Encouraging: a saint on sadness.

I came across this blessed gift of an article this morning and wanted to share it with anyone (everyone) wrestling with sadness. It reminded me immediately of that list of Life Rules I scribbled down a while ago and made me curious if I have been faithful in following them.

Please do read the article (here’s the link again), as it’s far more eloquent, comprehensive, and smart than my list, because…well…it’s written by a saint. But here’s what resonated with me the most, especially in light of everything this blog — and my whole life — has ever been about:

Our bodies, brains and hands and eyes and stomachs and quads and intervertebral discs, are essential to the purpose of our lives. They are not in the way of our spirits, some temporary torture chamber from which we must be liberated or some hideous distraction that we are tasked to ignore.

When I was coaching, I would always ask, “If your body were not an obstacle, what would you do with it?” The answers that would come on the first day were typically harsh. There was this view that being fat, sick, depressed, exhausted or broken in any way disqualified the body from serving any purpose. The body needed to be punished, pushed out of the way, so that the “real person” could finally break out and grab hold of their true destiny. But every single time, without fail, as I saw people care for their bodies (often through the the sneaky trick of calling it a “challenge”, discipline words) — feed them good food, give them good rest, soak them in sunshine, expose them to beauty — their answers changed.

 

The question was never, “If your body (pain, weakness, depression) didn’t exist, what would you do with your ‘real life’?” It was always, “If your body were not an obstacle, but an integral part of the story, an asset, what would you do?”

I still set my body up as an enemy all the time. I shout at my body, curse my brain, slap myself with rules and challenges and strict discipline. Sometimes, a little discipline is what I need, but more often than not, I just need a shower or a poem or a very long time in the garden. Maybe a pot roast?

And all of it is prayer. All of it is setting my face like flint before the Lord.

 

Missing the point.

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?

 

I am scared of everything.

I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that I will be afraid every time. The fear is always there. It is not an omen, not a mark on the map telling me to go another way. It is just a faulty compass; the instruments, not the stars.

Things I fear:  Phone calls, grocery store check out lines, drop-off and pick-up, requiring assistance of any kind, hitting send, lunch, success, leaving the laundry in the washer too long, failure, burning down the house, observation, medicine, all the things my children will inevitably think and feel about their childhood, running out of gas, parties, invitations, knocking on my door, no one ever inviting me to anything or knocking on my door, vine borers, my husband’s untimely death, stuff stuck to the bottom of my feet, holidays, 4 o’clock, alcoholism, the word publish.

 

Dumb.

I haven’t had a clear thought since April. Tens of thousands of muddy ones tumbling in, but they all have the be washed and polished, sorted by size and weight. Takes forever. Poetry helps. You don’t have to know what you’re thinking to start writing it. Even when you’re done it’s often just a bunch of stones lined up in a mystery you hope someone else solves later and it’s not too embarrassing.

It has been five weeks since the last tiny sliver of Lexapro. I was spared the most terrifying withdrawal side effects. No brain zaps, waking up behind the wheel of the car in strange places with no idea how you got there. Just a very slow, anti-climactic re-entry into consciousness. I can officially spend more hours awake than asleep in a 24 hour period, and far fewer of them are spent crying in the kitchen. But I have awakened under the wet blanket of midsummer. Time is sticky and hot and slow and sounds like cicadas and children who have spilled paint.

I am here, I am well, I am raising children and inking pens and doing stupid things with my body that I really should not. There is plenty of writing being done, but none that wants to be seen when the lights come on. I am here, everything is right here just waiting for my head to clear, waiting for the year to tip toward fall so gravity can take over.

Until then, I am just here in the stands with my box of rocks, breathing chlorine, cheering, moving stuff around.

Pills and a pep talk.

Today is a doctor day.  A day I march boldly into the oddly lit waiting room and arrange the chairs and magazines as a service to all the other psychiatric patients.  I have done this with great love in my heart ever since the day a dear man brought his daughter in, and with such confidence, comfort, and familiarity, reached up to a high shelf to turn on a lamp that had always been switched off.  I over-thanked him, but he seemed to understand the impact of a small change in such an important place.

I will carry my ownership of the space right in to the office, on to the black leather couch, where I will, without wavering, tell my doctor I am discontinuing another medication.  She will push me, but I will not not be moved.

I confess that I am nervous about this one, an anti-anxiety medication, because it is probably helping with irritability and depression, and the withdrawal is known to be brutal, but it is requiring me to sleep 10-12 hours a day and feel like I’ve never had enough (that’s from the moment the baby falls asleep at night, until the minute she insists I get out of bed in the morning, plus her afternoon nap).  AAAAAND it made me eat a cookie sheet full of nachos.  Twice.

  
Now, I am the first to say, “You are responsible for your own choices,” but I am telling you, this medication has caused more cravings and insatiable hunger than anything I have ever experienced before in my life.  It is worse than pregnancy, worse than mania.  It feels like the urge to binge in emotional eating, but without the emotion. I am constantly white knuckling it through overwhelming distraction and anxiety about FOOD.  As a woman with a history of morbid obesity, a present of need for nutritional therapy for pain and mental health management, and future of required weight control for spinal stability, food is the very last thing I need haunting me.

A medication that consumes all of the time and energy I have to write, exercise, bathe, and engage in conscious solitude, while crowding my waking hours with thoughts of inhaling bricks of cheese and bars of chocolate, spending every ounce of my self-control (which I desperately need to keep my tongue in check while raising three small children) makes me really anxious.  Therefore, I have decided I would no longer like to take it to combat anxiety.

But nachos taste good.

Polite conversation.

A raging wall of water ripped houses off their foundations and tossed them whole, all the pie plates and Fritos, sliced watermelons, Pack-n-Plays, bathing suits and dominos out into the river.  It is easiest to make it sound like a rained out picnic, a holiday gone wrong.  It is easiest to go touring the waterline, measure our height against the muddy marker on the bent over tree, and not think about a body pressed hard against it by the current, dumped out of a bed while sleeping.  It is easiest not to think about the babies.

Maybe stick to the Instagram feeds and the downtown floods that only kill money and cars.

Maybe just pretty pictures of clouds.