Tag: Depression

20Feb

Fossilized

[Part 1 of this story is here.]

By Tuesday evening last week, I’d spent the first 30 hours of my long-desired writing retreat in a headlock with myself, and I was “cotta” as we say in Italian. Cooked. Burned out, beaten, and too exhausted to keep hurling myself at the wall of senseless panic standing between myself and my blank document.

I suspect that this is frustrating for some of you to read. After all, I was in Tuscany—Tuscany!—with three glorious days all to myself. I’ve watched friends go on similar retreats and thought, If onlyMy assumption was always that prolonged peace and quiet would act as creative steroids. If only I found myself in a similar setting, then I too could produce something out of this world. But now I was there, tucked up on an Italian hillside with a project idea I loved and an awareness of my own privilege cloying the air, and I couldn’t write a damn paragraph. You’ve heard the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are”? It would seem that I had gone to Tuscany and run smack dab into myself.

One thing depression taught me about myself years ago is that I will fight to defend my personal collection of shoulds until sheer rock-bottom exhaustion loosens my grip on them. I don’t surrender the expectations I have for myself any other way. And why should I? In the thick of depression, it only seemed right to keep trying harder and harder to act sane, to pacify God and be an uncomplicated wife and smother desperation on sight. If it wasn’t working, I just needed to double my efforts, yes? Not until much later, after the rock bottom and the rebuilding, did I see what a chokehold those expectations had had on my soul.

Now, I’m not saying that going on a writing retreat is anything like going through depression, but I’d certainly arrived at my hotel last week clutching a stack of notions about how the time should go, about how I should be. Privilege-guilt factored enormously into them, as did something else… something I couldn’t put my finger on with all of my thoughts bolting away the instant I got close. I didn’t know what to do with these expectations other than cling more and more tightly to them though. If I let go, the trip would instantly be rendered pointless and earlier versions of my jealous writing self would show up to punch me in the throat to the tune of “Loser.”

Thank God for exhaustion.

If I hadn’t surrendered my weary, 96% certifiable self to the idea of a writingless retreat and clicked over to Facebook for some distraction therapy that evening, I wouldn’t have seen this:

Curiosity not fear
(Liz Gilbert’s Facebook page is a gem. Get thee there, stat!)

And if I hadn’t seen this, who knows how long it would have taken me to recognize the “something else” that had been giving my brain a 30-hour swirlie as fear?

Working with words can feel like trying to choreograph dust motes. Until sentences land on the page, they’re nothing more than airborne particulates, figments of psychology and instinct that tend to dissolve on eye contact. Being afraid of writing is essentially getting worked up over nothing. That was my first thought when I read Liz’s quote. What do I possibly have to be afraid of? I’m here to transcribe thoughts, not diffuse bombs. This is a zero threat situation. WTF, brain?

When I took stock of how I’d been approaching my project, however, curiosity was nowhere to be found. Stephen King refers to stories as fossils that we excavate through the writing process, and ideally, I would have been on my knees with a trowel and an old toothbrush, intrigued to see what I’d unearth. Instead, I was paralyzed at the side of the dig. Because what if I uncovered a fossil so hideous that it made folks clutch their pearls and call their congressmen in protest? Or what if the fossil turned out to be so boring that museum viewers would ask for their money back? Worst of all, what if I had the wrong tools and botched the whole operation? What if I failed?

Fear, meet Bethany. Bethany, Fear.

Getting myself in a staring match with fear was no more helpful to me than beating myself over the head with reminders of my own privilege had been. This wasn’t something I could power my way through. (Depression 101.) When I latched onto the word “curiosity” though, it pulled me right off my petrified feet and through the murk to a new perspective on what I was doing. I closed Facebook and opened Google. Research time.

Writing retreat - research

The rest of my retreat looked very different from the productive type-o-fest I’d expected. I went on long walks in the cold, ordered espressos, and adopted various park benches near my hotel for the purpose of daydreaming. I scribbled sideways and upside down in my pocket journal following looping threads of whimsy. I clipped about a hundred of the most bizarre search results to Evernote (out of curiosity, how likely is the FBI to investigate writers?) and then filled another page with follow-up questions. I still had to beat back the granddaddy of all F-words, Failure, which was all too happy to inform me that I was squandering my retreat and that research was basically procrastination in a pair of pince-nez, but curiosity kept me on a joyful forward momentum that no collection of shoulds has ever prompted in me.

I returned home last Thursday about as tired as I’ve ever been. Winning a battle doesn’t mean you’re unscathed by it, especially when you weren’t expecting the fight in the first place. I’m still feeling tender and bruisable, and I can’t pretend not to be disappointed that I didn’t return from my retreat with a manuscript of any length. I’ll be wrestling with the hows and whys of that for a long time, I suspect. However, I did bring back one significant treasure: the outline of a fossil, as clear and intriguing as a headline. And I’m not afraid of it.

Writing retreat - Bench

12Aug

Depression, Robin, and You

So much is going on in the world right now, so much heaviness, so many strings wrenching our hearts in all directions. Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza… It’s all so much to take in, and I have absolutely nothing constructive to add to the discussions on international policy taking place. I do know depression though, and waking up this morning to news of Robin Williams’s death reminded me what an important topic this is… especially from a practical point of view… and especially especially for members of the Christian community. I’m sharing my experience at A Deeper Story and would love if you’d read along:

[Ed: Now that Deeper Story has closed its doors, the post is here in its entirety:] 

~~~

“Waking up feels like getting socked in the gut. I feel instantly strained, smothered, vaguely panicked. I have trouble breathing through the tightness of trying to hold myself together, trying not to cry or yell or fly into a million little pieces. The simplicity of my life seems unbearably complicated, and even the tiniest decisions—which sweater should I wear?—are draining. I blink back tears from an urgent but indefinable sadness. The day feels like a sheer precipice, and I can’t see the footholds. I can’t see the top. I can’t even tell what type of stone is blocking my way. I recognize that I have no reason to feel unhappy, no reason at all, but I stumble through various shades of sadness all the same. I wake up with the wind already knocked out of me, and I choke on the idea that there is no solution.”
– From my journal, January 30, 2008

“It’s like this,” I explained to my husband in halting whispers, engulfed in the dark of another sleepless night. “It’s like we’re at a party with everyone we know, and there’s dancing and food and laughter. Everything would be perfect, except that I suddenly find myself locked in a steel cage in the middle of the room. I didn’t see who locked me there. I have no idea where the key might be. All I know is that I’m ashamed to find myself captured, so I try for a while to laugh along with the partygoers, hoping they won’t notice the bars.

“Food is pushed under a slat on the floor, but eating alone is not the same as lingering with friends by the buffet. You and the girls come by to talk to me, but it’s not the same as hugging each other with unrestrained arms. The music still plays, but my cage is too short for me to dance. I may be in the middle of the room, but I feel as though I’m watching the party from outside.

“My resolve to put on a good face finally breaks down, and I tentatively call to a few loved ones for help. I know they aren’t the ones who locked me in the cage, but my hope is that they can search the room for the key since I’m unable. I also wish a few of them would come sit with me, hold my hand through the bars, reassure me that the cage is real and that I didn’t put myself there. I call again, hesitatingly, torn between wanting them to see my desperation and not wanting them to think me crazy. ‘Hello? I’m a little stuck here…’ This time, a couple hear. They stop for a moment, call, ‘Yeah, come on out and join us!’ and go back to dancing.”

“I see strange shadows inside my eyelids these days, as if everything familiar has become frightening. Writing requires me to rip words out of dental cavities, one at a time, and I don’t have the pain tolerance to finish what I manage to start. Smiling takes even more effort. I feel horribly alone, but I still crave loneliness. The freedom to hide. Not having to fake sanity for my family’s sake or to force insanity so someone will help me. I want a respite from the world’s problems, starting with my own brain.”
– From my journal, March 3, 2009 

I can’t read my journal entries from the fall of 2007 to the spring of 2009 without shaking. The pain of that time was so sharp that it cuts me even through the protective layers of all the years since. When it first started, I thought I was just struggling to adjust to our recent move to Italy. Then, my second daughter was born, and I latched onto postpartum depression as a likely culprit. The months continued though, and the world inside my mind continued growing darker.

I had only the tiniest shred of strength with which to help myself, and I used it primarily on holding my shit together in front of my two little girls. I couldn’t think what else to do, how else to fix myself. More than that, I didn’t feel worthy of being fixed. I felt like a black hole sucking those I loved down into my emptiness, and more than anything else in the world, I wished for backspace button big enough to delete myself.

Eventually, helped by a kind friend and my husband, I talked to three different doctors, all of whom brushed aside my condition after verifying that my blood results were normal. “You’re just having trouble adjusting to life in a new country,” my endocrinologist insisted, and I didn’t have the heart to argue, just like I didn’t have the heart to argue with Christian self-help sites that said I could pray the blackness away. They had no idea how hard I had already tried, how desperately I had prayed, how much it had taken for me to seek their help in the first place.

“I can no longer differentiate between physical and mental symptoms. This is not a development I was expecting, but I understand the progression from panic tickling the back of my neck to instinctive breath-holding to riotous stomach-and-back-and-head-aches. And not just that, but insomnia and desperate confusion. I have spent the entirety of the last two days in bed, somewhere between sleeping and pinching my breath shut, and I can’t account for it. ‘I don’t know,’ I respond when Dan asks me what’s wrong. How I feel. What that twitchy expression on my lips forebodes. Why I’m suddenly crying over a grapefruit, my only concession to lunch. What he can do for me.”
– From my journal, March 22, 2009

Here is what I learned about depression during my year-and-a-half-long battle: It is not a place for self-help.

I could not shoo away the darkness by starting a new workout routine. I could not slip into peace by praying. I could not diagnose myself within the maze of WebMD. I could not summon the energy to pick myself off the bathroom floor some days, much less pick up the phone and ask for help. The few friends I reached out to over the months all answered the same way: “What can I do to help?” And my answer was always, unfailingly, “I don’t know.”

In the end, I found depression’s exit door by accident. One day in early spring, I stumbled across an online forum of women claiming that my brand of birth control pill had caused their depression. I stopped taking it that day, and I was feeling more whole within a week than I had been for the past eighteen months.

I’m not going to pretend the answer is that simple for everyone though. Whatever the individual causes, depression is a real illness, as debilitating and painful as physical ones can be. It’s also a highly stigmatized one, particularly within Christian circles. I was reminded of that the moment I turned on my computer this morning and saw the tragic news of Robin Williams’s death—a rumored suicide—after his years’ long battle with depression.

Social media was full of beautiful tributes to the actor, but I also saw plenty of remarks to the effect that his depression would have been healed if only he had known the Lord. I recognized that the people making these remarks were grieving in their own way, but they were also making two very weighty assumptions:

1. That Robin Williams did not know God. (This, I strongly believe, is not something we have the authority to determine.)

2. That prayer is always enough to cure depression.

Can prayer cure depression? Yes, I believe so. But it doesn’t always. This is an important distinction, because until we stop viewing depression as a spiritual deficiency, we can’t help those in our communities take those first steps out.

And make no mistake—we are needed. You are needed. If someone you know is drowning inside his or her own head, you are needed to function as lifeguard. You are needed to call her up and tell her you’re taking her kids to the park for the day and cooking dinner besides. You are needed to tell him you found a doctor who can help and will be picking him up at 10. You are needed to do the Googling, to pick up the prescription, to find the health food store with the particular supplement, to refuse to give up until a solution is found. You are needed for your perspective and energy and insistence on your loved one’s worthiness. Your presence can be vital, sometimes in the most literal sense of the word.

I might have found the cure to my brand of depression on my own, but friends and family are the reason I made it that far. A year and a half is a long time to be treading water in the dark, and I don’t think I could have done it alone. Even when loved ones didn’t know how to help me, their encouragement and nearness propped me up a little more, gave me just enough of a respite that I could keep on going.

“Carry each other’s burdens,” wrote Paul in his letter to the Galatians, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Having been for so many months in the position of the one who was carried, I couldn’t agree more.

Dead Poet's Society

Rest in peace.

image credit

 

 

 

 

14Mar

Proof, Revisited

I had planned a special post for this week—a blog entry about my daughter Natalie that I originally wrote in 2009 and then reworked for submission to a potential writing gig the following year. (Yes, “potential writing gig” is just a dignity-preserving way to admit that the story was rejected, but perhaps you could indulge me by pretending it means something more glamorous, say, a prestigious job offer that I was forced to turn down because it interfered with my sparkling social life.) The document has been languishing in the Looking For New Homes folder on my hard drive ever since, so I decided to give it a home here in honor of Natalie’s eighth birthday last week.

However, every day that I’ve tried to publish it so far, my fingers have frozen on me much like a throat clamping down to stop painful words in their tracks. I couldn’t understand why at first. The story is about my honest struggle with new motherhood and the love that eventually bound me to my daughter. It’s authentic and ultimately positive, two of my highest aims in writing, so I couldn’t fathom why the post-production crew in my heart kept stalling.

Another read-through today though, and I understand. I wrote the post when Natalie was four and we had been in Italy just one and a half years. Dan grew up in Italy, so he had settled back into the culture like a man coming home, but everything from the pace of life to the words on our grocery receipt was new for Natalie and I. We were one and a half years into total cultural upheaval, I was one and a half years into severe postpartum depression, and our mother-daughter relationship was at an all-time low. She was an energetic preschooler; I was struggling just to get out of bed in the morning. We clashed constantly, and I had no reserves of patience or perspective left from which to draw.

Reading back through the entry sends me traveling to a time that I would eagerly erase from our memory if I could, a time that left barbed wire imprints around my rib cage and temples. Revisiting it is painful in a way I wasn’t prepared for. We’ve spent this last week celebrating eight years of Natalie, my sweet, creative girl whose enthusiasm for books and curiosity about life fill an endless well of shared interest. Our souls have discovered their kinship, so it pains me all the more to look back on a time when I was not enough myself to appreciate all of her self. I regret the mother-I-once-was more fiercely than anything else in my experience.

However, camping out in regret is no way to live and certainly no way to move on. Grace nudges me to look back with softer eyes and recognize that at each stage of my rocky road to motherhood, I did the best I could. Even on those gray, gray days when I felt like I could not possibly go on living until the next, I still got out of bed, still made breakfast, still snuggled up for storytime, and it was for her. My love was feeble, but it was very real. It is very real. The same elemental strain pulses through my veins today, and it’s why revisiting the darkness of four years ago causes me to flinch. It’s also why I’m finally sharing the post, because proof of love is not in perfection, not defined by the glossy, Instagramable moments when the sun is shining and birthday cake on the table; it’s in the whole story, the mess and the grace, the regrets acknowledged and then gently ushered to the back row.

Here it is, home now:

Read More »

11Mar

Diagramming Pessimism

The other day at breakfast, Dan said something characteristically Dan-y, like “What great weather!” and I said something characteristically me-y, like “There’s probably a tornado hiding behind that sunbeam,” and then we spent the next fifteen minutes explaining to the girls what optimists and pessimists are and why it’s good to have one of each as a parent. (He plans camping trips in Ireland, I remember to pack the umbrellas. We work.)

Truth be told though, it’s very, very hard for me to believe my cranky pessimist personality has anything positive good to offer the world. Even as I was extolling my natural gift for predicting worst case vacation scenarios and assuring my serious older daughter that neither personality is better or worse than the other, my mind was making a liar out of me, contradicting every upbeat word that left my mouth. It rattled me as it always does to catch myself teaching what I don’t believe.

My personality has much to do with why this little corner of the Internet has been so silent lately. I’ve been sunk under three particular adjectives that have weighed down my heart and my bones as effectively as cinder blocks:

Hopeless.

Powerless.

Guilty.

I’ve been looking at different facets of my life and seeing portraits of black holes in their place. When trying to troubleshoot, I’ve been met with the overwhelming sense that there is nothing to hope for or move toward, that there is nothing I can do to change this, and that I should be ashamed of myself for wanting more, that my deep debt to happiness must now be paid in drudgery. It’s crushed me into my pillows in the morning and pricked me into tossing wakefulness at night.

And it’s untrue. I know that, even as I forget how to feel it. This lean toward depression, this willingness to lie under cinder blocks and accept a reality of cherry-picked discouragements, it is the dark side of my personality. There are other factors too, of course—stresses past and present that leech the color and gravitational pull from life—but pessimism is what turns dreary splotches into black holes. Pessimism is what turns uncertainty into hopelessness and challenge into powerlessness and restlessness into guilt.

Over the breakfast table the other day as I chirped about diversity this and beautiful-and-unique-snowflake that, I was really just thinking how f-ing tired I am of channeling Debbie Downer. Can’t a girl get a break from having to lug negativity around in her DNA? Doesn’t it qualify as a huge cosmic mistake that the thing I most often have to fight is the very thing draining the fight out of me? I would rather forget the umbrellas every single time than have my mind tuned as it is to the pulse of rain.

However, in the days since that falsely cheerful conversation, I’ve begun to realize that I don’t actually not-believe what I told my girls about personality neutrality. That is, I have trouble believing it when it comes to myself and the little black raincloud hanging over my head, but I cherish the difference in my daughters’ outlooks. I love the one’s habitual seriousness and the other’s innate silliness. I see how they form a beautiful Venn diagram of sisterhood, their personalities complementing and coloring each other’s, and I wouldn’t wish sameness on them for the world.

And perhaps the fact that I’m seeing it this way is proof of other Venn diagrams, ones forming behind the scenes of my marriage and my friendships, each one drawing my personality a little closer to balance. I’m never going to be Susie Sunshine; that would require complete genetic mutation and possibly narcotics. However, I’m seeing the Hopeless and Powerless and Guilty through more objective eyes this week—eyes that have spotted their reflection in my daughters’ beautiful faces, eyes that are noticing color again—and it seems that a girl can get the occasional break from channeling Debbie Downer after all.

6Nov

Grace as: Three-Week Smiles

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

~~~

At first, I saw only the string of miracle-buoys in our wake—the friends whose windows of hospitality had perfectly coincided with our needs, the airport officials and new olive-skinned neighbors who had made our move as smooth as choreography, the precious immigration documents issued like stepping stones just as we needed them, and finally, her, our Sophie-girl, born as plump and serene as a Budai the day after the local maternity wing opened.

We had followed our heart-pull across the sea to Italy, and I knew we were living the stuff of story with a brilliant Narrator whispering plot twists into being. I could have gone hoarse tallying up the good in our lives. I knew how much I had to be grateful for, I knew with all my might, but that wasn’t enough to stop black water from spilling over the sides of my mind. In retrospect, I realize I should have expected this, made some kind of provisions. After all, there was the toll from mothering a two-year-old throughout an exhausting pregnancy, the depletion from several months of suitcase-living, the strain of our move, and the cultural obstacle course I faced every time I left the house. Once postpartum hormones swept in with their rusty machetes and guerilla raids, I fell straight down a year and a half of the darkest mental dark.

There are many kind souls in my life who would have helped me had they known, but the bars trapping me at the bottom of my own mind were so very thick; I simply couldn’t reach beyond them to ask for help. To this day, I still don’t know what I could have asked loved ones to do for me short of a lobotomy. I felt isolated and unlovable, incompetent and crushingly sad. I knew that my own un-wellness was hurting my family, and the guilt magnified my sense of hopelessness. I could almost taste how completely my faith had abandoned me.

While I would never want to relive that year and a half, I can now see the fairy lights projecting their faint, ethereal ballet through the deep of it. I was never alone; I just hadn’t met God-is-Love yet, didn’t know to recognize the flickers of peace and beauty as gifts rather than flukes. That recognition would come in time, gently, free of the urgency or harsh exactitude I’d always associated with religion… and in the meanwhile, I had her.

The beginning of cannibal kisses

This wonder-baby of mine, she started smiling on purpose at three weeks old. I can’t tell you what that did to my heart except to explain that I was on the last precarious edge of overwhelmed, home all day with two tiny children and next to no energy. I was reeling from the impossibility of mothering two little girls well, their needs and fledgling complexities cupped like live minnows in my hand… and then my newborn grinned wide into my eyes. I’ve never met a person in my life with such uncontainable joy, and when she would nestle up against me, all milky contentment and round-cheeked delight, I could breathe again.

Sophie didn’t heal me—that was never her role—but she lifted me out of my own heaviness more often than I can remember. From the very beginning, she lavished affection on her big sister, assuaging some of my mother-guilt and forming a sweet sibling bond. She brought laughter back into our home, cultivated silliness, and adored without reservation, and not to cheapen her personhood or individual significance in this world, but I can’t help seeing her as a gift.

Sunbeams in the darkness, love when I felt unlovable.

Grace.

Sophie turned five last Wednesday, and I still can’t wrap my brain fully around the idea of my baby in kindergarten, chattering a thousand Italian words a minute with her best friends, trailing golden hair like a comet on the swing set. I still snack on her cheeks before bed—our own darling and slightly disturbing Cannibal Goodnight—and she still hugs wholeheartedly. However, she has grown so thoroughly herself that I can’t lay claim to her the way I did as a drowning mother five years ago. I no longer need to, which is a gift for us both. Now, I’m simply grateful for these years we get to coexist, to imprint our unique brands of struggle and beauty on each other’s lives, and when I look back, I see her babyhood as a miracle-buoy floating in our wake.

Five-year-old smiles~~~

{I’ve always had trouble comprehending the word “grace” as it’s used by religion or defined by Webster, but something in me knows it’s integral to who I am and who I’m becoming. In this Grace as: series, I’m attempting to track it into the wild and record my peripheral glances of it, my brushes with the divine. Come along with me? You can follow along via TwitterRSS, or my piping hot new Facebook page… and as always, I love hearing your thoughts in the comment section!}

Previously:

Grace as: Glitter in the Floorboards

18May

Meevaluation

The last couple of days were for holding my breath, playing the undercover researcher to my own life, and sometimes just hiding under the blankets for an hour or, um… four. Some days are just this way, and it’s probably due to a combination of late nights and early mornings and too much not enough coffee and hormones and the weather and any number of swiftly colliding circumstances, but in the murk of it, all I can reason is that I have finally, irrevocably failed at existence. (People who are not me would call it a bad day, shrug, and move on. To those people, I ask—Where is your commitment to suffering? I mean, really.)

The funk had been creeping up on me for a while—see here, here, here, aaaaand here—and my husband and I both agree that it’s time for some lifestyle reevaluation. The fact that we missed an episode of Sherlock to talk through this just goes to show how badly we need a change. More specifically, how badly I need a change. This year so far has looked nothing like I thought it would; my Ready, Set, Write! expectations were strangled by a months-long situation I couldn’t share about here, and I’ve been getting up each morning at the last possible minute without a glimmer of creative purpose.

Some mornings once the coffee is stirring my veins back to life, blog entries land decisively on my heart to be typed out in a heady glow. This compulsion to write is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s one of my favorite processes in all the world. But many other mornings, far too many, I stare at my computer screen trying to force sentences out of a thick silence and spiraling by the minute toward self-disgust. If I can’t conjure up the inspiration for a mere blog entry each day, how can I consider myself a blogger? And if I can’t hack it as a blogger, how can I even hope for the infinitely vaguer and cooler title of writer?

Here’s where the lifestyle reevaluation comes in. See, I have an idea of what is required of a successful blogger—a personal brand, dedicated networking, and frequent content that manages to be both familiar and engaging—and I chafe against all three points. I have no agenda for my blogging, and I honestly feel claustrophobic at the thought of limiting myself to one theme or niche. I’m just me, folks, and I write because I can’t not write, and I share that writing here because I can’t not share it. This blog is my community. However, I don’t think it was ever meant to be my career. All those mornings spent glaring at a blank “New Post” page should have clued me in long before now. This space here is a place for inspiration and outlet, an aviary for my thoughts, a personal lounge for kicking back and drinking in beauty. It’s not my nine to five.

Which means it’s high time I stop letting misdirected stress over branding and networking and commenting and posting schedules keep me from asking myself what projects I’m truly meant to pour my energy into for the second half of this year. Ergo, I’m going to be taking some much-needed time to figure myself out, starting in approximately eleven minutes when I hit the running trail and the horrible, agonizing pain of exercise stabs my stress level to death. I’m not abandoning this blog, never fear, but posting might be sparser than usual while I get reacquainted with me. Either that, or this space will soon be overrun with blurry snapshots of my navel and esoteric questions about the meaning of life. Either way, you’ve been warned.

~~~

How do you go about lifestyle reevaluations? Do you have any tips for ditching unnecessary stress and honing in on a direction that will bounce me out of bed with the sunrise? (Drink recommendations totally count.)

20Feb

Light Bulb

A difficult-to-replace light bulb in our dining room burned out this morning just as I was sitting down to teach an English lesson, and the day never really recovered its glow. Between heavy-handed clouds and a tricky relational situation, the hours slumped by with my mind sticking increasingly to the soles of my feet. Some days are just downers.

But you know, every time I catch myself brushing off a bad day as no more than a 24-hour inconvenience, gratefulness swoops the air from my lungs.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote the following journal entry:

I found a pocket of calm today, but it doesn’t suit me. It’s the kind of calm that comes from heartsickness rather than peace, and I can tell I’m not fooling anyone. I’m in a low place right now. Really staggeringly low. Last night in bed, I told Dan, “I can’t find my heart anymore,” then my eyes clamped shut. He whispered, “I miss you,” before falling asleep, and I lay awake most of the night feeling heavier than I thought was possible.

I see strange shadows inside my eyelids these days, as if everything familiar has become frightening. Writing requires me to rip words out of dental cavities, one at a time, and I don’t have the pain tolerance to finish what I manage to start. Smiling takes even more effort. I feel horribly alone, but I still crave loneliness. The freedom to hide. Not having to fake sanity for my family’s sake or to force insanity so someone will help me. I want a respite from the world’s problems, starting with my own brain. 

At least I put on makeup today in honor of Natalie’s birthday. That’s something.

Alzheimer’s runs in the female line of my family, and I’m bracing myself for the day when memories begin to trickle through my fingers, but no matter how many years I live or how many senses I lose over the course of them, I will never forget what it felt like to wake up suffocating, morning after pitch black morning. I will never forget the way depression tortured my mind into believing it wasn’t depression at all, only some mental inadequacy. I will never forget how bad days back then teetered on the serrations of a knife.

Today wasn’t one of those days, and for that, every inch of my muscle memory breathes gratitude. Today, a light bulb burned out, and the weather glowered, and I had a few frustrating conversations… but I had some great conversations too. I sat on my husband’s lap at the dinner table and grinned kisses to the delight of our children (and eternal embarrassment of our teenage house guest). I read stories with the girls and chased them shrieking around the house for tickle wars, and I tucked them well-loved into bed. I accomplished things that I’m proud of—you better believe that cleaning the kitchen is up there—and laughed often.

 Not a bad day

Bad day? I think not.

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