Trying to Remember That Blues Are Colors Too

I’ve just read an article by Abby Norman on Medium called Teach Me How to Feel. It’s one of several ones I’ve read lately that make me feel a little less alone in my struggles. Not less alone in the world physically, but less alone in knowing that depression causes awful pain and suicidal feelings, and that the antidepressants doctors prescribe can shadow you into a shell of yourself that you barely recognize and sometimes despise.

I would include a link to Ms. Norman’s piece for those who would be interested, if I knew how, but Medium is, so far, a strange little place on the web, a strange little club of sorts that I don’t quite understand and don’t think its creators understand yet. I don’t care about explaining Medium’s whys, whats, and wheres. I don’t know yet if I even want to belong there, but I got an invitation a long while ago (marketing ploy, I now understand), so I belong well enough for them to send me reading suggestions. Ms. Norman wrote about the thing I’ve been wanting to write about and trying to share with my friends in these past few months of waking up. She wrote about it so well that I’m resisting the urge to copy large blocks of her piece right here. We all know how wrong that would be.

If I want to say something about depression, I have to write about my own. It’s as similar as all deep bouts of depression are. It’s as different as they all inevitably are. I used to take solace in the fact that I could kill myself if my mental pain got any worse. The closer I got to it, the calmer I felt until the realist in me really understood what it would do to my daughter and my sister, my closest family. There were times when I called myself a coward because I couldn’t leave my daughter that way. I’ve said that to myself lots of times. “You fucking coward.”

A doctor prescribed an antidepressant when my cancer diagnosis came in. I had tried a couple before then, but they always stopped working for me. Cancer was like the ultimate iron rod stuck in the gear. I was in no position to resist trying something new to ease the pain. This new medication pushed me farther away from myself than the others had. It made having to pee my ultimate motivation for getting out of bed. The doctor said it was working because suicide wasn’t foremost on my mind anymore.  My writing seemed to slip away before the date came for my surgery.

Knowing I wasn’t allowed to have reconstructive surgery because my insurance wouldn’t pay for it made me feel useless. Our money-based society makes me feel useless. Doctors inadvertently make me feel more useless.

“You have to get out and do things.”

“I don’t get out and do things because things to do aren’t close and I don’t have the $2.00 to get on the bus and the $2.00 to get back.”

“You need to get out and see friends.”

“My friends are in other states, and another country.”

“You need to get out and make new friends.”

That’s when I agree with them, usually in tears, in order to stop what feels like an onslaught, not only because of my lack of money, but probably because of the depression.

“You have to get regular exercise.”

“I try. I know how, but I have so much trouble getting started. I didn’t use to have so much trouble getting started.”

“Just do it.”

“The medication makes it so hard to just start.”

“That’s not really true. There’ve been studies.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“You should get back to your writing. It’s what you want to do, right.”

“I want to.”

“Then start. Just do it.”

“The medication makes it so slow, so hard. I have trouble getting ideas out of my head and onto the paper.”

“Just start.”

“I’ve begun a million times.”

“Try again.”

“Okay.”

I’ve been writing the last few months because I ran out of the meds around Christmas, and I don’t want to find a doctor I like and then have to change again on June 1st because my insurance and my medical providers parted ways. I can go back to where I was reasonably comfortable and where my records are on June 1st. But really what’s worse? Me feeling so much pain but actually able do the work of writing? Or me walking through jello, anesthetized and reaching for words that slip away behind thoughts of inadequacy as a writer, as a friend, as a person, as a mother?

I’m not sure how well this all communicates. It just feels like more than enough for now, for anyone who wants to read it. It didn’t come out the way I wanted, but I don’t want to edit the heart out of it and I don’t want to read it over again. It’s true and it’s not me holding the important part inside like I usually do. For now, that may be all that matters.

 

Tailoring a Skill Set With Needles, No Thread

Last Thursday, as a favor to a young acquaintance, I attended an AIDS Awareness Rally and Expo at Harry S Truman College in Chicago. She said it was important to her that I come if I could, and the pride she had of being a part of the group that had put the event together, made me determined not to let her down.

A friend here in the WordPress blogosphere helped me focus on that task in ways that seemed so simple at their core, that they made me wonder why they didn’t cross my mind without her help. As I got ready for the event, I worked hard to set that kind of thinking aside. I won’t be the one to definitively answer the question about seeing the forest despite the trees, so it’s best that I don’t hurt myself trying.

The neighborhood surrounding the el stop and neighborhood of the college, gives me the willies. Though I’ve only been there three times that I can remember, I’ve been propositioned there once and verbally accosted more than once. That may be about my unluckiness as a female human being more than the neighborhood, but these things did happen. There are a handful of other el stops in the city that I avoid, but on Thursday, in bright afternoon sun with so many people out and about, I wasn’t going to use that as an excuse.

I reached the college without incident, greeted my friend and found a seat in the section of chairs placed before a dais and a podium with a microphone set up for the event’s speakers. Behind those was a long bank of floor to ceiling windows that gave the audience a framed view of neighborhood folks going to and fro, some walking dogs, some trudging with difficulty perhaps to the neighborhood health clinic, others turning into the school’s main entrance on their way to class or the event I was attending.

AIDS Awareness

AIDS Awareness (Photo credit: sassy mom)

The writer in me watched those windows until a speaker opened the proceedings and introduced a young man who lectures widely on having HIV, how he’s come to terms with it, and the path he’s chosen for his life in the years since his diagnosis. He’s a powerful speaker, focused but not on a rigid script, speaking from the point of view of an artist who’s life has been forever changed — but more by what he’s chosen to expose himself to than by what he had previously thought would limit his life. He spoke of having tried to kill himself and how he had failed. He spoke of feelings of despair that I understood so well. Then he spoke of waking up to the fact that life wasn’t all about him.

He challenged everyone in attendance to not only get an AIDS test, but to get a passport and travel past the confines of this country, a virtuous thought but one that made me wonder where he thought the money to do it would come from. (I think he was mainly referring to students who get financial aid and a big check at the end of the school year that I know next to nothing about.) But it was what he said about Haiti that pressed down hard on me.

Right before my finances went south, I sent what I could to the Red Cross after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Any time I mention people who are suffering so much — people who make me want to shut up about myself — the people of Haiti are a part of the world’s community that come to my mind. I tried not to cry as the speaker told us of volunteering at a Haitian clinic and teaching a young mother to wash the ringworm on her child’s head before applying the cream to clear it up, and watching her walk down to a nearby stream, dirty with all the things people without plumbing do with water, and wash her child’s head there with the corner of her skirt. I’m not proud to say that I began to surreptitiously text my daughter to see if she was busy. I wasn’t not listening, I just needed to find another part of my day, one that would keep me from embarrassing my friend or myself, something to look forward to and get me home. That felt selfish, but it’s what I did.

Last Thursday I wasn’t just lucky enough to live in the US, despite its faults, but I was lucky that my daughter was off from work and able to spend the rest of the afternoon with me after her class at another city college. I spent another couple of hours at the event listening to other speakers and visiting booths, and said a warm goodbye to my friend knowing I could spend the rest of a sunny, cool day with someone who for the most part, understands my life and my setbacks and dreams. My daughter and I had a good time, and for a while I wasn’t worried about who I was and who I “should” be. But I don’t always know to keep those guilty thoughts at bay. I just try to say kind things to myself as if I’m my own best friend. I know they’re the right things to say because I’ve heard that from so many people — from therapists to kind friends.

It’s the believing deep down in my senses that feels so hard. It feels like sewing important seams without thread, like I have to sew myself up now, no matter what, and just have faith that I will hold together. That kind of belief takes an enormous amount of distraction. I’m not distracted by religion, and the things I used to fall back on have been eroded by economic concerns and the increasing uncertainties of life. But having the presence of mind to text my daughter makes me think my imaginary seams can hold longer with just the minute displacement of the pinpricks to keep the skin together. I want to surprise myself. So far I am, little by little, moment to moment.

The Monday Rant #8 – Dangerous Curves Up Ahead

Late Sunday afternoon, I heard a bit more of some ongoing good news at a friend’s blog, and I remarked in her comments section that it felt so good to hear that it made me think that I could actually change my sheets. I thought about the weirdness of that statement as I went on for a while online, checking out a few new posts and reading answers to my comments on other peoples’ blogs for the needed give and take of ideas, kind words, almost anything to help me feel plugged into the movement of the world. I’ve felt so disconnected. After that I flung myself at my bed, ripping away the blankets and folding them fast so I couldn’t change my mind, getting everything piled safe onto my computer chair while I got out the fresh sheets and smoothed them onto the mattress.

I didn’t consider then why it had been so hard to do. I called it by its name. Depression. I ruminated on how difficult it could be for someone unaccustomed to it to understand. How can a person be so depressed that changing her sheets or just taking a shower could be so damned hard, especially when they’re doing other things and even smiling when you talk to them? “How can you do that thing (insert something I’ve actually been able to accomplish this week), and not be able to do this one?”

All I can think of to answer is to say, “I don’t know. Ask a psychologist. If the answers were easy for me, I wouldn’t be so low.”

I think many of us are able to hide in plain sight as the pressure changes inside us. We respond however ‘normal’ dictates that we should, and even if we’re afraid that you can see all too well what’s happening, we may actually not be doing or saying anything you wouldn’t expect. We may be the ones who aggravate you because we seem to say the same thing over and over as if our needles are stuck in a specific groove. Or maybe we seem robotically perky and able as we plug away at some task. Maybe we can even manage to make you laugh. How would you know how bad it is if we ourselves need something specific to make it crystal clear?

I was waylaid last week by something my brain understood as not important, something that maybe never should have been important to me. But my heart disagreed and wept, kicked things inside me, and cried ‘Why now?’ and ‘I could have gone forever without finding out about that.’ Then I descended into a sort of cave where I couldn’t write, couldn’t sleep, and hated every breath I took. Depression appears to pick and choose where it touches down, like a tornado.

When things start going far south for me, I sometimes fall to a certain point and I’m there for a week or so before I realize how dark it is. Then maybe I say something to someone. Mostly I don’t, because the worst feeling in the world is to find that you’ve talked about it to the wrong person, someone you didn’t realize (or forgot) was going through something deep of their own. Then I berate myself for being a wimp and blathering, and then for caring about myself at all. It becomes hard work to contemplate water running over me and painful to change my sheets.

I’m writing this, no matter how inarticulate it is, because I envied the wrong television character Sunday night. The longing in my heart for peace took my thoughts to the wrong place, much too far south. I’m writing this because I have to take the shower. Because I changed the sheets. I’m hoping that writing it down will make me do it. I’m trying to talk myself into the things that should be simple so I can make them happen and move forward.  The only thing that doesn’t feel like too much is feeding the cat, but that may be because deep down I know she can’t do it herself without opposable thumbs. That’s not her fault. Tomorrow morning or afternoon when I get up, I’ll have a big mug of black tea to try to wake the brain cells, because I have to do some errands and then get back to work. I hope writing this down will help me move past the darkness so I can get back to getting things done. Because writing about it is the only thing I can do right now, and I like life better when I can get things done.

Dominoes

A few years ago my husband said we should take a loan out on my house, where we lived, to fix the roof, change the furnace, etc. I kept saying that I was good with money if he would just stick to a budget. I couldn’t see it taking us more than a year to save cash for the roofing and the furnace. We were lucky people. All we had to do was live like we weren’t and in a couple of years we could do what he wanted without spending any time in debt. I even asked him to sit with me and refigure the budget more to his liking, but the thought of that depressed him. It took another few years, and a proper diagnosis, for me to discover why it would.

I was depressed and emotionally whipped because it seemed that everything I did hurt him. I felt so responsible for everything that instead of saying hell no to the loan, I listened when he said it would be like an extremely low rent and most homeowners paid a lot more each month in mortgage payments. Why on earth would I think we couldn’t pay it easily with his salary even if his work dropped off? What was I so afraid of? He even noted how scared I looked when I signed the papers (and he almost never noticed anything real about how I felt.)

He said I should trust him. I think that’s why he agreed to keep making those payments in our divorce papers. He never wavered on that, although he had something put in about getting some of the money back if I sell the house. I figured that was fair. Anger is one thing. What’s fair is another. Whatever’s going on with him now, that he won’t communicate with me about, has stopped him from making about three months worth of those payments. That’s the second domino.

I was hoping I could save a few dollars for a good faith payment to the bank, but the first domino is preventing that. Property taxes and Chicago’s ridiculously high water bills are the third domino. Although I’m no slouch about figuring difficult things out, searching for information, making phone calls, filling out forms — I have very little comfort for it. In times when I’ve had about twenty extra dollars a month, I’d plan all the aggravating measures that tie me in knots knowing that I could go to the movies and eat smuggled popcorn once it’s all done, as a way of getting the kinks out of my soul.

Without something to look forward to after, I feel strange, like I don’t matter. Then I feel selfish and unworthy of the life I have because so many people on earth would be grateful to be surrounded by the luxuries of shelter, something to eat and access to the internet every day, even if these things could morph at the drop of a hat into something unfamiliar and unstable.

Yesterday at the public aid office, the intake worker wouldn’t let me talk to anyone else and said that her computer screen showed that my case had been started all over again completely from scratch and I may not hear from them for another thirty days. I know that eventually they’ll put an amount on the card dating from when the application was filled out, but I can’t get back the cash I shouldn’t have to spend during these thirty days because of their months of mistakes. I left in some kind of shock. I know because everything looked weird when I got outside and I felt as though my lungs had shrunk. I went ahead and got milk and vegetables since I knew it wouldn’t be okay in a few days. Now I’ll try to stay inside, stretch things out and do the best I can to get some work done.

This help is supposed to be a temporary solution while I work on my book and get it out there, and then think of other ways to make money, like trying harder to publicize my baby sweater pattern and just thinking of new ways to do the things I know how to do. I wish I was the kind of person who could do all of that really well while being messed around by an ex-husband and the system. But I’ve been trying, and so far I’m not quite there.

I can’t think of a different next step that could have a real effect on any of this. Even if I could, my body has been fighting me for the past few days. It keeps telling me to stop. Right now I can’t describe it any better than that, except to say that when I don’t stop, it makes everything hurt.

I wish I felt like writing unimportant fanciful stories. Complete distraction from things that hurt. I haven’t been able to think of anything like that yet, but if I do and it doesn’t suck, I’ll post it. They say life is hard and then you die. I was kind of hoping I could have a little more fun before that happens.

Writer, Actor, Artist

Sometimes they’ll put a little food money on your card right away if they know it’s coming to you and you’re out. It’s best not to count on that happening.

I spent yesterday in bed and didn’t eat. The not eating part is good. I’m still upset and don’t have an appetite, but I know I could get dizzy without something in my stomach before going to the public aid office, so I had a peanut butter sandwich with black tea because I’m out of milk. It didn’t taste as weird as I thought it would.

I couldn’t sleep much yesterday or last night, just a few naps until it got dark. After that I watched TV, curled into a ball under the covers, trying to forget what I had to do today, and not forgetting it for a second. It’s bothering me more than usual this time.

A one hundred word story did come to me, well a new angle on one already written. I don’t know why it came, but I jotted it down on paper just before watching Charlie Rose interview Frank Langella. As I listened to them talk about his new book and his thoughts on acting, I had the strange and intense feeling that Mr. Langella would understand me as an artist. That doesn’t mean he would, or that he’d even value my work. But it’s how I felt. Perhaps it shows how desperate I get for that feeling when my world feels like it’s falling into tiny pieces. Someday I hope I can get Mr. Langella’s book. It sounds wonderful.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. It’s not making me feel better, but I decided to do it before leaving and I’m going with it. If they put something on my card, I can justify riding the train downtown because that’s where the store I prefer is. I feel a little better when I can go downtown or somewhere different from where I live and just walk around and be out. The area I live in is tolerable and sometimes fine if you have money and know you aren’t stuck, but it’s a depressing place to be if you don’t, at least for me. If I can’t get any food money, I’ll have to come home and wait and do the best I can. Either way, I hope I can get it together and focus on my project. I need to do that. I want to do better than I did yesterday.

When the First Domino Won’t Stand …

There was no Monday Rant yesterday because I was tired. I was that deep tired in the bones that doesn’t come from the right kind of exertion, but from an inner weariness that sinks you wherever you are, into chair or bed, or floor as you wash dishes and feel like the chore has the power to zap you into nothingness if it isn’t over soon.

The problem, the mess from January is still going on, and I’ll have to go back to the out-of-the-way government office again this week. When they’ve taken care of the problem, as they always say they will, I’ll receive a letter with the correct information on it within a few days. They’ve been sending ones that don’t make sense and contradict what they tell me every time I come in. I’ve been there, waiting hours until my turn, at least eight times since the middle of January. I bring important papers that they make copies of every time. This week I’ll bring them again — on Tuesday, I thought all day. But I’m so tired now, and it’s late and I haven’t been to bed, so I’ll go in Wednesday morning. They say the middle of the week is best anyway. Fewer people come in then. I hoped I’d get the right letter Saturday or today, but it didn’t come.

Last Tuesday I got a phone call late in the afternoon from a woman whose voice I recognized. I could see her face in my mind, one of four I’ve memorized from time spent in that office waiting, listening, and watching. She needed to ask some questions, and my heart started to pound. I silently thanked her because I hoped now I would have one less thing to worry about for a while and I could get back to my work, the only work I know how to do on my own that might elevate me out of this mess and into a “normal” life. It’s hard for me to think and get it done when I’m worried and afraid.

She asked me about the job I listed on my form. I didn’t know what she was talking about. The last time I was hired was during the holiday season in 2010 and they only kept me until January 2011. I heard the woman shuffling papers through the phone. She said all right, and asked about the people I lived with. I told her I lived alone. She asked who Randall was and if he was working. I told her I didn’t know anyone named Randall. She asked if I lived in a suburb I’ve never heard of… My heart sank for a moment as I realized that this was the problem, that we were fixing the problem right then. This was an important conversation. Things could finally be set right. She realized that this other woman had the same name as mine, and that my phone number was on the wrong file. She put me on hold, and when she came back she asked if I had brought in the papers that were photocopied every time I went in. I explained that they’d been copied again just the week before, when I’d been in and they discovered that I hadn’t been given the correct forms to fill out all the other times and gave me the right ones and said my case would be taken care of now. I told her they had lots of copies of my personal papers. She said, “Yes, yes. But you brought them in last week, right?” I said yes.

Well, now I have to go in this week because I know how things work. If I wait too long, they’ll request everything all over again as if we’re starting from scratch and I’ve done something wrong. And I can’t call them to check. They never answer the phone. My stomach is tied in knots. Because this isn’t the only thing that’s wrong in my life. This is just the first domino that knocks the others down one after the other, sinking me wherever I am, no matter how much I try to pretend I’m above ground, or try to distract myself.

Yesterday I distracted myself with an unimportant story on my micro story site, blowing it up into a verrry necessary learning experience because I’m afraid the real work of my project is  pointless and won’t go anywhere anyway, because that’s the way my thoughts go when I can’t get the first domino to stand up.

And someone keeps stealing my garbage can. I keep calling the city number for new ones, and after I use a new can once, it’s just gone and I can’t find it. I have a sticker to put on it now so next time I’ll know it’s mine if it’s on the block. I know I’ll have to drag it into my yard and use the lock and key that my ex left for the gate. I get that now, even though I’ll have to put the can outside the fence on the afternoon before garbage day. But I can’t even try that plan if I can’t get to a new can before it’s stolen again. Who would steal worthless city-owned garbage cans week after week after week? Why don’t they care that things are hard all over, and just leave me alone. I’m crying now, but I know I’m not crying about the garbage cans. That business makes me angry. I’m crying about the dominoes.

The Ugly Cry – 2

After finally getting out of bed today and making  phone calls and sending more emails without reaching a clerk or an official who can tell me what I need to do, I read this from Lisa K., and this from Lisa H. Their posts, along with words from friends and my feelings today of weariness and ineffectiveness, made me rethink the idea of silence that I’ve fought against for so long. I haven’t rethought it because I’m against the prudence of not saying everything, but because if we don’t say the important things, what’s the point of saying anything? Lisa K. said, “I have been thinking about choosing silence….. But choosing silence does not work. I cannot teach my daughter silence.” I have a daughter, too, and I haven’t taught her silence. At least, I hope I haven’t taught it inadvertently by my example.

So I’ve re-examined the post I wrote Sunday and made sure it says what I thought it did. I’ve been working hard for months at writing, reaching out, researching how to go about finding an agent, how to self-publish, what traditional publishers want, what anyone wants and what they might pay money for and how much…. I’ve been weighing ideas and making decisions on which to work hardest on first. I was tired Saturday night, but still going strong. I wrote this Sunday after the ugly cry wouldn’t stop; I don’t think I only wrote it for myself, because there are a lot of us:

Sunday January 22, 2012

I haven’t yet recovered from mine. I’m not the only one. That’s why it seems wrong to say it out loud, especially here where my strongest, selfless face should show everyone that I’m fine and ready for opportunity. I should be able to do it all: produce, sell, succeed, make my own job, then career and become more, enduring setbacks as blades of grass underfoot, learning but unfazed. But my card was refused last night at the grocery after I’d spent an hour making choices: frozen vegetables, whole wheat flour for the baking I don’t have time for because I should be writing, bread and peanut butter for sandwiches, eggs, milk, whole wheat pasta and the smallest piece of parmesan I can find because a grated tablespoon over pasta and vegetables shines sun into a room until it’s gone. There was a box of cookies, too, the big one for three dollars, and pretzels because I need a handful for energy when I’m writing and need to finish a piece before my head clears and it’s gone. They were all in my cart at checkout, but I could only come home with eggs, milk and the pretzels. And now today’s long ugly cry upon waking has slashed a long wound into the wonderful idea I had yesterday (the one that would take even more work in a short amount of time) because I wonder how much time the government food stamps office will steal from it, and how much time will this crying spell steal from it?

I know that conservatives want to pretend that jobs are out there that are attainable without previous experience and without the confident and quick demeanor of one who’s been treated wonderfully by life even though bits of their pride is being chipped off every day. But not even the job services organization that worked with me believes that, and they are on the front lines of this war. It’s hard to walk around with your head up when you aren’t respected by so many. Trying to get a job has become so much like trying to become popular in high school. Only certain personalities are desirable and I don’t fit into the mold now any more than I did way back then.

My year-old post about the working world’s desire for perfect automatons, felt like a gunshot into my own desires to take part — to make “a living” — but it’s buried now in past posts that no one will read. Part of me wants to let those issues lie, but the inclination to say it out loud still feels to me the way the outspoken members of the Occupy Wall Street Movement must feel by refusing to be quiet any longer.

I’m a writer. It’s the one thing I know how to do that I can keep trying to do without overhead, as long as I can find money for electricity and the internet. But the time is coming near for different choices, different ugly choices. If, after jumping through every hoop they set before me, the government office has made a strange choice because of new rules I may not know of that exclude my participation in the program, then my days in my own home are numbered. I haven’t money for taxes and food even if I do slash my one bill that could be considered expendable. That one bill’s excess keeps me saner and it doesn’t come close to equaling what wasn’t in my food account last night.

I know I’m not familiar with real suffering. No one has to tell me that. I know this world is full of people, in this country and others, who have nothing perhaps except the love of their families and friends. My own selfish, ugly tears are mostly rolling from a place of deep depression because the hole is so deep, but I have much drive to do and be better. I haven’t been allowed into the not-so-secret society of the successful (that’s what I call being self-sufficient) by my silence and attempts at pretense on the subject. My sensitivity to the heartaches of this world as well as its wonders, has already excluded me from the roads to success I can see. The ones I haven’t found yet, may just accept me as I am. I need my ugly cry to stop so I can continue my search. But I’ve held it in so long while I worked and researched and tried, that it seems to have a life of its own now.

To anyone reading this, please understand that I wrote it out of a need to be stronger. I don’t find strength any more in silence, if I ever did. At the moment I don’t mind if the people who know me read these things. Or maybe I just don’t care anymore. It feels a little like say it or die, if you know what I mean. I’m going to hit “publish” and then have some eggs (because I should be hungry by now) before I decide on tomorrow’s actions and prepare the face I’ll wear. Maybe by tomorrow evening I’ll delete this and it’ll become another whisper at the back of my mind and something I hope you can forget. But for now, without anyone else to say it to who isn’t also hurting inside, I say it to everyone before I go off to remember how to be quieter and work some more.