Pieces

I’m a crier.  I always have been.  One of the only memories I have of first grade is of preparing to cry, and of my teacher – her normally sweet, patient face turned cold and hard – snapping, “No, Amber.  You will not cry today.”  I remember being ten and walking in circles around our tiny backyard because my mom was tired of listening to my sobs.  And yes, of course it was raining, and of course my windbreaker was black.  Once I got started, it seemed like nothing could stop me.

As I’ve gotten older, my tendency to cry has lessened, but when it does happen, it is more embarrassing.  Two weeks ago, I cried at an airport because my traveling companions were cranky and because a crossing guard mimicked my clumsy, waddling attempt at running across the road.  I wonder what people thought when they saw my tearstained face.  If they noticed.

The bottom line is that I cry quite often for no real reason.  Even when I’m otherwise happy.  Since relapsing with dysthymia this past fall, I have cried even more often.  It’s horrible.  It’s embarrassing.

Having depression as an Adult™ is much different than having depression as a college student.  In college, I was surrounded by people who cared.  Some were paid to care, some cared because they saw me so often, some cared because they were experiencing similar things.  Now, I feel like I have to earn concern and sympathy.  Chronic mental illness gets old when you’ve had it for nearly ten years.  It has altered my development as a person – not necessarily for the worse, but its mark will always be there, just like the freckle on my nose.

I feel such tenderness and compassion for the nineteen-year-old girl who started this blog.  The younger me talked about recovery as if it were a finite goal, something to be achieved and then discussed breathlessly and optimistically forevermore.  I wanted my battle with depression to be a Lifetime movie, and I almost got my wish.

And then – this fall.  Back to the nauseating waves of anxiety and guilt.  Back to the isolation and the recurring thought that would hit me out of nowhere – You are a failure at everything you have ever done.

And back to the crying.

When I was given the PHQ-9, I checked off every symptom on the list.

Since resuming medical treatment, I have come to realize that recovery is not a goal that you reach and just sit at.  You have to work to recover, tirelessly, every day.  Doctors can help, and medicine can help, but the majority of the work is up to you.  And it is thankless.

Sometimes you stumble in your recovery, and you have to face the consequences.  Because – let’s face it – real life doesn’t care that you have depression.  Real life cares about things like chores and nutrition and profits and productivity.  The government will not accept crippling self-doubt as a reason why your taxes are late.

So you apologize.  Pick up the pieces.  Forgive yourself, and move on.

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Take Up Your Spade – Sara Watkins

Remember when I used to skip the weather? Why did I do that again?

Sun is up, a new day is before you
Sun is up, wake your sleepy soul
Sun is up, hold on to what is yours
Take up your spade and break ground

Shake off your shoes,
Leave yesterday behind you
Shake off your shoes,
But forget not where you’ve been
Shake off your shoes,
Forgive and be forgiven
Take up your spade and break ground

Give thanks, for all that you’ve been given
Give thanks, for who you can become
Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb
Take up your spade and break ground
Break ground, break ground, break ground

[October 1]

One of my favorite poems that I have written, and still relevant, although under different circumstances.

Glass Half Fuller

This is how to forget
that you are probably being forgotten:
make your coffee strong, with dark brown sugar.
Go to bed at nine. Wake up at six
and sit outside in the lightening blue
looking at your phone. Look at your phone
often. Pretend that you’re not
looking for texts. Become good at pretending.
Become a good writer. Wish you were a better
writer. Don’t cry. Dig your nails into
your arm and forget you put them there until
the skin turns white around the grooves
and puffs up and stings in the shower.
Take lots of showers. Put a counter
on your phone: thirty-four days, thirty-five,
thirty-six. You knew this
would happen. One day, two thousand
two hundred and twenty-six days from now,
someone will say her name and you’ll say Who?
even though your heart will skip a beat anyway,
as it does from time to time.

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2017: Looking Back

On January 25, 2017, at approximately 9:15 AM, I was starting my commute to work.  It was a sunny morning and the temperature was right around freezing.  The last thing I remember the radio DJ saying was, “There’s a lot of ice on the roads, so be careful out there.”

The next moment, a big white pickup truck took the corner ahead of me too fast and skidded on the ice.  I remember thinking offhandedly: Wow, that’s a bad skid.  Then, as the truck began to spin more and more out of control: Oh crap, he’s going to hit me.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road as far as I could, closed my eyes, and screamed.

When I opened my eyes milliseconds later, the car was full of smoke from the airbags.  My glasses had been knocked off my face and my forehead and legs were bruised.

The rest of the memories from that day are spotty.  I remember my manager at work calling me, his voice full of concern.  I remember a tow truck arriving to take me and the car to a repair shop, and an employee referring offhandedly to my car as a “total loss.”  I remember getting home, after hours and hours, and immediately falling asleep.

It was my first car accident.  Just days before, I wrote, “It looks like things are finally starting to get better for us.”

January 23 through April 14 was just … a mess.  I won’t go into the details, but it was exhausting, confusing, and terrifying.  Looking back, it’s so clear that the S.O. and I suffered from Vitamin D deficiency last winter, which didn’t help.

Despite all of that, there are some things I will miss about Minnesota – the fresh, cool air in the suburbs, the lakes and endless fields, the rows of buffalo fish and Dover sole at the supermarket (yum, fish!)  I’ll miss rediscovering podcasts like This American Life, S-Town, Welcome to Night Vale and Heavy Metal Historian – don’t ask.  And I will miss wandering through downtown Minneapolis on my way home from yet another job interview.  It’s such a vast, vibrant city, and I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate it enough while I lived there.

December 30 will mark my second anniversary of graduating from college, and I can honestly say that none of the past two years has been what I expected.  At all.  Of course, I didn’t really have any clear expectations when I graduated … besides “Get job.  Earn money.  Try not to freeze to death.”

One of the things I expected the least was moving back to my hometown – almost literally down the street from the hospital where I was born.  When I lived in Minnesota, it was so easy to pretend I didn’t care about old friendships from my childhood.  I don’t care, I told myself when I read about engagements, weddings, graduations.  I have a new life now, and I don’t care if they’ve forgotten me.  

Except, I did care.  And I still do.  And coming back to this state that is so full of memories – some bad, mostly good – I’ve had one heck of a time trying to figure out where I fit into all of this.  Which friendships are salvageable?  Which do I want to salvage?

I have spiraled into this weird, horrible depressive episode (?) with almost delusional levels of guilt and self-hatred.  The good news is, I’m getting help for it very soon.  I just have to hang on for a few more weeks.

In July, just before I started my new job, we adopted a third cat named Oliver.  Younger than Calvin and Hobbes, and normal in terms of motor function, Oliver has been comforting in so many ways.  He lets us hug him, swing him around, and cry into his fur (okay, the last one is mostly me ..)

Up until now, I’ve really underestimated the power of unconditional love.  Our cats love and trust me so much, and that is one of the most inspiring things I’ve come across this year.  Every morning, before I go to work, I kiss the head of every cat I can reach.  I tell them, “I’m doing this for you,” and it gives me the strength to keep going.

Sometimes I wonder why God – or fate, or both, or something in between – brought me back to Arizona.  I wonder why I was guided from a purely R&D, wet lab environment to a more client-oriented lab – a dynamic environment where no two days are the same and where there’s always something to learn.  (Seriously, do not ask me about my job.  I will never stop talking about how much I love it.)

But then I realize that it doesn’t matter why I am here – only that I am here.  I was given a second chance to find closure, and I was given another way in which to change the world for the better.

The sadness is still with me, making my bones and muscles ache and tying my stomach into knots.  Maybe it will always be here, in one way or another.  But my cats and my S.O. are helping me to fight it.

Together, we are a family.  And we are home.

[December 16]

Occasionally
the world tilts for me,
causing me to dig my fingernails
into whatever surface – theater seat,
mountaintop, my own denim-covered
thighs – presents itself.
I remember you were there the first time,
in that sage-scented red desert
to the north, and you laughed and looked back
at me, your hair spilling in the wind.
Don’t be afraid, I heard you saying,
although neither of us spoke out loud.
Later, as we touched foreheads
and smiled into your camera,
the earth righted itself beneath my feet.
Nothing is ever unstable for long.
Eventually, time pulls back
into an unsteady equilibrium, hiccuping along
at an all-too-rapid pace
like tired sobs or a terrified heart.
I wonder if you still remember that day,
that mountain. I wonder if you remember
where we met, or if it matters; me, a chunky
red-sweatered girl, and you, already stronger,
always more graceful. Every day,
as I mend what is left, I remember
the words you already forgot you gave me
and sing them in tandem with the words
I am teaching myself:
Do not be afraid.
This, too, shall pass.

How to Be Good

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.

– John Steinbeck

When I was little, I wanted to be a saint.  Not in the casual way you might call a very nice or sweet person a saint – I wanted to be an actual, honest-to-God (hehe) canonized saint.

(Insert studio laughter here.)

That’s how far back my obsession with being good goes.

For a long time, I really thought I was a good person.  I guess most people, if they think about it at all, believe that they are good.  But the older I’ve gotten, the more evidence I’ve found that I am not quite as good as I thought.  I’m no saint, but a normal person, with all the normal flaws and failings.

My attempts at being good – the type of good and sweet and kind that catches people’s notice – have fallen more than a little flat over the years.  In college, I got the idea for a random-acts-of-kindness club that never got further than a Tumblr blog and a few halfhearted attempts by myself to inject a little more kindness into my daily life … like the time I sewed up all the holes in my friend’s green comforter without being asked.  And the thread was silver-colored.  Yeah, a bit invasive.

In reality, while I was trying all these fancy acts of kindness, I was also blundering my way through social situation after social situation.  The latter half of my years in college was filled with blurry nights spent crying alone in my room.  I picked up several self-destructive behaviors meant to punish myself for not being likable enough.  Not being smart enough.  Not being good enough.

People close to me began to call me words that were less than flattering.  Words like unstable and socially awkward.  I was told that I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I clung desperately to some friends while pushing others away.

I don’t know how many people I hurt when I was in college.  I can’t begin to count how many relationships, both fledgling and established, that I ruined.

A few weeks ago, I saw one of these people that I hurt.  They told me (paraphrasing), “I’ve forgiven you, but I haven’t forgotten what you did.”

Two years ago, these words would have sent me into a spiral of self-destruction, of physical punishment and mental pain.  Thankfully, I have matured since then.  Instead, I felt the heavy burden of guilt settle across my shoulders.  It hit me, for what seemed like the billionth time, exactly how different I am from the good, sweet person I wanted to be.

Over the past week or so, I’ve cried.  I have grieved for lost friendships and for the person I thought I was.  I’ve stared into the mirror and hated myself all over again.  I’ve made my S.O. snap at me out of worry, and I’ve almost – but not quite – cried at work.

But self-hatred is neither productive nor sustainable.  I’m a busy person and I have a finite amount of energy to expend on mental anguish.  So I decided to sit myself down and start asking the hard questions.

I realized that there are two main reasons why my attempts at being good have failed more often than not:

  1. They are driven by vanity.  I haven’t really wanted to be good; I’ve wanted to be a person that other people see as good.  That’s why my “random” acts of kindness in college were so over-the-top and awkward.  Let’s face it … I love attention, and as someone who is not especially attractive, intelligent, or artistically gifted, I wanted to stand out in terms of kindness … being kind is easy, right?  Apparently not.
  2. They are driven by fear.  I have this constant fear of abandonment.  I am not very sure where it comes from, but I am afraid that people will find out how horrible I really am and then leave me.  I suppose this may be a symptom of depression.  Over the years, I’ve tried to practice kindness and empathy so that people will continue to associate with me.  But the fear poisons many of my interactions with others.

When I graduated from college, I made a vow to myself never to stop learning and growing.  When I made that promise, I was thinking more along the lines of “book-learning” – like taking online classes or reading in my spare time.  As it turns out, I have a lot of mental and emotional growing to do as well.

I want to improve myself, so that I can be a better friend, S.O., coworker, and daughter.  With that in mind, I made some new goals for myself.  I can never go back in time and reverse all the hurt I’ve caused, but I can reduce the hurt I will cause in the future.

  1. Listen more.  My friend with the comforter probably needed someone to vent to more than she needed her bedclothes to be mended.  I would have known that if I had listened to her – to the verbal content of her statements and to the subtext.  For someone who people see as “quiet”, even “aloof,” I sure talk an awful lot.  Less talking.  More listening.
  2. Do little things, not big things.  Little acts of kindness and consideration aren’t flashy.  They won’t earn me “street cred” as a good person, but they add up, and often they’re more appropriate and appreciated.  Things like picking up trash, genuinely complimenting people, doing extra tasks at work when I have the time.
  3. Be kind to myself first.  If I’m struggling on five hours of sleep, or if I haven’t eaten well, or if my eyes are in pain from crying, I won’t be as kind or respectful to other people.

Does this post sound self-centered and pretentious?  Yeah, probably … I just spent 1000 words talking about myself.  But really, just think of it as the confused ramblings of a twenty-something who really wants to get some parts of her life back on track.

I came back to Arizona for a reason.  It’s time to face my fears and my old mistakes.  It’s way past time to start fixing them.

Here’s to being good.

I haven’t  posted on this site in a really long time.  I haven’t written in a long time, either.

There are many different reasons for this that I don’t feel comfortable sharing here.  The older I get, the more paranoid I become about sharing my personal information or emotions on the Internet – at least, in a webspace where my real name or picture is available.  Suffice it to say that a lot has happened since my last post, and not all of it has been good.

I no longer live in the Midwest, for one thing.  Now I live in Arizona, where I was born.  To be honest, it doesn’t feel like home, just like Minnesota never felt like home.  My heart still belongs to Texas.  It’s been 18 months since I graduated from college.  I wonder if I will ever stop grieving the loss of my beautiful city.

“Real life,” aka life after college, isn’t super conducive to writing poetry.  There is always work to be done.  Cats to clean up after.  Bills to pay and bills to worry about.  I know that the vast majority of poets somehow balance real life and their art, but it’s not something that I’ve figured out how to do quite yet.  Maybe once my grieving is done and my finances are more stable.

I haven’t stopped writing for good.  I know that my ability to write is still there, even though I’ve put it aside for now.  Whenever I’m ready, I can pick up the pen (or laptop, whatever) and start where I left off.  And when that happens, I’ll come back to this blog to share with whoever reads this.

I remain stressed and tired, but optimistic.  😀