February 1, 2017 § 1 Comment
I don’t pay attention. I am hard headed, heavy headed, neck bent, eyes on the ground right in front of me. The mess being made, the battle being fought.
I keep a record of of my wrongs, this swirling, non-chronological mass of mistakes, things done and left undone, and call it my True Story. I go over it every day, all the times I should have died, all the wounds that I’ve been given, all the wounds I gave: the monster of depression and mania that never stays dead, the decades of medication gnawing at my brain and liver and thyroid, the father who crushed my heart, the weapon of my words against my mother, my silence, my absence, my refusal to love others, the shame of obesity, the absolute impossibility of motherhood, the deadliness of my temper, my razor sharp tongue, the pounding disappointment of pain in my body, the unending tangle of marriage, and the persistent drip of my daily failure.
But what of the victory all around me? What of the vast landscape of victory behind me, the impassable mountains climbed, hideous dragons slain, opposing armies crushed and swept out to sea? What of the children, sitting at the breakfast table, sewing doll clothes as the sun comes up?
January 4, 2017 § 2 Comments
There is a lot to say, but that is a poor excuse for not saying it. When I started this blog, I did it with the intention to be generous with my story. I confess, generosity doesn’t come easily to me. I have always struggled with fear that there wouldn’t be enough for me — time, food, love, space, money, acceptance. But the truth is, I have never actually experienced an actual lack of any of those things.
I live, have always lived, in abundance. I wrestle with, have always wrestled with, the lie that there will not be enough.
This is a placeholder post, a wedge, an acknowledgement that there is enough time and space to tell the very large story of the last 9 months.
Since I last wrote here, I’ve used Instagram and Facebook the way they ought to be used. The story can be pieced together in pictures. You are welcome and encouraged to try. And I do intend to share the stories that go along with the illustrations…eventually. They’re written, as usual, in the stacks and stacks of notebooks someone will oneday find my body crushed beneath.
But I don’t want to lose ground by continuing to say that I can’t blog about life in real time just because I haven’t been. “A person can’t jump from walking down the stairs with a half-broken back and questionable sanity at the downtown YMCA in Austin, TX to hauling a half ton of horse manure in the snow at her farm in in the Pacific Northwest without copious amounts of explanation!”
Or can she?
It’s more like will she?
February 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
June 11, 2015 § Leave a comment
I have told you many stories. Persuasive black ravens on razor sharp roofs, creeping tarantulas in my psychotic peripheral vision, the contents of my pill box, the numbers on my scale — stories you’d think would stay secrets, you’d think would make me nervous. I know there was a day when I was on the silent side of fear and I kept these stories to myself, but it is so long past, I don’t remember its sting. I wish I could. It would help me now.
There is one story that I work hard not to tell, one I skim over in a way that I always hope sounds breezy and confident. Each time I dance past it I am certain I will trip, tumble head first and be exposed, stripped down to my bright white skin.
I am a writer.
There. That’s it. That’s my bare ass in the breeze.
You are not as scandalized as I am. You are reading these words and have a pretty good idea of how they got here, but I am still in denial. All this time I have chosen to believe that I was fooling you into thinking that the stork dropped them off. Surely none of you imagined me actually doing the deed?
I am a writer. I write this blog, I write poetry, sometimes I write thinly veiled autobiographical fiction about a woman named Stella who cleans motel rooms in New Mexico. When I was in the third grade, my story about intrepid pioneers living in a dugout won first prize in a contest and was displayed in a bank lobby. I was the poetry editor of my high school literary magazine and have never really moved on. I am also the author of more than 120 successfully unpublished notebooks, composition books, and journals.
I am a writer and that means my life is secretly organized around writing. Honestly, my daily priorities are to keep my children alive and to write, the rest is kind of bonus. If you have ever had plans with me or expected me to show up to a meeting and I have backed out, it probably wasn’t my kids, it was writing. If I have a babysitter, writing. If there’s time for a shower, can I write instead? When required by love, duty, or hygiene to do something else, how much longer until I can write about this?
I am a writer as much as I am anything else.
My life, my whole story, is shaped by writing as significantly as it is by manic depression, obesity, motherhood, and marriage. But while I so generously spread those stories out as though I am the boldest, bravest teller of true tales, I do not write about writing. If this blog were a simple account of our homeschooling days or a handy resource for low carb recipes, my identity as a writer would be irrelevant, I could continue gallivanting with my pens and paper behind closed doors indefinitely and no one would get hurt. But that is not the work we are doing here. That is not the agreement we have made.
To say that I am telling you a true story about my life while omitting the details of my writing life is a bald-faced lie.
I’ve lied out of habit and I’ve lied out fear. I’ve lied out of certainty that upon discovery of my secret identity, it will be taken from me. “Rachel Elizabeth!” the world will gasp, disgusted and alarmed, snatching it from my naughty hands, cramming it up on to the highest, darkest shelf before shoving my nose in a corner to think about what I’ve done. I’ve lied out of fear of being put in my place.
In just a few days I will be 35 years old. A grown woman. Old enough to take my own place, to take responsibility for my creative choices and capable of engaging in adult conversation about them without cheeks flushing beet red and disintegrating into a fit of giggles and deflection. Old enough to admit, brazen and shameless, that I write, I write a lot, and I like it.
In honor of my undeniable adulthood, my coming of age, I am going to write about writing. I am giving you fair warning because it is guaranteed to be awkward and intimate and not at all like it is in the movies. It will be terrible for a while, unless you are also a secret writer or maybe a much younger, much better writer. In that case, it will be really encouraging and make you feel very good about yourself. Regardless, it will be a true story told, out loud, in love, which is the work we do here.
April 11, 2015 § 5 Comments
My teenage years were creative, charming, and intensely productive. My doctor’s steady stream of SSRIs ensured that my mania more than made up for the depressive periods that almost had me convinced that I should drive my shiny new 1995 Chevy Cavalier into a telephone pole. This kept me sailing through the violent surf of undiagnosed bipolar disorder until I was delusional and psychotic in Massachusetts.
Lithium came to me in the hospital. I took it gratefully, like a badge, like keys to the city.
Just barely 18, I would enter adulthood knowing who I was, with proof of my identity. That prescription was my license to be the eccentric artist, unapologetically (See, Daddy! Look!). It was citizenship.
This is why I continued to take it for almost a decade, even though it didn’t work, even though I couldn’t keep a job and the raven visited again and again. Even though I still needed to be rescued over and over. Why would I surrender my citizenship? Manic depressives take lithium. That is what we do. That is who we are. That is hardcore. Straight forward, black and white. Intensely romantic. But not true.
A bipolar person without drugs is just crazy.
She no longer has proof. She no longer has license for her eccentricity. She loses all grace extended to her.
If I take medicine, and I still get sick, we blame the disease and the medicine, maybe we even blame the doctor. But if I don’t take medicine, we just blame me.
March 23, 2015 § 1 Comment
I quit meds eight years ago. I did not go cold turkey, run wild and squeal, “Nanny nanny boo boo! Psych meds are a joke!” No, I titrated down with the help of a psychiatrist, a tiny baby in my belly, and a year of stability under my mental health belt.
I spent the years that followed perfecting a formula to replace the lithium I had faithfully swallowed everyday the decade before. Like all great discoveries, I found ketosis by accident. In an attempt to change my weight, I changed my brain. Ketosis worked better than lithium ever had and it lifted the haze I had been swatting at my whole life. Then came exercise, at first just a way to push the babies round and round to sleep, then a way to run straight up hills, then a way to pick my weight up off the ground until I found myself unreasonably calm. And with both came deep, solid sleep, the kind that wakes you up in the morning all by itself, full.
Ketosis was my anti-depressant. Powerlifting was my mood stabilizer. Sleep was my anti-psychotic.
This formula worked so well, I bottled it. I was my own pharmacist, measuring precise doses each day.
So it should be no surprise that when my formula fell apart, when my spine crumbled and I lost exercise, when stress knocked me out of ketosis and head first into cupcakes, when post-surgical narcotics had a paradoxical effect and stole whole weeks of sleep, that my brain would come tumbling down.
The good news is that nothing catastrophic happened outside of my head. I was able to stay out of the hospital with the help of quick doctors, a good husband, lots of babysitters, friends, and an excellent therapist. I didn’t drain the bank account or fly off the roof. My kids got the truly fun parts of mania: fantastic tea parties, Bulild- A – Bear, the Lego store, and all the Muppet movies (except that creepy Treasure Island one. Yikes!) and several amazing babysitters who will stay with us for a season.
And in the end, we are all okay.
This is the brilliance of fighting mental illness out loud, with a crowd. Mine is not a secret battle. This is not a secret blog. I have help beyond fountain pens. My kids have help beyond Sesame Street. My husband has help beyond Bluebell Homemade Vanilla. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, visible and invisible and they are quick to swoop in, despite my comfort level, to intercede. I am not alone, out in the field.
My precise formula may have failed, but this one holds firm. And while these new medicines I’ve swallowed work their chemical magic (and yes, they are working!) I grow increasingly thankful that I have this skilled team fighting for me while I go back to just dealing with a bad back. Just a bad back. Which doesn’t seem as hard a pill to swallow.
March 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
It should read: Bipolar pen lady hurt her back and talks about drugs. She used to be fat. I think she has kids.
It is a true story.
While technically a blog about manic depression and obesity, I do use fountain pens and writing as therapy. This has always been the case, but it wasn’t until I was sidelined by a stupid back injury that I thought to mix them all up.
That injury and the subsequent use of narcotics gave me the space and drug induced bravery to blog again after a season of juggling tiny babies and heavy weights. I may not have been blogging, but I was always writing. I have never, ever, not had a notebook. And I have never, ever not had a very strong opinion about pens. Or most other things, really. But especially pens.
In my absence, WordPress got fancy, added likes and stats and whatnot, so I’ve been able to see that while there’s a good deal of interest in crazy, there is twice the interest in crazy AND fountain pens. Interpret that as you will.
So, if you’re here for a story about being formerly obese and managing manic depression with fountain pens, food, faith, and exercise (and therapy, and medication, and babysitters, and the occasional housekeeper) in the context of homeschooling three small children while recovering from a serious back injury in beautiful downtown Austin, TX, you’ve found the right blog!