I’ll go for a walk.

I went to the psychologist, too. Or rather a lovely student working on her PhD in psych. She’s nice, and she’s FREE. So yes, please do learn your craft on me, Lovely Student.

This week, she’s got me working on spoons.

“Imagine,” she said, “that you have a number of spoons every day. I don’t know why we use spoons. We could use anything as currency, but we use spoons.” She shrugged.

“I’m down with spoons,” I said. I wanted her to feel good about her metaphor, even though she seemed fine already.

“So you have spoons. Let’s say ten. Ten spoons to spend every day. They represent energy. If you spend seven, you have three left over at the end of the day. You didn’t overspend your spoons. But let’s say you overspent your spoons. You spent 14. That means you start the next day with 6, not 10. You end up running a deficit. Get it?”

I did get it. She told me to pay attention to the Spending of the Spoons. Not to fix Spoon Spending, necessarily. Just to pay attention to see what gets the Spoons.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. Paying attention to Spoon Use.

Only, I keep laughing at the Spoons.

All week, I’ve been dying over Spoon Spending.

Because I’ve already used All the Spoons.

Every single Spoon.

There is a DEARTH OF SPOONS around here.

I haven’t seen an available Spoon for YEARS.

In this life with 47 children and several jobs; this life of wife-ing and being a friend; this life in which I’m expected to feed myself and, theoretically, bathe and dress  and find my own caffeine; in this life, working on special education eligibility, and legal guardianship of my almost-adult man child, trying to keep my panicky kid calm and maybe even sometimes happy; this life where our churches are falling apart, and those who think like us are no longer welcome; in this life where we’re just beginning to understand what it looks like to actually love the marginalized rather than just think we love, or insist we love, or focus on our own wounds, or seek the approval of those in power in the Christian Machine; in this life of calendaring and doctor’s appointments; this life of trying to make sure my children each get a semblance of attention; this life of trying to learn to breathe; this life like so many of yours, I have already used All the Spoons.

THOUSANDS of Spoons.

Millions of Spoons.

I HAVE USED EVERY DAMN SPOON, friends.

My Spoon Deficit is ENORMOUS.

There is no way to recover from the overall Spoon Loss.

So all I need to know now is how to declare Spoon Bankruptcy.

Is there an office for that? A legal procedure? An online checklist? A toll free number to call?

I know I’m not the only one in Spoon Debt. I mean, I live in America; debt is our native tongue. Surely someone can walk me through this process. Yes? Any Spoon Counselors out there? A 10-Step Spoon Program? Someone hook me up.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here waiting.

Not quite dead yet.

And waving in the dark.

Yours truly,

Happy Independence… From the Christians

Jul 4 2017

I feel like it’s safe to say there are two kinds of people in this world: those who would never, ever, EVER laugh at people who experience developmental delay — you know, the conscientious, compassionate, kind type of person — and Terrible People like me.

It’s just that my two kiddos with disability have been entrenched in an argument that’s lasted days. They’ve yelled at each other. They’ve called each other names in ragey voices. They’ve rolled their eyes. They’ve tried to bait the rest of us into taking sides. And still it’s not settled why we’re celebrating Independence Day on July 4th.

Aden insists we’re celebrating independence from the Christians. Ian says we’re celebrating independence from the Nazis.

For a while, they were blaming the Jews, but they believed me when I said that wasn’t it. Whew! On the other hand, my contention that we’re celebrating independence from the British was met with unified derision. It was ridiculous when I suggested we’d need to be independent from the Land of Crumpets and Tea. I mean, what could we possibly be fighting against the British for? Their use of “chips” instead of “fries?” Their corner on the digestives market? No. Mom clearly doesn’t know what she’s talking about. At least they agree on something.

Ian: It is the Nazis, Aden.

Aden: IT’S THE CHRISTIANS.

Ian: Nazis.

Aden: CHRISTIANS.

Ian: Evwebody knows Nazis are bad guys, Aden. Evwebody.

Aden: It’s the CHRISTIANS. … Wait. Mom, are we the Christians?

Me: I am, Aden. You get to pick.

Aden: Oh. KILL THE NAZIS then. KILL THEM DEAD. KILL, KILL, KILL.

Ian: Ha! I told you! It’s NAZIS. HAhahahaha! I am wight and you wong! Ha, Aden. HA!

Aden: Wait. No. KILL THE CHRISTIANS. Except Mom. KILL ALL THE CHRISTIANS EXCEPT MOM. Unless I’m a Christian. Then we KILL ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE.

In conclusion, even though I keep laughing at them, I feel like my kids have a general bloodthirsty grasp on this whole Independence Day thing and also theological schisms in general… Christians who flee religious persecution from Other Christians and arrive in a new land to persecute and massacre others.

I feel like we’re really slow learners, guys.

Also, I made blueberry cake to celebrate. And I’m going to go have a beer.

Wishing you a Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans!

With love,

 

Not Worse

Jul 2 2017

Here’s everything I know right now about how I am: I’m Not Worse.

Not Worse. HOORAY!

I feel like this might be confusing. Or discouraging to a Normal Person. Not Worse when you’re really Fairly Terrible and like you Can’t Breathe doesn’t seem particularly encouraging, after all. But if you’re sliding naked down a steep hill, and the hill is covered in brambles, and also shards of glass, and also razor blades, and you Stop Sliding so you’re only bare and bleeding, but not actively incurring more injury, you feel a little celebratory. A little jubulent. A little like, yes, I’m still bleeding out, but SLOWER NOW, so HOORAY!

I’ve been to the behavioral psychologist. I have assignments. So far, I haven’t done them. The problem with assignments is you have to have a brain that Remembers Things, and I don’t. We don’t meet again ’til mid-July, though, so I’m hopeful I can remember by then. Optimism springs eternal.

Because I don’t Remember Things, I blew off my doctor last week.  I had an appointment Monday. I reminded myself all day Sunday then forgot by Monday. A Brain That Works would perhaps have set an alarm. But nope. No alarms for this girl.

I remembered an hour after the appointment with a sudden gasp and an OH SHIT which of course my children heard. Three giggled. The one who’s the rule-following Pharisee was deeply offended. She also detests sarcasm, though, and thinks laundry should be folded, so we can’t take her too seriously, you know?

After I realized I ditched the doctor, I called her office and rescheduled like a grown-up. But because we live in a small town, and because she’s been my doctor for more than 20 years, and because our daughters have danced together, and because she’s been called to the hospital in the middle of the night to prep me for surgery after I suddenly miscarried babies — because we’ve scrapbooked together, and because we’ve adopted children from the same country, because she’s treated me for depression and identified it for me when I couldn’t — she texted me, too.

“Get your booty in here,” she wrote.

I wrote my List of Excuses. The usual ones People Who Aren’t Well use. I meant to. I tried. I wanted to. I’m sorry. I’ll see you next week, I swear. And, because I’m grateful, truly, that I’m not doing this alone, I said thank you. Thank you for riding my butt. 

I ran out to the liquor store later. On my bike because my college kid has claimed my car for the summer to get to work, and because the bike is a good mental health choice. Sunshine. Exercise. Flashing the neighbors because I wore a skirt. All bring me joy.

I bought my dad a bottle of Scotch. I bought my neighbor a bottle of Kraken. I bought my book group a bottle of vodka and prickly pear syrup with lime to make froofy, summer drinks.

Then I rode home.

With my doctor behind me.

Small town, I tell you. Small town.

She asked if I was riding a bike.

I said I was.

She said she really was riding my butt.

I sensed an opportunity to seize some Squandered Mental Health points from the morning.

REDEMPTION AT HAND.

“Do I get to make up any of my lost mental health points by getting out and exercising?” Because we all know we’re on a Points System, yes?

I mean, I can’t keep an appointment with my physician, so Demerits, obviously. But LOOK AT ME: dressed, outside, exercising!

And, you guys, she said YES! I DID get points back!

It was a really lovely 3 seconds.

‘Til she asked what I put in my bike baskets.

And I had to say liquor.

So much for credit.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

At least I tried.

Maybe I’ll accrue points next week.

Until then I’m Not Worse.

And I’m sending you love.

And waving in the dark,

An Actual List of Real Mental Illness Symptoms

Jun 18 2017

I went to the doctor today.

I almost convinced myself not to go.

Again.

It’s the cycle of mental illness… Is something wrong?… Am I OK?… I’m not OK… I’m FINE… Everyone has ups and downs… This is normal… This is not even a little normal… and on and on and on.

I convinced myself to go to the doctor last night, after I spent the day with a tension headache from clenching my jaw. And clenching my back. And my shoulders and neck. Also, my legs. My heart hadn’t stopped hammering since noon — fight or flight adrenaline I was trying to turn into “freeze,” promising myself if I just stayed very still, took deep breaths, and practiced mindfulness, it would go away. I silently repeated “please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me” every time someone walked in the room, but my internal monologue and external rigor mortis failed to dissuade them. They talked and talked and talked and talked. After all, a mommy and a wife who sits on the couch playing HayDay all day like it’s her job looks like one who can be interrupted.

I didn’t look like I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t look like I was trying to crawl out of my skin. I didn’t look like someone who should be taken to the hospital, just to check — just to be sure it wasn’t something Life Threatening — the way we take our kids to the emergency room in the middle of the night in case it’s appendicitis, even though we know it’s probably gas. When they’re in pain and it doesn’t stop, we take them anyway. Sometimes I wish I treated myself as kindly as I do my kids.

I stood in the bathroom last night, counters covered in scattered makeup, old bottles of lotion, someone’s $2 bill from Christmas, a sticky goo I choose to believe is toothpaste, and kids’ permission slips we failed to sign on time. I stood in the bathroom, and I held onto the counter, and I forced myself to say to Greg, “I’m not well. I’m going to the doctor tomorrow.”

It was a Herculean effort to say the words. Not because I was embarrassed or ashamed. Not because I wanted to hide it, either. It was, physically and literally, a feat of sheer will to move the words from my head, down to my mouth, and out of it. I know that sounds crazy. But it’s like being drunk; I may be able to form cogent words in my head, but there’s no conduit to push them out my mouth. I have the Thought, but then I have to figuratively get it dressed, brush its hair, find its damn shoes which are never by the front door where they’re supposed to be, dig through its purse for the car keys, drive it to the mental hardware store, decide what type of conduit will connect the Thought to my mouth, buy that pipe which is too big to fit in the car, take it home with it hanging out the trunk, unload it, and build the connection with whatever poor supplies I have on hand before I can force that Thought — “I’m not well” — from my lips.

“I’m not well,” I said to Greg. “I’m going to the doctor tomorrow.”

“K,” he said, but he looked at me quizzically, head tilted, eyebrow raised. “Soooooo,” he said, “what kind of not well? Liiiike, physically?”

“Mentally,” I said.

And then Greg began the Usual Litany because he’s kind and he loves me. “Let me know what you need.” “I’m here for you.” “What can I do?” “How can I help?” “Do you need me to have the kids?” “I can cancel my trip tomorrow.” And, of course, because we are us, “OH! SHOOT! Did you sign that permission slip yet?” And “Crap; I think the water bill is late.” And “But, really, what do you need?” A barrage of words. Machine gun, rapid fire style.

There were no more Thoughts, though. I’d built the conduit for the one I had. It was used, and Thought Conduits when I’m sick are only good once. So I had to say, “I can’t talk anymore right now,” which looked pissy and ungrateful and guarded and unkind, but was the real truth. I was unable. I’d already used All My Words. There weren’t any more available. Just none.

I was up until 2am last night, shaking, unable to sleep, even with the sleep aid I’m prescribed. I’ve had weeks now of failing to sleep, unless I sleep outside, which calms me and allows me to sleep by midnight which is a miracle. Unfortunately, the rain here in Oregon doesn’t always cooperate with my outdoor arrangement, so I’ve been back to shaking ’til the wee hours of the morning, sometimes until the sun comes up.

Still, by the time I pulled myself from bed this morning, I wasn’t sure it was all that bad. I thought, Maybe I don’t need to go to the doctor quite yet. And, Maybe I’m just being dramatic. And, Insomnia is temporary; I’ll sleep again eventually if I just give it time. Thus began the usual game — the one I’ve played daily, hourly, sometimes minute by minute, for weeks now — Which Me Do I Trust? The me in the night who promised myself I’d quit delaying to seek medical attention? Or the me in the daytime who assures myself the dark always exaggerates how bad it is? I decided this time to trust the night. Sometimes things are clearer in the dark.

The doctor couldn’t see me ’til this afternoon, so I spent the morning making a list of symptoms. I wanted to have Words when it was time. Even I could tell, when the list was done, I should’ve made the appointment long, long ago. I’m sharing it with you now, even though some of it feels Very Yucky. Maybe it will help someone else. Maybe it won’t. Either way, I choose no shame, yuckiness and all.

Here it is, a List of Real, Actual Symptoms of Mental Illness. You know, this time. Since depression symptoms always change.

  1. I have no margin right now. Zero. All human interaction makes me tense. I don’t feel worried or anxious, but I react as though every conversation may harm me. My breathing gets faster. My palms sweat. Heat runs in waves down my arms. My heart races. It doesn’t matter who the human is or what they need or how much I love them. All interaction causes my body to react in panic.
  2. Anyone walking into the room makes me tense.
  3. Phone rings? Tense, even though I know I don’t have to answer it.
  4. Greg answering the phone = tense.
  5. Greg laughing at TV shows and looking to me to see if I’m laughing too – not in the way one does when one is worried, simply wanting to share a laugh – makes me tense.
  6. Bedtime makes me tense. I shake. I’m jittery. It’s like I’m hopped up on caffeine all the time.
  7. I haven’t fallen asleep before 2am in a month. When I’m well, I fall sleep between 10:30-11:30pm. And the needle is moving further. Many nights lately it’s as late as 4am, 5am. Dawn is around 4:30 this time of year. I know from experience now.
  8. I want to spend all day in bed, but I don’t want my kids to have that as their childhood memory of their mom, so I force myself out of it at 10am, 11am, and we laugh at our family jokes about how much mom likes to sleep in. I like to sleep in; that part is true. But I’m lying to them when I pretend I like it every day.
  9. I pull out my hair, and I pick at my skin. I do it in places that aren’t noticeable the way an abuser tries to hit his victims so the bruises won’t show. I pick at the back of my head. The skin on my back. I’m scarred there, actually, from years of tearing my skin apart. I’m not embarrassed to wear a swimsuit because I’m overweight. I’m embarrassed to wear a swimsuit because my back is covered in the scars and scabs I created. I try to avoid pulling out my eyebrows, but I found a bald spot in one last week.
  10. I’m impatient with my family which I mostly don’t let them see because I don’t want them to suffer, but it’s been leaking out lately because it turns out there’s only so much you can shove deep down inside before it hits the saturation point and there’s no place left to shovel the emotional shit. It’s not rage like it was last time. I’m not explosively angry. Just irritated and annoyed at things I’m usually good at letting go. And still, not how I want to be.
  11. Despite #10, I keep nearly all of this secret. I look normal. I go to the grocery store. I have people over to my house. I host events. I wear make-up. I shower. I answer the “how are you questions” the usual way. Good. Fine. Busy. Eh – you know. Or, if I’m being terribly honest, I say I’m drowning a little, but, you know, that’s normal, and then I shrug, like, what’s a girl to do? This is not out of an intent to deceive anybody, including myself. This is simply because I lack both words and any emotional energy to deal with myself, much less other people’s questions about how I am, how we are, or what they can do to help.
  12. Shirts that touch my forearms bother me.
  13. I keep forgetting words. Easy ones like “laundry” and “couch.”
  14. I am constantly jittery. I can’t sit still or relax under any circumstances.
  15. I have eaten every Cheeto in the State of Oregon.

Yep. Somehow with those as my symptoms, I convinced myself I didn’t need to go to the doctor. <— THIS, friends. This is part of mental illness. The utter inability to assess and to know when I need help.

I walked into the doctor’s office this afternoon, list in hand. I told him I needed him to help me figure out if it’s time for a medication change. He had me fill out an assessment of his own:

Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following:

  1. Little interest or pleasure in doing things? Nearly every day.
  2. Feeling down, depressed or hopeless? Nearly every day.
  3. Trouble falling or staying asleep or sleeping too much? HA! EVERY DAY.
  4. Feeling tired or having little energy? Nearly every day.
  5. Poor appetite or overeating? Overeating. Sure enough. See note re: No Cheeto Is Safe From Me.
  6. Feeling bad about yourself — that you are a failure or are letting your family down? Meh. Some. Not all the time, though. I mostly forgive myself for being human and for being sick. But I’m highly motivated to fix this so I don’t let my family down.
  7. Trouble concentrating on things such as reading or watching TV? Yep. Nearly every day.
  8. Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed? Or the opposite — being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual? Yes. I’m either inert on the couch or cleaning like a fiend. ME. CLEANING LIKE A FIEND. CLEARLY I NEED HELP, MAN.
  9. Thoughts that you would be better off dead or hurting yourself in some way? Nope. Other than the usual fantasies about being hospitalized so I can lay in bed all day and eat green Jello, I’m good on this one.

So. I’m giving myself mad props for making it to the doctor before the “Better Off Dead” lie asserted itself, but it turns out doctors don’t give you a clean bill of mental health when “I don’t want to off myself yet” is the best you can offer. In fact, it only took the doctor 10 minutes to call in a psychologist for back-up. Or because our local health system has better, multipronged protocols in place now for treating mental health. But probably for back-up.

I have additional meds and follow-up physical and psychological appointments next week. And probably more weeks after that because turning the mental health ship takes a while, and sometimes the med adjustment doesn’t work on the first go. In other words, here we go again. At least I’m at the Seeking Help part of the Deteriorate-Seek Help-Upswing-Health cycle. That’ll do for now.

My teeth chattered all the way home from the doctor’s office, another fun symptom of the adrenaline surge. I walked in the front door, and Greg asked how it went.

“Fine,” I said. “Good, I think.”

Maybe I’ll have more words later.

Until then, waving and waving and waving in the dark, friends,

 

 

P.S. None of this was today. All of it was last week now. Maybe two weeks by the time I manage to publish this. I’ve been writing this post since then, though, and it’s too hard to change it to reflect an accurate timeline. Add this to the list of Real Symptoms — everything takes an Eternity. I mean, FOREVER. Things that usually take me an hour take a day. Right now, I’m assigning myself Just One Thing every day, and I’m marking each one in the Hot Damn, I’m A Raging Success column on my internal score card.

P.P.S. I wish I didn’t have an internal score card. But I do. At this point, I’m just trying to learn to be more gentle about what I put on it.

P.P.P.S. I’ve missed you. More soon, I hope. <3