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.

Secrets and lies.

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.

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.