Everything else, Grief

A Grief Named Lucille

 

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It comes out of nowhere.

Wait. That isn’t accurate.

It’s there, always. Sometimes it’s hiding, just under the surface. Sometimes it’s shoved down so deep it seems like it’s gone.

Sometimes I forget, just for the briefest of seconds, when I encounter something that really strikes my soul in some way, like a string of powerful song lyrics. I pause and absorb that small fraction of time; peace settles within, and I am overwhelmed with the perfection of what is happening around me. Puppies playing, children laughing, snow falling, my husband’s warm hand linked in mine.

I never see it coming, until THWACK! Negan has sneaked up behind me, and Lucille connects to the back of my neck with a force so abrupt and painful I can do little more than collapse on the floor and try to catch my breath. The crushing hopelessness is upon me and I can’t think how to get out from under it.

It’s been a while since I had a full-on anxiety attack. I came close the night before Easter, when we (as is typical for us) were running around getting things at the last minute for the kids’ baskets. Walmart was so crowded, most aisles were impossible to get down. I could feel the familiar signals creeping up on me, and I pulled my husband aside and told him I needed to finish and get out of there. While we finished getting the final few things, I worked really hard to keep my breathing even, to not give in to the panic thrumming in my veins. What I’m finding is I’m okay and I’m okay and I’m okay and I’m okay and then all at once, I am absolutely NOT okay. It doesn’t have to be anything big that sets me off.

Saturday I had a table at a local book event for horror authors. It was inside a busy farmer’s market, but I knew the room we’d be in was off to the side and less crowded, so I figured I’d be fine. And I was. Mostly. Some of the authors in attendance I knew from the previous year at the same event, and it was nice to talk and catch up. Sold books. Had some good talks. Met a couple new friends. During a lull, I was standing at the table next to mine, talking with the artist, flipping through the pages of his albums, checking out prints I wanted to buy. Nothing in particular was going on. I wasn’t being crowded or upset. But all at once, I felt it creeping up my spine. And I was so hot I couldn’t catch my breath. My chest began twitching. Clenching. I hurried back to my seat. Drew my shawl around me. Pulled my hair up inside my hat. My husband went out and bought me a big bottle of water, then sat with his arm around my shoulders until the panic passed. It wasn’t a full-on attack, but still bothersome. For the most part, I had a great day.

But then I overdid just a little. After the event, I went to a store, and then to a busy restaurant for dinner. I did okay while in those places. I was okay, and I was okay, and I was okay, and then about 2:30 a.m., while I was in bed, in the dark, relaxed and dozing –

Dammit. There she was.

Lucille.

At first, I thought, maybe it’s asthma. It could be asthma. The weather has been weird and my lungs can be sensitive. My chest tightened. Yeah. It’s probably asthma.

Please be asthma.

Even as I thought it, I knew it was that freaking bat. At least that time, I was already down. I curled up and burst into sobs. I searched my brain for breathing exercises to do. Thought calming thoughts. Tapped my fingers. Wept until I was all snotty. Caused my husband some alarm. It lasted probably a half an hour before it began to ease.

Occasionally, people will ask me why I keep talking about grief and mental health issues. There are happier things to write about, aren’t there?

Well, sure. Of course there are.

You’re usually so funny! Write something to make people laugh!

That’s true. I do have a knack for humor. I enjoy making people laugh, and often write that sort of thing.

But life isn’t always funny. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes the pain is so disabling, you struggle just to get up off the floor.

It’s important to talk about those parts of life, too. People need to know they aren’t the only ones struggling with depression or anxiety or grief. They need to know someone out there understands what they are feeling. If there is anything worse than being depressed, anxious, and grieving –

it’s being depressed, anxious, grieving, and completely alone in it.

Sometimes people say I seem to be dwelling on my grief.

“Get over it.”

“It’s been months already.”

“Pretend to be happy, and then you will be.”

I know there is a lot of truth in the idea of focusing on the positives. And I do, truly. Maybe even more than most people do, because I know how awful it is to have family and happiness ripped away in a blink of time. Focus on your joys. Be grateful for what you have. Absolutely.

But, guys, there is an enormous difference between “dwelling” and “acknowledging.”

Forcing yourself to act happy all the time, refusing to acknowledge your grief and pain, that’s some unhealthy shit right there. That agony you shove down deep and refuse to talk about? It’s gobbling you up from the inside out. Dwelling on the past and your hurt, yeah, it’s probably not so good. But taking it out, recognizing it’s there and it’s valid, finding ways to keep getting up every day in spite of it; finding ways to laugh although you ache –

that’s important. Grief and pain, those are experiences that shape us. Change us. Empty and refill us.

So I keep getting up. Keep writing. Keep looking for small joys to hold onto. Keep enjoying those fractions of time that feel like utter perfection.

Even though I know Lucille is going to hit me again. Knock me down. Make me weep.

I keep getting up.

My bones ache. I bleed. I think I can’t do it one more time. It’s not possible.

I keep getting up. Sometimes it might take an hour or a day or a week to get entirely upright.

That’s okay.

Because it’s worth it. I promise, it’s worth it.

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

End the Stigma. Or Don’t.

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There are lots of trending hashtags about mental illness lately. #endthestigma. #thisiswhatanxietyfeelslike. #mentalhealthawareness. #mentalhealthmatters.

Talking about mental illness is trendy. Self-care is a hot topic.

People are tweeting about their experiences with mental illness. The medications they’ve taken. The therapies they’ve sought.

We’re told now is the time to be open about our struggles. To reach out for help and support. People are more accepting now than they were in the past. Admitting you have a mental illness isn’t as taboo as it once was.

Except.

Except when you talk about your struggles with mental health openly, and people automatically assume it means you’re violent.

Except when an admission of mental health treatment makes others so uncomfortable they leave the room.

Except when the first thing said about every school shooter is that they were mentally ill. When ten seconds after the news of another shooting breaks, there are claims the shooter was taking SSRIs. Or has taken them in the past.

And someone looks at you and asks, “Isn’t that the medicine you take?”

Except when friends ask if you aren’t afraid of “getting addicted to that medicine.”

Really, Susan, I’m no more afraid of being addicted to  Zoloft than I am of being addicted to my asthma inhaler. If I need it, I need it.

In sum, it’s a new era. People no longer need to be ashamed about struggling with their mental health.

Be proud! (wait no not that proud)

Be open. It’s the only way to start the conversation. Just… you know. Not that open.

It’s kind of hip now to talk about depression. But mostly the depression that hits you after your dog dies and you cry and eat six gallons of ice cream and you feel sad for a while and then you remember all the good times and you get outside and get some sun and then you’re fine.

That’s the comfortable kind of depression people want to hear about.

Nobody wants to hear about lacking the energy to shower. Or get dressed. Or roll out of bed for three days straight. Nobody wants to hear you need a combination of four medications to make your brain work well enough to function at a minimal level. Nobody wants to hear you can’t make basic decisions or remember how to get started washing a stack of dirty dishes.

When I’m open enough with someone to flat out state that my brain went to shit for about six months of the last year, people avert their eyes. Tell me I’m exaggerating and I’m fine. Ask how much longer I’m going to keep taking these medications (probably forever tbh). Can’t I just take a vitamin that would do the same thing? Or talk loudly over me about a completely different topic (all righty then, point taken). Sometimes they get up and walk out of the room.

Last fall, when I abruptly realized I was definitely not okay, I was honest. I told the people around me, “I am not okay. My brain is not okay.”

Mostly the response was, “Of course you’re okay. You’re fine.”

But I wasn’t. I really, really wasn’t.

When I say I’m in therapy and seeing a psychiatrist I feel like I automatically need to follow that statement up with an assurance that I don’t own a gun, actually wouldn’t know how to operate one, am pretty much a pacifist, and feel guilty if I inadvertently step on a worm and hurt it. I am whatever you want to call the opposite of violent. Listen, all I want to do is make sure everyone is warm and safe and has enough Reese’s peanut butter cups to last the weekend.

Mentally ill is not a synonym for evil or violent.

Until we stop using it as such, all the hashtags in the world aren’t going to make mental health an easier topic to discuss.

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Bits and Whatnots, Writing

A Daring, Hopeful Diagnosis

 

typewriterI’ve always thought everyone else was simply better at being a person than I was.
In every aspect of my life, including writing, I have struggled to maintain my focus. Not in the way most people do – where they get distracted by a noise or a conversation for a second and then bounce back to what they were doing. I zone out, come back, and realize I’ve been signed up for a committee I didn’t want to be on or some other unwanted responsibility. I can’t remember most things I need to do through the day if I don’t write them down and pin them someplace where I know I’ll see them – so my house and desk at work are full of post it notes and scraps of paper with notes to myself scribbled on them.
I want to remember. I just can’t.
I get very frustrated with myself when I can’t make myself remember, or when I can’t sit still and feel actual pain if I don’t move some part of my body. I feel frustrated when I’m in public and snapping my fingers or tapping my fingers together or bouncing my knees to the point I annoy the people around me. I try to stop. But then it feels like bees are swarming around inside me instead and I’m going to lose my mind if I don’t start moving again. I wonder how other people manage to control that feeling. I marvel at writers who consistently sit and write for hours every day.
Most of my dedicated writing or creativity time looks like this: write for five minutes, get up, walk around, read a paragraph of a book, crochet for five minutes, walk around, remind myself to write, try to relax so I can, start bouncing my knees because I need to move, remember I was supposed to call someone today, try to find the piece of paper I wrote the number on, chastise myself for not washing the dishes, start clean water to do it, sit back down to write, forget I turned the water on, remember ten minutes later when the sink is overflowing, clean that up, berate myself for being stupid, sit back down to write, remember I still had to call someone, try to find the paper I wrote the number on again…
My brain has always been this way. I’ve put it down to being an extremely creative person. High school was a struggle. College was a struggle. Anything that has more than three lines of instructions on it is a struggle for me. I didn’t know everyone’s brain doesn’t work like this.
I’ve only ever had the one brain, so I couldn’t compare.
Turns out, not everyone thinks this way. They aren’t just better at controlling it than I am. They aren’t just better people. They aren’t just smarter than I am.
I’m not lazy or stupid or less of a person.
I just have ADHD.
I’m 42, and when I was in school, ADHD was just getting to be more widely known. At that time, it seemed to mostly be a label stuck to little boys who couldn’t hold still or listen to directions in school. I was well-behaved and did my work and sat still – with great effort.
But as I’ve gotten older, it seems to be getting worse. And since my brother’s death, it has worsened exponentially. I’m used to being scatterbrained, but this is a whole new level. It feels like I’m trying to think with a brain made of Swiss cheese. I know grief can do a number on our brains, but I was beginning to feel like I couldn’t trust myself to function on a daily basis. The anxiety is worse, as well, and I’m in treatment and trying to learn ways to cope with that. It’s hard.
Now that I know what the problem is, I can get help for it. I’m thankful for science and medication, and having a prescription to try and coping mechanisms to learn makes me feel like there might be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I know there are other writers and creatives who have ADHD and have managed to produce beautiful art. It gives me hope.
I’ve finished When Knowing Comes and it has gone out to the editor. I’ll soon have a pretty website (courtesy of my talented and intelligent daughter) with a newsletter – something I’ve tried and failed to do multiple times in the last few years. I have an assistant now who is helping me streamline and keep up with the social media end of writing. I feel much less overwhelmed. And I’ve been on medication for just over a week. I can actually feel my brain becoming less scrambled. It’s weird.
I will likely always be scattered and impulsive and struggle with focus to some extent. But for the first time in a long, long while, I’m excited to see what the future holds.

I’ve got a long ways to go, but I’m confident I’m going to get there.

 

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Bits and Whatnots, Writing

My brain, on writing.

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Type, type, type, type. Does that need a semicolon? I think a period would be better. No. Yes. Maybe. Definitely a semicolon. Definitely a period. No. Wait. Was, or were? Was. Definitely was. Unless…no, it’s definitely was. Don’t forget, kid gets out of school early today. Don’t forget. I should write that down. Gimme the beat boys, and free my soul, I wanna get lost in the rock and roll and drift away…wait. What? Focus. Type, type, type. That was terrible. Backspace. Type, type, type. Much better. I think. I should read the entire chapter again, just to make sure. Scroll, scroll, scroll. I should turn on the TV, just for background noise. Oh, the dogs need to go out.  >takes dogs out< Type, type, type. I should erase this entire chapter. And THEN! I could…no, no, no. I need this chapter, so the thing can happen. Unless…I change the thing to later…type, type, type. Delete. Type, type, type. Oh, look! Pirates of the Caribbean is on! I should change the channel, I know I’ll get distracted.  And you, my brown eyed girl, do you remember when, we used to sing, shalalalalalalaladedah. Focus. Focus. Where was I? Oh, getting the dogs food. No wait. Didn’t I do that already this morning. >looks at dogs< >dogs look mournfully back< I can’t remember. Better feed them again. >feeds dogs< Type, type, type. OH MY GOD! I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before! It’s brilliant! Typetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetypetype. Oh, Jack, you scallywag! How many days left until Ren Fest opens? I should check. I need time to finish that new pirate outfit…What time is it? Don’t forget. Kid gets out of school early today. Take ham out for dinner. Didn’t I? I thought I already took it out. No, I don’t think I did. >checks for ham. Still in freezer< Oh! New idea for another book. I should write this down. No wait, I’ll remember. I could just open another doc and start…no. Finish this one. You’re so close! Well, I’m close unless I delete this chapter. Oh, God! DID I delete that chapter? Scroll, scroll, scroll. Whew. I didn’t. Type, type, type. I wonder if the Kid Rock concert is sold out yet. We were trying funny things, we were smoking funny things, making love out by the lake to our favorite song, Drinking whiskey out the bottle, not thinking ‘bout tomorrow, singing sweet home Alabama, all summer long. >realizes self is half standing, air drumming on desk. Stops< Focus. I know some writers knock out five thousand words a day. I struggle to hit two thousand. I suck as a writer. I should quit. Type, type, type. Too depressing. Delete. Type, type, type. Too cheerful. Delete. Wait. Doesn’t this guy have green eyes? Type, type, type. Don’t forget, kid gets out early today. I should write that down. Type, type, type. This is good, I love including symbolism. Is it too far of a reach, though? Will people get it? I should make it clearer. Now it’s too dumbed down. Make it something they have to think on for a minute. No, that’s too hard. Type, type, type. Now it’s too damn obvious. Soulshine, it’s better than sunshine, better than moonshine, damn sure better than rain. Will anyone catch that nod to Captain Jack Sparrow? Well, I know it’s there, and it’s damn funny. Did I ever take that ham out? Yes. Did I? Did I ever change that semicolon? Yes. No. Yes. I’m sure I did. Type, type, type. Oh, the dogs need to go out. >takes dogs out< I wonder if Adderall would help my word production. I should ask the doctor. Do I really have trouble focusing, or am I just lazy? Try harder. Type, type, type. Delete. Type, type, type. You, shook me allllllllll night long, yeah you….Focus. Type, type, type. Phone rings.

Kid: MOOOOOM! You forgot to pick me up early!