On Sitting in the Ash and Mourning with the World

September 5, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

Oregon is on fire. Ash fell from the sky last night like a blizzard. We saw the sun today, a dim ball of deepest orange through the smokey sky, and I let my kids have All the Screens and Not Wear Pants because they couldn’t play outside.

I’m sitting outside now, on my back porch where I usually watch the mountain behind our house. I’m sitting outside even though my eyes are stinging and it’s like breathing inside a campfire. I can still see the mountain, but barely. The squirrels didn’t come out today. Neither did the birds. But I did, late in the day, because somehow sitting in the eerie quiet, breathing translucent air I can taste, feels like a lament that matches the inside of me.

I wanted to write a post tonight that’s optimistic and hopeful, but swaths of Texas are under water. So are parts of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Nepal, actually, even though we don’t talk them.

I wanted to write a post tonight that’s positive and cheerful, but Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, is on its way now to countries in the Carribbean like Haiti which haven’t recovered from last year’s Hurricane Matthew, and it’s expected to make landfall in Florida this weekend.

I wanted to write a post tonight that’s uplifting, but North Korea is launching missles, and our president is threatening fire and fury and sending military orders by tweet.

I wanted to write a post tonight that shines a light in the darkness, but gender and sexual minorities are under regular, blatant, and insidious attack, so light feels a little too far, like the sun hiding in the smoke.

I wanted to write a post tonight that’s at least reassuring if it can’t be rosy, but Nazis are marching in our streets while an unbelievable number of Americans are denying racism is an issue in our country. I wanted to be positive and to assume the best, but Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients – children who through no fault of their own know only America as home and country – are falling asleep tonight afraid for their futures; yet another group of people of color who’ve watched the U.S.A. rescind our promises.

I wanted to be positive and to quickly overcome the overwhelming, cumulative sorrow of today and this month and this year — and years before that full of macro- and micro-aggressions against others, that I, in my privilege, failed to see — but, instead, I’m going to sit tonight in the ash and mourn.

I’m going to sit tonight in the ash and feel sad like it’s my job.

I’m going to sit tonight in the ash and lament like it’s OK to sit and to grieve.

I’m going to sit tonight in the ash while the night grows dark around me.

I’m going to sit tonight in the ash while the world burns, and I’m going to pray without words, because words aren’t enough.

And in case you’re sad, too — in case you, like me, need the reminder in our rush to fix the world that we can also mourn with those who mourn — you’re invited to join me. To just be quiet. To sit in the ash. And to pray and hope and wish without words.

Waving in the dark and OK with that for now,

 

 

 

 

P.S. This is a doodle by my friend, Heather España, who also prays without words:

 

Marital Strife: Your Help Requested

August 22, 2017 in Beth, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

There’s no easy way to say this, friends, so I’m just going to jump right in.

Greg, the love of my life, father of my children, sharer of my bed, scr itchy batterer of toast, locks the door when he uses the bathroom.

He locks the door.

Every time.

Without fail.

LOCKS IT.

I know. I wish I had a way to ease the blow, too, but in the absence of that, I’m just ripping off the band aid. If you need to stop reading for a bit to catch your breath, I understand. Take your time.

Here’s the truth:

Whenever Greg feels the need to potty, he just… goes.

He stands up, walks out of the room, blithely enters the bathroom without a public announcement and, CLICK, turns the lock.

I don’t…

I can’t even…

I just…

He acts like it’s normal to potty alone.

Like he doesn’t have to make sure all the kids are occupied for the foreseeable future.

In separate rooms.

Plugged into screens.

With enough snacks to last through the full zombie apocalypse.

And restraints.

And a brick wall barrier.

And reinforced cages.

And the suspension of disbelief required to think maybe — this one time — they won’t Houdini and Shawshank Redeption their way out.

Greg acts like he doesn’t have to submit an application in writing to the Sanitary Oversight Commission seeking approval for a Solo Toilet Expedition, then wait ages, like all good citizens, then resubmit his paperwork months later because, after a series of phone calls during which he was mostly placed on hold or disconnected, he learned his application was incomplete… or never arrived… or was lost or misfiled… and finally, give it up as a lost cause LIKE THE REST OF US DO and live with the knowledge we may never get to pee again.

Instead, Greg believes the urge to void is sufficient to qualify a person to potty in appropriate facilities while prohibiting others to enter.

It’s infuriating.

It’s as though Greg believes he’s an adult human. Entitled to privacy. Entitled not to broadcast his boy parts to the household. Entitled to 15 minutes to sit alone, undisturbed, and scan his Facebook feed. Or play a whole game of Sudoku. Or read Wired magazine. Or have one entire, chronological thought, start to finish, without myriad interruptions ranging in intensity from “the dog just barfed on my bed” to “COME FAST THERE IS A LOT OF BLOOD.”

It’s as though Greg doesn’t subscribe to the MacGyver style of pottying wherein one, with extensive training honed during years of difficult missions, improbable scenarios, and close calls, must be prepared for anything, at any time, to go horribly awry. Where one must solve issues that arise only with items on hand like one’s wits, lack of dignity, and a dirty sock. Where one practices one’s Kegles not because one is disciplined to exercise one’s pelvic floor, but by actually having to repeatedly stop midstream to pull someone’s foot splinter or run to check on the stunned child who thought jumping backward off the swing set was a good idea and, “HE’S HURT REAL BAD, MOM.” Not that MacGyver is necessarily all that interested in his pelvic floor, but if he was, this would undoubtedly be his modus operandi.

Listen; I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this whole situation, but Gregory sits there long enough to leave a red imprint of the toilet on his butt and legs, you guys. I mean, I imagine he does. I don’t actually know definitively, because Greg also pulls his undies all the way up, AND his pants, AND he zips and buttons them, AND washes his hands — for the recommended, thorough amount of time — before he emerges, rested and refreshed, which makes me bitter and enraged.

I do not know what to do about this, friends.

When I catch him, I knock knock knock knock knock on the door, and I speak in staccato words to match. Like “WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING. IN. THERE?” And “O.M.G! DID YOU SERIOUSLY. LOCK. THE DOOR. AGAIN?” And “STOP IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT.” But none of my lurking, knocking and pestering behaviors are working. NONE.

Surely something can be done about this. Surely there’s a way to end my misery once and for all. Surely there’s some way to force Greg into the kind of co-dependence and subservience to one’s children such that he will feel he does not deserves to lock the bathroom door, as well as the kind of unreasonable godlike pride required to believe that if one does actually lock the door, the children will all literally die.

Please, wise friends. Tell me what to do! Remove all bathroom doors? Put spikes on the toilet? Handcuff Greg to All the Children as a symbol of solidarity and sympathy with his long suffering wife who’s figuratively shackled to them all the livelong day?

In conclusion, help me, friends. You’re my only hope.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. Sorry to air our dirty laundry like this. I think we can all agree, though, that it’s past time to seek help.

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

August 19, 2017 in Beth, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

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.)

Quick Question RE: Toilet Paper and Whether It Is the Children Who Are to Blame, or Me. Probably Me.

July 22, 2017 in Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

Quick Question: Who is to blame — the children who, though adorable, are apparently feral, or me for failing to write the legislation appropriately?

The Situation: Ran out of toilet paper yesterday.

We had an entire bag full of it, and yet when I needed it, it was gone. Vanished. POOF. Disappeared in a cloud of TP smoke. I imagine. Since I wasn’t there to witness the actual disappearance.

On the bright side, my children leave dirty clothes scattered just everywhere in our house, especially the bathrooms, so used socks and T-shirts suffice where toilet paper is lacking. Yes, I know it’s gross. I assure you I’m thoroughly aware of the exactly how repulsive it is to use a sweat and dirt crusted sock to wipe oneself. But people who live in the jungle must use what’s at their disposal, yes? Yes. Don’t judge.

I went on a mission to find the missing toilet paper. I swear we had a bag full. And since I just recently gave my children the Toilet Paper Speech again, its absence was a mystery. For those of you who live pristine, lovely lives — and pretty please message me all the details because I swear on Jesus’ Holy Name I need a few precious moments to live vicariously through you — the Toilet Paper Speech goes like this, liturigcal reading style:

Parent: Darling, darling children whom I love to pieces — sweet children who I endlessly adore — what, pray tell, is toilet paper for?

Children: For wiping!

Parent: And, beautiful babies, who are precious in God’s sight, what exactly do we wipe with toilet paper? 

Children: Our butts. Also, vaginas if we have them.

Parent: And, little ones who seek to obey their parents and honor them all the days of their lives, are there exceptions to this rule?

Children: Yes, but only two.

Parent: And what are those two exceptions, cherubs?

Children: Wiping up our pee dribbles and poop smears on or around the toilet. Also, bloody noses.

Parent: Because…

Children: Because “Thou shalt not leave the water closet without conducting a detailed search for body fluids left behind. We are like the Marines; we never leave a man behind.”

Parent: And? …

Children: And we wash our damn hands!

Parent: Yes! Yes, abidingly perfect tiny humans. Yes. This is an Eternal Truth, and doing this will make Jesus happy. And it shall make your mother less likely to screech at you from the toilet. What, however, do we not use toilet paper for?

Children: Neither for cleaning the sink when it is chore time and we are too lazy to find the sponge, nor for mopping the floor because climbing the stairs to find an ancient towel from the laundry room is too odious. Neither for decorating our rooms, nor for wadding up to have a giant snowball fight. Neither for hiding under the front porch so we can take a dump without coming all the way inside, nor for wiping up the gallon of red sugar-free fake juice product we spilled on the floor.

Parent: Yes, sweet babies. Yes, all of this is true. And all God’s people said…

Together: Amen.

You can see why I was baffled. We are CLEAR on toilet paper in these parts. TP = for body fluids only, and only while ensconced in the toilet area.

I found the bag later, FYI. It was in the garbage. The whole thing.

I hollared up the stairs. “HEY! WHY IS THE TOILET PAPER IN THE GARBAGE? SERIOUSLY. GEEZ.”

And Greg hollared back. “Found it in the bathroom. Someone peed in it. The whole bag.” I could hear the eye-rolling in his voice. “I threw it away. Got TP on the shopping list.”

Sweet Jesus on a cracker. Who pees in a WHOLE BAG of toilet paper?? Rhetorical question. Obviously, a Woolsey child does. A Woolsey child looks at the toilet and looks at the full bag of toilet paper. A Woolsey child thinks to himself toilet paper is for body fluids, and a Woolsey child deposits his body fluids there. It’s not even technically against the rules. This is the problem with the Letter of the Law.

Lord love a duck.

So, quick question over to you: Who is to blame — the children who, though adorable, are apparently feral, or me for failing to write the legislation appropriately?

I fear I know the answer.

More soon.

With love,

 

 

 

P.S. We do not know who the culprit is. And, although I suspect it’s one of the children with a built-in hose, we didn’t conduct an investigation. Not a formal one. Not an informal one. Nope; we didn’t even ask. Greg found a urine-soaked bag of TP in the bathroom, threw it away, we’ve been wiping ourselves with socks, and our spray-happy child only had to tolerate his mother walking through the house yelling, “SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY?? YOU TOOK OUT A WHOLE BAG OF TOILET PAPER WITH PEE? That is DISGUSTING. This is NOT a game of Halo where your penises are your guns and your pee your ammunition. The toilet paper is NOT your enemy. KNOCK. THAT. SHIT. OFF. Never again. DO YOU ALL HEAR ME? NOT AGAIN.” There was giggling from several corners of the house, and we did nothing. Zero. Zilch. That is how apathetic we are these days. We’re winning at parenting, I tell you. Winning.

Spoons

July 20, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

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,

Not Worse

July 2, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

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

June 18, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

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