The Truth About the Valley

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Like an exhaustion that can never be cured by sleep.

Like a chronic agitation brought on by sounds, lights, and fabrics. Nothing is right. Everything is too much.

Like a hungry ache down deep inside, filling every bit of me up with sadness, while somehow also leaving me achingly empty.

Like tears sitting behind my eyes that never get the chance to fall.

That’s what depression feels like.

Like eight solid hours of cracking stupid jokes at work to keep everyone else laughing.

Like belting out the off-key lyrics to songs that once made you feel happy, just in case.

Just in case they bring a tiny bit of happiness once more.

Like teasing and plotting and planning and hoping out loud.

That’s what depression sounds like.

Just over a week ago, my husband’s brother was found dead at his home. At first it was utterly surreal. And then it was a rush of planning and notifying and shopping for appropriate funeral attire because my kids had outgrown their dress clothes. It was walking through fog and knowing what’s coming next. It was being terrified of losing my shit again and knowing there’s no other way through grief but to force my way through it. It was not crying when we heard and it was not crying at the funeral and it was wondering when I’d become such a coldhearted bitch. It was being afraid of falling asleep lest the same nightmares that assaulted  me after my own brother’s death turned up again. It was we can’t do this again, not again, not so soon, we won’t make it. 

And of course, it was making it through anyway. Because that’s what we do. We make it. We have to.

But somehow during the haze of all the things we needed to get done and the requesting time off work for yet another funeral and the trying to be there for my grieving kids and the making frantic phone calls to family members before the sad news hit Facebook and some loved one found out that way, I forgot to refill the medication I need to make my brain work right. I remembered suddenly just before we left for the funeral, so I called it in to my local pharmacy. But we came home late, after the funeral dinner at my church, and we were all sort of stunned still and I forgot about picking it up until after they’d closed for the night. The next morning started with my daughter losing air in her tire, so we let her take our vehicle to work and took hers to get the tire fixed – there’d been a nail in it. Then my son called me, his voice all wobbly, because one of his best friends and his mom had been in a terrible car accident, and he wanted us to drive him up to the hospital so he could sit with his buddy while his mom was in surgery. When the tire had been fixed and we got our daughter’s car back to her place of work, and then made it home to pick up our son, his friend had already gotten a ride home, so my husband took him over there. And nowhere in that flurry of activity did I remember about my medication. I did eventually get it picked up, but not before I’d gone several days without it. How many days? I can’t recall. I’m unsure if that’s what has set off this latest emotional valley. Regardless, it’s here. It’s here. In my bones. In my soul.

But I’m trying. I’m working at remembering to practice self-care. I’m working at remembering to take a shower. To drag my sorry self up in the mornings for work. To pull the cleanest-looking clothes off the floor to dress myself. I’m hoping this valley won’t be a long one, because already every step I take feels as though I’m shuffling through heavy mud. Having half my hair dreadlocked is handy, because yesterday I literally didn’t even hit my hair with a brush before work, I just pulled on a wide headband to cover the mess. I listen to people talking about going to the gym and what foods they can eat on their current fad diets and I quietly remind myself to just take a step, take a step, take one more step.

And I smile. I laugh.

Like a writer furiously writing a new book. Two new books. Three.

Like a weird hippie chick snuggling her dogs and chunky guinea pig.

Like a responsible adult, clocking in at nine and out at five, every day of the week.

Like a responsible parent of kids with a chronic illness, making appointments with the home nurse and scheduling IV pump swaps with the infusion company.

Like a responsible mom hassling the public school principal over my son’s missing English class credit until she does something about it.

That’s what depression looks like.

Every part of me, every cell, feels like it’s been bruised. My hair hurts. My eyelashes hurt. I find it extraordinarily difficult to tell the difference between being tired and just not wanting to be awake any longer.

Isolation is my best trick. I’m better at that than I am at crocheting or sewing or cracking jokes or probably even writing. Isolation is easy. When things hurt too much, my instinct is to cocoon down. I crave silence. I crave solitude. But it’s addictive. I can’t just lock myself away so I can avoid dealing with pain. If I did, I might never come back out. I force myself to return texts. I force myself to answer my ringing phone. I force myself to connect with people. I force myself to go to the grocery store for necessities.

I’ll be fine, as I always am. Even if I fall completely apart again, I’ll glue my broken bits back into some semblance of order and carry on. At some point, I will. But not today. Today I am tired. Today I don’t have the energy to put my broken pieces back together.

Today I’ve been laughing and typing and calming down upset clients who call the office. Today I stopped on my way home from work to pick up a dollar store Barbie doll, because my coworker turned 37 today and told me she’d never gotten a Barbie doll cake when she was a kid but had always wanted one, so I’m typing this piece while waiting for the rainbow sprinkle cakes to cool enough to frost them. It’s been years since I’ve made one but I’m fairly certain I remember how. At least… well, we’ll see. I’m pretty sure I can do it, anyway.

Today I threw together a new book teaser for my fantasy series, and created a silly poll in my FB group, and I ate half a chicken quesadilla at lunch even though I had no desire to eat, because my awesome boss bought us all lunch today. Today I reminded myself that my guinea pig won’t be dead in the morning, even though I always think he will be, because I know that depression and anxiety lie to me all the damn time about things like that. Today I brushed my teeth and put some braids in my hair so I have less hair to brush before work tomorrow. Today I went to the grocery store to get milk. Today I didn’t practice my guitar, because, once again, my kid accidentally busted my strings, but I thought about the way I place my hands for each chord so I don’t forget.

Today I got up and I tried. I made myself think of all the positive things I have to look forward to. I have a gift card to Barnes & Noble so I can order new books, and I absolutely love to get books in the mail. I have an upcoming tattoo appointment I’m insanely excited about. I’m thinking about a new piercing. I’m thinking about getting new guitar strings, because I’ve got to teach myself to play the opening part of “Minority” by Green Day. I’ve written a new book that people seem to really like, and more importantly, I’ve written a new book that *I* completely love. I’m so proud of that book. There’s a lot of truth in it. Covered in pirates and magic, but still. It’s there and it’s mine.

Tomorrow I will get up and try again. I will probably wear the same sweater I wear most of the time, because it is soft and has pockets and is weirdly comforting. I will take this silly Barbie cake to work, and I will laugh at some point, and I will check on my guinea pig way too many times, just to make sure he’s fine.

It gets dark here in this valley, but I hold onto the knowledge that sunshine will come again because it always has before. It might take a while, but still. I trust it will come. Until then, I will keep trying.

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My Ridiculous Luck

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I’ve been aware for a long time now that I am somehow a magnet for ridiculous luck, in generally any situation. At this point, it’s a running joke. If there’s a way for things to go wrong, they’ll definitely go out of their way to do it for me. My name gets lost in computer systems. Insurance randomly dropped. Freak illnesses and accidents. I’m fairly certain I hold a world record for the amount of flat tires I’ve had – did I ever tell you guys about my anniversary trip last November? My husband booked us a room at a haunted castle. Halfway there, one of our tires randomly went flat. Located a tire place in the nearest town, but they said it would be hours before they could get my vehicle in, if at all. Stopped at a gas station, loaded the air thing with quarters, it wouldn’t work. Found another tire place, and after an hour the tech came back and said she couldn’t help because she couldn’t get the spare tire lowered. Put air in the tire, and hoped for the best. Back on the expressway, and the tire started losing air at an alarming rate. Pulled off to a rest stop and called a tow truck. An hour and a half later, the tow truck guy showed up and couldn’t help us because somehow the mechanism to release the spare tire had been broken. Basically, we continued stopping to put air in the tire every half hour or so until we reached our destination… only to find, by the time we checked in at the castle, we had missed dinner and the bar was closed. Yep. That’s just my luck.

So I suppose it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to me when, last week, my husband went to leave for work early one morning and our elderly pick up truck refused to start. We’d known its death was coming, eventually, but had hoped to make it a few more months. Regardless, we had to have it towed out of our driveway and began the search for a different vehicle. After work last Friday, we went to a semi-local car dealership and after a few hours, found something we agreed on, although it will mostly be my vehicle to drive to work. It seemed to be going so well, I should have known the Curse was about to manifest itself. And when the sales guy said, “It’s getting late. Here, just take the keys and come back in the morning to finish the paperwork and get the remote start put on,” it was WAY too good to be true.

Saturday morning, Sales Guy called and said  Finance Guy had called in sick, so just to keep the vehicle for the weekend and drop it off early Monday morning. He would give me a loaner car to take to work while the remote start was put on, and we could finish the paperwork when I went to pick it back up. Okay. I could do that. Had some fun with my new vehicle – I mean, it’s been over eleven years since I have purchased a vehicle, so it was kind of exciting – showing it off, syncing my phone to it, setting the stereo stations. And then, as agreed, on Monday morning I got up an hour early to drive it to the dealership and pick up the loaner. I handed over my keys and Sales Guy hands me a different set. “I didn’t get the loaner car set up for you, but here, just take my personal truck. It’s fine.” Which seemed odd, but I didn’t want to be late for work, so I took it. I mean, it had a bunch of empty pop bottles rolling around in it and there was barely any gas in the tank, but whatevs. I met my husband there after work to finish the paperwork and pick up my new vehicle.

We were sitting in Finance Guy’s office, signing page after page, and I realized my name – which has been an improperly spelled burden my entire life – had been misspelled on all the papers. Further, my place of employment was wrong. They took all the paperwork back, redid it, and then we started all over again. We’d just gotten to the last page when my husband spoke up. “Wait,” he said. “This VIN number doesn’t match the one on my wife’s car.”

“What?”  Finance Guy said. “Of course it does.”

My husband – who has a great eye for details – shook his head vehemently. “I’m telling you, it doesn’t. Go look. The sticker is still in the window.”

Finance guy leaves. Comes back. “I’ll be damned. You’re right! It’s a completely different number! I’ve got to go talk to Sales Guy and see what’s going on here.”

We wait. And we wait.

Finally, they both come back into the office. (Get ready, folks. Here comes the punch line.) Sales guy says, “Here’s the thing, Mr. and Mrs. Kinney. Ah… it appears that I inadvertantly sold you a car that has already been sold to someone else.”

My husband was all, “I’m sorry. Come again now?”

“The vehicle has already been sold. You’ll have to return it,” Sales Guy says.

“The hell I will,” replied my husband.

It only got better from there. Sales guy started raising his voice. Husband raised his voice in return. Suddenly, both men are standing and both getting red in the face. Finance Guy tried to jump in to mediate, and Sales Guy told him to sit down and shut up.

At which point I got up and walked out of the office. Hey, I have anxiety. I can’t with all the raised voices. I wandered about for a while, located a vending machine, hoped there might be Xanax but in lieu of such I bought a Kit Kat bar.

After much back and forth, Sales Guy says he has reviewed the dealership’s inventory, and has another vehicle that is the same make, model, year, and color that we can purchase, if everyone can just calm down.

Clearly, everyone did not immediate just calm down. However, after hours (HOURS!) my husband agreed to take a look at the other vehicle. Of course, by then it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see anything, so Sales Guy had to bring the vehicle around to one of the docks with bright lights so we could investigate it. As it did indeed appear to be exactly the same as the first vehicle, I hung back a bit, waiting for my husband to come to a decision, as he was still fairly agitated at the entire ridiculous situation. For some insane reason, Sales Guy gets the idea to approach me and try to win me over, ostensibly to get my husband to chill abou the whole thing.

“Mrs. Kinney,” he begins, waving his arm and indicating for me to come over and see the car. “I wanted to show you something about this vehicle. Boy, you’re really going to love this!”

With a deep sigh, I walked over to stand near the new new vehicle and waited.

He went on. “You know how when you’re grocery shopping, and you’ve got your arms full of grocery bags, and you’re fumbling about, trying to reach your keys and get the door open and it’s all just so hard?”

I simply stared. Said nothing.

“Well, with this fancy key fob, you don’t even have to put the key in the lock! You can just press the button, and voila! Easy as that! Won’t that be nice for you, when your arms are full of groceries?”

“…uh-huh.”

“And it’s the same pretty color as the first one you picked out! Did you notice that?”

Oh my God.

I waited for a few, just to see if he wanted to also offer me a mop and broom so I’d take the other vehicle. Or a dust rag. Because, I mean, obviously. Silly female that I am. What else might I be doing with my time?

In the end, we agreed to take the second vehicle, which brought another problem, because we had just paid to put a remote start on someone else’s vehicle.

“No problem,” says Sales Guy. “Just tell your wife to bring it here by eight tomorrow morning, and I’ll give her a loaner, and she can come pick it up tomorrow night.”

“Oh, no,” says my husband. “She won’t be doing that. She’s already gotten up an hour early today and driven all the way here, so you could send her off in your truck – with almost no gas in it, mind you – to get the remote start put on. She’s not going to do that again because of your mistake. You can give her a loaner tonight, and we’ll be back tomorrow to pick up the new car.”

Eventually, I did actually get my new vehicle, remote start, fancy key fob and all, and bring it home. The entire thing was exhausting. I might do it again in another decade.

Maybe not. We’ll see.

Full disclosure, I’m about to plug my new book.

The fourth book in the Secrets of Windy Springs series, Knowing His Madness, released on January first. I’m so excited about this book. It’s my all-time favorite to ever have written, quite possibly that I ever will write. Captain Dash’s story is so close to my heart, and I’ve never enjoyed writing anything as much as I did writing this story. I’m so pleased with how it turned out. The fifth installment, Knowing Rogan, will be out, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, by this spring.

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