I work around it.

All the disclaimers: I wrote this months ago, when I knew things were getting better and that I was (most likely) going to be all right. I wanted to remember what happened. So if you're reading this, I made it. 

This is what it's like:

It's not like I was unfamiliar with depression or anxiety or simply being aware that life is incredibly painful sometimes, before.

I was unfamiliar with this. 

This feeling of sadness so deep and heavy I stopped breathing sometimes. Remember falling off the monkey bars in elementary school? Hitting the pavement so hard, so hard that for a moment your brain forgets to tell your lungs how to inhale exhale inhale exhale inhale exhale inhale exhale

 Sometimes you'll be holding a baby or pulling the chicken out of the oven or washing your hair, and this will make you stop in terror, because once again you've forgotten how to breathe.

 This started a few weeks after she was born. A grenade went off in my head—shrapnel rattling around—taking the place of reasonable thoughts, co-opting the work of synapses, sending the kind of messages that turn into news stories. Friends and relatives whispering I had no idea conspiratorially.

And the ones that have exactly an idea stay quiet. Mostly because we're/they're afraid of what happens if we talk too much, try to explain too much, try to name the black hole that's suddenly and inexplicably devouring us from the inside out. I still see its eyes in the dark.

Everyday I went to work. Taught history. Made my students laugh. Came home. Made dinner. Nursed the baby, sang songs with the toddler, answered the phone, met deadlines, earned money, got help.

Everyone tells you to get "help." So you ask your spouse who tells you to call  your midwife, who tells you to contact a therapist, who refers you to a psychiatrist, who tells you they aren't taking any openings for three more months. Get help. Start again.

The nurse on the other end of the phone tells you to try and sleep. Get some rest. Take care of yourself. Everyone is very worried about you. 

Meanwhile, your body is carrying on. Making milk, keeping you alive, keeping the baby alive, completely oblivious to the fact that at any moment  the marching orders might change.

Sometimes, all you can do is keep perfectly still. Focus every single atom on pushing back against this. 

It feels like being on fire and bones breaking. No one tells you that this, that mental illness, that post-partum depression, anxiety, insanity, that whatever the hell is happening feels like scraped knees and drowning and fractured bones and fire.

I don't love David Foster Wallace the way his intended audience does, but yes, he is right. It does feel like the choice between staying in a burning building and jumping out the window.

Stay in the building. Don't move. Every minute you stay whole and don't shatter a fire dies down, turns into softly burning embers that you can walk on, your body carried by scarred and calloused feet— all while holding the baby, making dinner, nursing, meeting deadlines, reading stories, trying to take care of yourself, and yes, getting all the help—your medicine cabinet becomes exciting and your schedule devoted to appointments.

More than anything, you want to feel joy. You remember what it tastes like (chocolate) and what it feels like (drying off after a swim on warm cement) and what it looks like (all your friends sitting around your table or draped over your couch, laughing)

You'd also like to sleep.

I don't have an answer. I didn't drive into a lake, drown anyone in a bathtub, or run head-on into traffic. I got better until I didn't, and then got better again. New gray matter grew over the bright shards of metal lodged in my brain. It's still there.  I work around it.


day 12 (decisions)

A decision we made. (It took slightly longer than 8 minutes.)

I remember:

I slept on the couch the night before, curled up under the big picture window in a house that never was mine.

The first thing I saw when I woke up was blue. Filling the windows that bright spring morning, stretching across the sky, perfect and cloudless.

An entire future written on the shell of a robin's egg.

My first thought was joy- big as the sky, cold as the air outside.

You remember:

The way I looked walking down the hall, the first time you saw me. I looked away, worried about what would happen if I stared too long into the sun.


all that can and cannot

It's cold! It is time to read poems!

April is National Poetry Month, (maybe because someone said it was the cruelest?) which just feels really wrong to me. Winter is poetry season- you need to be able to read under ten quilts, watching snow fall.

I understand that very few people love poetry as much as I do, and that even fewer people walk around with lines of poetry echoing around in their head. But if you want to love poetry, and you want to replace some of your really mundane inner dialogue (just me?) with something better, here you go:

(Also, Lawrence Raab is one of my very, very favorite poets. Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts is beautiful and weird and What We Don't Know About Each Other broke my heart, which is sometimes what you want from poetry.)


I wasn’t thinking of you.
But so much stays the same.
Even a room resists our efforts.
The old things are taken away,
given away, lost. A different
picture then, a new chair.
Entering, I expect you to be there.

These are the inescapable
phrases that hope for more:
something about the weather,
and all that can and cannot
be healed, and how, and how long.
Time passes and it remind us
of everything we happen to remember.

Then we return to the same
few objects, few events. The house
darkens, and the lights come on.
And even this room
changes to fit your absence,
no matter what we say or how
we choose to think about it.


I don't want to say anything about
how dark it is right now, how quiet.
Those yellow lanterns among the trees,
cars on the road beyond the forest,
I have nothing to say about them.
And there's a half moon as well
that I don't want to talk about,
like those slow clouds edged
with silver, or the few unassembled stars.
There's more to all of that than this,
of course, and you would know it
better than most, better I mean
than any other, which is only 
to say I had always intended
finding you here where I could
tell you exactly what I wanted to say
as if I had nothing to say
to anyone but you.


Waking up (day 19)

I'm skipping days because I'm the boss.

I hate waking up. I am not an early-bird. Ideally, I want to sleep so late that there is not even a hint of morning left. This is very conducive with having small children, teaching school, or maintaining any degree of viable employment.

I like taking walks late at night when my neighborhood is silent. I like places that stay open late, and I like crawling into bed at 4 am after talking until sentences don't make sense.

Some of my best friends are night owls. I think everyone should have a list of people they can call past midnight, knowing they will answer fully awake-the the TV playing in the background, and the sound of food cooking.

Why are you making spaghetti at 3 am?

I was hungry, do you want to come over?

For the record, I'm mostly reformed now. I don't stay up late unless it's the weekend, and it has to be really good spaghetti.


Messes (Day 10)

One particularly messyterribleshitishittingthefanwinter I survived solely because my neighbors kept their Christmas lights up extra long.

They had a flag pole in their back yard. Which they wrapped in a single strand of twinkle lights. At the top, they left a second strand of lights in an enormous tangled knot. I think it was supposed to be a star?

 It looked very, very, stupid. I loved it.

I loved that flying-spaghetti-monster star, and I loved that they didn't take it down after Christmas was over, or after New Year's, or after Valentine's Day.

I'd look at it from my kitchen window every morning as I got ready for work while it was still dark.

I'd see it every night when I came home from work in the dark.

I saw it even when my jeans fell off my hips and dark circles made a permanent home under my eyes.

I told myself I could keep getting up and keep coming home as long as I could see that mangled star shining a few yards over.

When I noticed it was gone, it was spring.


Birthday (day 9)

I will keep writing these eight minute memoirs.


I’m not afraid of growing older, (for life’s not a paragraph/And death I think is no parenthesis) and my looks were never spectacular enough to warrant too much worry. More importantly, my life improves with the advent of age. I can stay up late, and eat all the candy I can afford. My house is as safe as I need it to be and as messy as I want.

 I’ve never loved birthdays. People expect you to do something outrageous or elaborate every year- I hate the looks of judgement/pity when your revealed birthday plans somehow don’t involve enormous parties or carefully orchestrated surprises. Growing up, I resented my summer birthday- not being in school added to the pressure of making each birthday exciting- I could never just shrug and claim my parents made me go to class.

Here’s an impossible birthday wish- to go to school. To the classes I liked best, followed by doing the reading I like best. Birthday homework! Read all your favorite books and discuss them!

Aren’t I a delight?

Best birthdays are ordinary days heightened- sleeping in a little longer than normal, finding ways to see the people you love anyway but don’t get to see as much as you’d like. Not a party. Just talking about nothing and eating cake for breakfast-which I do anyway, but without guilt on my birthday.
The surprise I live every day? This good life. A miracle, despite everything. Why ruin that with artifice, with the bodies of friends hiding in dark rooms behind furniture? Why is the sign of a good friend the ability to trick someone on their birthday?

 I change my birthday on social media so I can keep my birthday free from prying eyes of well-wishers. I do whatever I want, and usually that involves doing all the things I worked so hard for- going to work, eating dinner with my kids, pulling Dan’s arms around me tighter and insisting we stay in bed just a few more minutes.*

This way, no day and every day is my birthday. (my blood approves.)

*Unless it is one of those days I irrationally decide that cuddling is so annoying and how dare he! Again, a delight. 


Eight (day 8)

I will keep writing these eight minute memoirs.

I remember the day I got baptized, a few days after turning eight. We had a family party afterward at our house, all of my extended family crowded in the backyard. A late summer evening bathed in soft blue light as the sun set through a tangle of oak trees along the fence.

I loved that house. I loved the gully in the backyard, filled with  mysterious pathways and assorted kid memorabilia- half-buried "treasure" and forts and turf wars fought by children with dirty knees.

I've been thinking about this little memoir, "eight," for a few weeks now. Each time I'm a time traveler, looking back at the world through adult eyes. I see my great-grandparents again, still so alive and vibrant, the way they were when I was eight. For just a moment, they are not the tired bodies left behind when they died. I can almost feel them, and I almost long for an afterlife just to hear those voices again in the blue evening air.

I see my mom- by the time she was my age now she had four children. She was so young, with long dark hair and usually dressed in jeans and white t-shirts. She braided my hair into a crown for the baptism. I wore a white dress embroidered with colorful flowers. How did my mom know that all my white dresses would always need just a little color? (My wedding dress was a soft gold beneath ivory lace.)

Folding chairs arranged along the patio, cousins swinging on the play-set in their church clothes. My grandpa has dark hair. The concrete still warm from the sun, french doors leading into the kitchen with white linoleum counters. A sandstone fireplace. Home. Eight.

This is where I travel at night, when I remember eight.

(Sometimes I drive by the old house on my way home. One late evening I snuck into the backyard when the lights in the house were dark. I still love that house, but time made the gully small.)