Tag: Depression


Doctor Popeye

The public health system here is fantastic in that it only costs pennies compared to what you’d spend in the great US of A. Pediatrics, obstetrics, geriatrics, emergencies, and general practitioner’s visits are completely free, while other medical care requires only a small fee comparable to most American co-pays. (And, to assure anyone who has the same doubts I did upon moving here, Italian doctors are up-to-date medically. They might have a few different philosophies on medicine—i.e. painkillers should make pain tolerable, not erase it completely—but they do know what they are doing, and they do it well.) So, fantastic!

The only real downside is that the public health system here was designed by hamsters. Here, for instance, is what goes into a typical doctor’s visit:
You call your doctor to make an appointment.
You show up, pick a number, and wait your turn.
You visit with the doctor, who gives you a prescription for blood work.
You go to the public health office, pick a number, and wait your turn.
You give them your prescription and receive an appointment to get your blood taken.
You go to the testing center on your appointment date, pick a number, and wait your turn.
You show your prescription to the person at the window who stamps it so you can pay.
You walk to another office, pick a number, and wait your turn.
You pay the fee (oh so tiny, glory be!) and get a receipt.
You walk back to the testing center, pick a number, and wait your turn (catching a theme yet?).
You show them your receipt and are given a new number.
You wait your turn.
You are called back, have your blood taken, and are given a receipt.
You return to the testing center the next week, show them your receipt, and get your blood test results.
You make another appointment with your doctor to discuss the results.
You race around a wheel seventy-nine times and scurry off to bury your head in the sawdust.

I won’t even tell you what went into our dentist appointment yesterday because you would cry, and enough tears have been shed on that account already. Suffice it to say that you have to learn (Bethany, are you listening?) to give up the American ideals of efficiency and fast results and just accept Italy for what it is: laid-back. (I am still writhing from a profound sense of bureaucratic chaos that I insist on taking personally, and I want to tell you that “laid-back” is just a euphemism for “lazy,” and I want all those government employees who are enjoying their espressos on company time to feel the depths of my frustration toward them. But honestly, I love living in a country where dreary jobs come with sunny coffee breaks and long lunches and built-in naptimes. Italians have mastered the art of relaxation, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Truly.)

So all this has just been a prelude to the fact that 1 ½ months after calling the doctor, we finally have an idea of what’s been causing my unmanageable fatigue: anemia. It’s not much of a surprise, as I’ve always hovered near the low end of healthy and I’ve leaned further and further toward vegetarian—or chickentarian, you could say—in the last year. So there it is. For just over a week now, I’ve been taking iron tablets that taste like compressed leaves, and the difference is incredible. Is normal always this glorious? Because the freedom to have good and bad days instead of bad and worse is making me a little giddy.

Less than one week with Natalie all to myself, and I finally have the energy to play with her, come up with special starting-school rituals, and hop over to the playground to help her meet new friends… all the while keeping the house in decent shape, going out with friends, signing up for Pilates (!), and writing up a storm. It’s kind of like I’m a real person again.

So thank you all for your kindness and sympathy while I was trying to figure out the mushy liquid my brain had become; misery doesn’t just love company, it needs company. Yes, you deserve a heaping bowlful of thanks. And also, if you’re feeling chronically tired (Bethany, are you listening?)… Eat your spinach. That Popeye was onto something.


Free-Range Eggs

Everything is quiet now. A brief thunderstorm earlier this evening scrubbed the air clean of all its sticky summer-night noises, and the whole world has gone to bed. Our vacation is almost over, and even though it has sucked every puff of energy out of my body, I’m still reluctant to give it up. I know that like all good things, this has to come to an end to make room for other good things, but I have a hard time with little transitions.

I can’t explain this vague dread I’m harboring of the upcoming year (years have always started in September for me, no matter how many balls drop in January). It sounds ridiculous to say this year contains too many unknowns, considering that this time last year, I was hugely pregnant and Visa-less. But then, I guess I knew which basket my eggs were in. Right now, life looks a little formless and void, and I can’t tell where the firmament separates from the wrinkles in my brain. There will be so much rampant growing in my precious family this year, and here comes the dread: It’s always a gamble whether that growth will bring us closer together or shoot us in opposite directions.

It seems that daredevil bike rides and stormy stroller races and fried octopus dinners have been only the prelude to the real adventure of stepping in own front door together again. And oh, it will be epic.


Captain Courage

“We should go out,” Natalie observed this morning once we had finished muddling through breakfast. Oh boy. After twenty-seven deep breaths and a booster shot of Zen, I forced myself to agree. We should go out. It can’t be healthy to cluck around inside our tiny coop alldayeveryday, and maybe the giant-sized world outside would go easy on us — a wee flock of homebound girls with shy feathers.

But first, there were naps and a shower and diaper changes and potty time. Clothes were procured from the laundry line (because one can’t wear a bathrobe forever, you know), hair was brushed, makeup was applied. Sunscreen was dolloped onto wriggling fair-skinned girls, and my industrial-strength corduroy purse was filled: wallet, no wallet (who wants the extra weight?), keys, phone, wallet again (we need to get eggs), lip gloss, tissues, camera, baby food, dirty bib, oops, clean bib, spoons, napkins, water bottle, water to go in the water bottle, sunglasses, did I already get the keys? Natalie got her holey jeans and socks and her cool silvery tennis shoes, plus a polka-dot headband—her latest fashion obsession. Sophie got a hat, until I remembered how she always flings it in the mud, and those great Velcro sandals she loves to remove with her teeth, and I buckled her into the stroller. We were going to do it.

Out the door we traipsed into my Tim Burtonesque imaginationscape. Curly, sunken-eyed trees, purple-tinged sunlight, whimsical hostility at every turn. But I could not in good conscience let myself become a hermit. At least, I could not retreat until we had spent at least as much time outside as we had spent preparing to go out, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place* and marched on.

Natalie skipped and picked pink flowers that “smelled like candy!” while Sophie kicked for joy and occasionally tried to dive-bomb out of her stroller. We bought eggs without any meltdowns or blitzed grocery displays, and my outlook slowly softened. Maybe these great outdoors, buzzing with life and warmth and green, were not so terrifying. Maybe I really could find my way back to my lane in the flow of normalcy and be the kind of mom who breezes her girls to the playground every morning without a hitch. And even if I found it tough to pry myself away from home, I could do it for them. Just seeing Natalie’s palpable excitement about going to play with other children made the trip worth it.

Except that by the time we got to the playground, it was deserted. Every one of the other kids had gone home for lunch. Natalie, ever an optimist, asked me for her pail and shovel (“Sorry, we didn’t bring those”) and then for her soccer ball (“Uh, we didn’t bring that either”) and finally just wandered forlornly around the empty swings and seesaw. I sat down on the winner’s bench for Crappiest Mother of the Year and fed Sophie her puréed blueberries, which she alternately spit out and sneezed out, and my head slowly began closing in on me. The sun was gothic cartoon again, the olive trees dense and grabby. I remembered the piles of dishes and laundry and misplaced toys I had ignored for the sake of this trip, back at home breeding and throwing wild parties like housework tends to do when left to its own devices. And suddenly, I needed to be indoors RIGHT AWAY.

I hate how easily panic hits me these days. There is never a reason or an obvious trigger, though anytime between noon and 7 p.m. is fair game. It just strikes my brain like a lightning bolt, and I can’t catch my breath. I can’t think straight. All I can see is the future billowing in flames around me and some abstract shapes of terror, urgent terror. I wouldn’t be surprised if my eyes turned white during these attacks, like the character from X-Men who summons tornadoes with her thoughts.

There might as well have been tornadoes shrieking over my head as we rushed home today. It had been too much. Simply going out had been too much. Or maybe it was going to all that effort, so much effort, just to reinforce our collective loneliness. I had suddenly acquired a taste for agoraphobia, and it chased me up the elevator, shaking, into our front door. Goodbye world, hello chronic wimp.

Much later in the day, as I was relocating messes and bludgeoning myself over the brain, a quote flashed through my mind: Courage is the willingness to accept fear and act anyway.** Despite my fragile state of mind and irrational fears of the world around me, I made the effort to walk out my front door today. What’s more, I survived. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that hey, this pretty much makes me Captain Courage. With way cuter clothes.

The End

*I have a thing for Shakespeare. Don’t tell Dan.

**Not Shakespeare. Not Jesus. Not sure who said this, in fact. Was it you?


Beware of Mantras

Growing up quasi-Amish taught me how to bake bread from scratch, sew my own dowdy jumpers, grow organic wheat grass in a pan on the windowsill, and hide. Good lord, was I skilled at hiding. I had a lusciously guilty stash of sugar cubes that grew over the years to include Thin Mints, Warheads, Pixie Sticks, and some fundraiser candy that called itself World’s Best Chocolate (and really was! at least to a chronically deprived sweet-tooth…) and none of my five hundred siblings ever found it. Talent, non?

I also learned how to hide my feelings, my opinions, my idiocies, and my problems. It’s a little-known fact about families who isolate themselves from the world: rather than creating a safe haven, isolation breeds like an insidious form of bacteria until you can no longer reach outside your own skin. No one allowed in, period.

I can’t begin to tell you how powerless I was raised to be. I have a lifetime of poisonous mantras stashed in my mind: Do not ask for help. Your feelings mean nothing. We do not talk about that. Doctors want to harm you. Policemen want to harm you. Your instincts are wrong. NO ONE CAN HELP. Honestly, the two best things I’ve ever done to fight off those mantras were meeting Dan, who tirelessly chiseled away at my mind with rock-solid compassion, and starting this blog. It’s not easy, of course. I constantly want to censor myself (and I often do, if you want to know the truth), and I revert several times a day back to Your feelings mean nothing. We do not talk about that. No one can help, no one can help, no one can help, no one can help.

Writing about depression, in particular, feels like stripping in front of the entire world. It comes with a host of other confessions like failure and weakness that I would much rather keep hidden, and it looks so raw and grotesque out in the air. Hi, I’m Bethany, and I can’t manage to take care of two teeny-tiny little girls and one teeny-tiny little apartment by myself and oh my god, am I actually admitting this aloud?

But your comments and e-mails have given me exactly the boost I needed to shrug off my Amish mantras and do something unimaginably frightening: Ask for help. I went to the doctor today, all of my own volition, and I told him the truth. And now there will be tests and further appointments and possibly referrals, and though we know nothing yet, I feel hopeful. I don’t know how to explain what hope feels like after this long, but thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.


Debthany Downer

My head is a mishmash stew these days, marinating fuzzy inklings into unfocused ideas. My daily life looks like yawning and claustrophobic mint and dust and poop in unfortunate places and half-shuttered windows and pajamas. All spinning, connectionless.

“Hey, how are you?”

“Fine, thanks. I mean, I had a full-blown panic attack yesterday over the fact that I had to remain alive for the rest of the day, and the day before that, the girls fussed so much that my sanity took off for Fiji, and the day before that, I felt too much like old concrete to officially get out of bed, and the day before that was some kind of mid-July vortex of antisocial unproductivity. Of course, the day before that was great—do birthdays count toward the statistics?—but today, I’m floating in a time warp, watching my body stumble around in search of my head. I mean, I’m fine. Fine. Thanks.”

About a year ago, I started reading the blog of a beautiful, free-spirited woman who wrote about her daily life in terms of intuition and enlightenment. On bad days, she wrote about being gentle with herself and allowing healing to manifest itself. On good days, she wrote about the change in her perception, some profound new way she was going to go about her life. I enjoyed reading her blog because she found so much significance in the mundane, and who wouldn’t love enlightenment at the end of PMS?

But recently, I’ve started finding her posts tedious and aggravating because nothing ever changes. She is always searching inside herself and coming up with bright, sparkly answers to life that make absolutely no difference the next time she has a bad day. Of course, she has every right to share her emotions. In fact, I think what bothers me the most about her journal is that it’s what mine would be if I were an optimist. Like, at all.

See, I don’t really go up-up on the upswings; I just level out into something like normal. I stop saying things like “Stomachs are retarded” and “I’m going to murder whoever invented 7 a.m.” and “Life, the universe, and everything are horrible,” but I don’t really come up with happy hopefulisms because what’s the point?

(Just think, I was trying to keep this post from sounding too depressed… Hello, Debbie Downer! I apologize to any of you who now wants to go climb into a hole for eternity.)

I never know what to write when I’m having Downer Days (or weeks… or months…) because I shouldn’t still be having them. The world is spinning, creation is evolving, and I should be changing for the better. No more sudden depression, no more losing myself in a swampy labyrinth of hours. I should be coming up with bright, sparkly answers that stick to my psyche like flypaper and accumulate over time to a bright, sparkly me. Surely everyone else is just as sick as I am of the constant ups and downs (and downs and downs and downs), but what’s a girl to do? Pretend she’s not a sloppy mess too much of the time? Lie her way into false perkiness? Ignore herself until the top of her head blows off?

Honesty is particularly heavy at times like this. Every word I come up with is a burden that I’m reluctant to hoist on others even as I’m buckling under the weight. I just have to think that one day, I will figure all of this out—I will—and then these words I scribbled from the darkness will be a path, stepping stones offered to other shadow-people as a gift.


Dichotomous Days


  • Lead-blanket tiredness, every single morning and sometimes until bedtime. I hung onto today by a thread of willpower and finally gave up at noon, when I put my haggard self to bed. (Coffee helps, though I suddenly stopped liking the taste last month. Coffee in a chocolate-coconut frappuccino courtesy of my blender-wielding husband definitely helps. Sleep, exercise, and nutrition do not.)
  • Owning a house during a major housing slump and losing our renters. Taking care of our house when we lived in it was enough work, but figuring out the details from across the ocean? Without the extra income? Wondering how soon the place will fall into ruin without tenants and become just a pile of bricks swallowed by crabgrass? There’s a chance that worrying about this has impacted my sleep…
  • Huge possibility of having to move to another city next summer. I knew this home wouldn’t be permanent, but I’ve come to love our friendly little neighborhood and the old, old streets of downtown, not to mention the people who have welcomed us into their families. (Benefits of moving: Will be closer to Florence, Dan’s brother, and IKEA. Very much closer to outlet mall. The other city is still beautiful, AND we may finally get a large-enough house. Oh, and the transfer has the possibility of being long-term. Really, I need to just get over this and be excited already.)


  • Summer-colored fruits and veggies, fresh or bread-crumbed or slathered in yo-cream or drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I love how easy it is to eat healthy in warm weather—salads and fruit drinks every day, and we’ve reduced our grocery budget by €40 a week. I feel all earthy and bright at the thought, like I’ve just discovered a secret.
  • August just around the corner. We spent our vacation budget (uh, for the next five years) on Sophie’s emergency room trip, so we’ll be coming up with fun and relaxing things to do around here. Which, really? Could not make me happier. I mean, we’re already in Italy; might as well enjoy it! I’m planning to serve meals on paper plates and read books somewhere breezy.
  • A certain member of the family finally being potty-trained. After what felt like seventeen years of Pull-Ups and puddles and uncontrollable weeping (on my part), we have autonomy. Also, another member of the family recently contracted mobility, and the crawling, cruising, and self-congratulatory giggles are almost too fun to stand! Almost.
  • Exciting new changes coming soon, like school for Natalie! And hopefully well-scheduled days for me during which I can write and write and write! Plus, a significant raise and talk of a winter ski vacation with the in-laws. Exclamation point!

C’est la vie, non?


Eat Me, Uncle Moneybags

Growing up, I learned to hate the song “Count Your Blessings.” (Please tell me some of you are old-fashioned enough to know it too?)

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.
(Lyrics by Johnson Oatman, a 19th century preacher who probably got beat up a lot as a kid)

No matter how many times I sang it, its birthday wish mantra never worked. The magic elixir of contrived thankfulness turned stale when I swallowed it, and nothing ever got better as a result.

Dan and I lay awake in bed far, far too late last night talking (a bad habit that’s always been too delightful to shake) about the life we could be living right now had we just accepted it. We wandered through shadowy conjectures of a big suburban house and a six-figure salary. Bulging pockets. Unlimited comfort. Dollar signs popping out of our eyes just like in cartoons. We have been so tempted some days to quit our grad-schooling, world-traveling teetertotter life and grab the easy one dangling very much within reach.

But no matter how beautiful the bait looks, we know we are happiest as free fish with the whole ocean to play in. We need adventure, he and I, even if it sometimes looks like instability. Money matters so much less to us than experience… though, admittedly, a lot of experiences are easier to come by with a fat wallet.

I’ve been skulking on the outskirts of panic lately, and it helps to keep all of this in mind. It is so easy to feel lost in a new culture, especially with talk of moving to a different city soon. Especially with quickly growing babies and quickly disappearing time. Especially with the kind of urgent, helpless inspiration my brain manufactures without warning. Especially when unexpected expenses converge like thunderheads over water and more water, no dry land in sight. It’s the price of diving headlong into the ocean.

So I beat myself over the head with logic and lecture myself with my own beliefs. Keep everything in perspective… and This will all be worth it some day… But for all the mental haranguing I do to keep myself on track, the only thing that truly brings me out of dark moods is thankfulness—spontaneous and unplannable. It happened today when the girls woke up from their naps together with that gorgeous, sleepy glow of afternoon dreams. I looked at their faces, and simple as that, I was floating. To be able to know these vibrant little people, to be able to kiss their cheeks and read them bedtime stories and add beauty to their eternal souls was like a living in a sudden song. Unexplainable joy.

That’s how thankfulness got me out of our tightly-walled house and into the sunshine today. The girls and I had to go out for a necessary purchase—strawberry gelato with two spoons—and a playground date. We really had no choice but to have a perfect, panic-free evening once I realized how ridiculously, extravagantly rich we are together.

At the park - Natalie

Of course, later came a particularly fussy bathtime and dirty dishes and the dull thud of reality and the fear that everything good about my day was horribly cliché…

But if sunwarmed giggles with these two and overwhelming lightheartedness become cliché for me, I will have more to appreciate than Uncle Moneybags or even Johnson Oatman himself could ever count.

At the park - Sophie


By the way, and on a completely different topic, I wish everyone in the world could get a chance to read this.

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