August

August always catches me by surprise. It’s a busy month. It’s my husband’s birthday month. Then some last-minute fun before back-to-school. Then back-to-school, which always comes with some sort of challenge. New school, not the teacher we wanted, refusal to change underwear on the first day, you know, normal boy stuff. Then once we get into the swing of things, I finally feel a routine coming back. I have time to write again, I have time to breath again, then BAM! It hits me. This profound sadness. And it’s always around the middle of the month. And it always confuses me, like what the actual hell Missy?! Why are you sad, so much is going well right now. Then, at three am, during a night I’ve been unable to fall asleep, it hits me. It’s August again.

August 2011, was the worst month of my life. I remember back to my husband’s 29th birthday. Back to the weeks that followed. Back to the test results and the nights in the hospital. I start to remember my daughter. I start to subconsciously say her name. I talk more about her without even realizing. Jackson starts to ask questions, play what-ifs. Mommy, do you think Lydia would like cars like I do? I assure him that she would. I assure him that being her big brother he would have been able to teach her all about cars, and trucks, and technology. They would have been able to play soccer and basketball together. He could have taught her how to swim, and cheered her on at her swim meets. They could have secrets and inside jokes, certainly be each other’s best friend. He smiles, tells me that he doesn’t mind being an only child, but that sometimes it would be nice to have her around.

I lose sight of all the good I have in my life during the month of August. I have more bad days than good ones. And every year I wait for these feelings not to come. I hope they won’t. I push them back down, thinking certainly this year it won’t hurt so much. Certainly this year I will get a break from these emotions. But I’m wrong. They come back. And even though I am surprised when they come, and upset with myself, I am learning how to show myself a little more grace. To not beat myself up for having a bad day here or there. It’s just work. I’m always working on it.

Grieving takes time, I know this. And here I am at year eight, and I am waiting for a time for the grieving to stop. And what scares me, what really gets to me, is the idea that it may never stop. That this is my life now. That every August this profound sadness will creep up into my chest. And I will cough and cough trying to rid myself of it, but I won’t be able to. It will just be something I will have to live with. Forever. I think that is what makes me the most sad now. I think I have properly dealt with the feelings of loss. The actual pain that losing my baby caused me. But I think too, that this feeling of lingering sadness will never be dealt with. Will never go away.

That’s a dramatic, albeit true thought that I live with. That it isn’t the loss of my daughter that I will eventually succumb to, rather the grief that surfaces every, single, year. Month. Week. Day. The grief that won’t allow me to breathe. The grief that won’t allow me to move on. If there is anything to move on to.

I have nothing new to say today. Just to love those who you love. Love those who need love. Love those you know, those you don’t. Spread the love and light out in the world today. For people like me, who can’t muster it. For people like Lydia who will never feel it. For people who will never feel whole again. Because it does make a difference.

M.

Grief

I’m in my bed at half past midnight thinking about grief. I’m not just thinking about grief, I’m trying to somehow quantify it. I’m comparing my grief to other’s. I’m trying, in the strictest sense, to make myself feel bad for grieving. To make myself believe that my grief is silly. My grief doesn’t count. I know this does more harm than good. I know grieving is a process. A journey. With steep mountains and robust valleys. I know you take a couple steps, then you stumble. I know you can stand there, on the side of that mountain for a long time. I know you can wonder, and wish, and hope for an answer. For something to keep you from walking over the edge. I know that grief makes you do crazy things and think crazy thoughts. I know grief can wreck you from the bottom up. From the inside out. But here I am, standing on that mountain, wondering what it would feel like to take the step off. I’ll fall back to sleep soon. I’ll fall back to sleep, then tomorrow I will be okay. Sometimes it’s just the darkness that gets to me. I’m learning. I’m coping. I hope you are okay, friends. I’m wishing you reprieve from the darkness. Your grief is real.

Give yourself time.

Give yourself grace.

Tomorrow is a new day.

M.

Backstreet’s Back, Alright!

When I moved to Atlanta in April I decided to go back to regular therapy. Therapy and I go way back, like the epic battle between Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, we’ve had our beef. The first time I remember going to a therapist I was sixteen. I had been pretty sad and started to skip school in lieu of sleeping all day. My mom was nervous so she took me to a therapist. As I was waiting in the reception area I was reading over a pamphlet that asked: Do You Suffer from Depression? It was a quick little quiz that promised to diagnose a mental health problem if you answered five questions: Are you tired a lot? Do you feel hopeless? Do you have trouble concentrating? Are you irritable or annoyed? Do you suffer from low self-esteem? Looking back now I would say this was just a list of normal teenager behavior, but when I looked at that list I was like, Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! And for the first time ever I had a name to go with how I felt. And it made me feel worse.

The therapist ended up being a real whack-job, and she kept trying to get me to admit to being sexually assaulted or beaten as a child. so I went a couple more times and then quit. Then in my early twenties I went again to a therapist a couple of times, then quit. Then at 27 I had my first child and fell into the biggest bout of depression I had ever experienced. Postpartum Depression is a real fucking horror, y’all. It is nothing to sneeze at. At that time I didn’t have the stamina or the willingness to go to a therapist, but my primary care physician put me on anti-depressants after my six-week postpartum check-up because she could see that I was struggling, and that is when my life changed.

There was always a stigma with pills in my family. I would overhear my mom talk to people about how she was sad or irritable or couldn’t sleep, but pills were never the answer. You just had to pull up your bootstraps and keep on keeping on. But honestly, if my doctor had not recognized what I was going through when I was going through it, things might have ended differently for my baby or for me. I had a total loss of control during those early days. Not to mention a colicky baby and a husband who was just as green as I was. It was touch and go for awhile, but the pills helped me so much, that only six weeks into my antidepressants (which was Wellbutrin, and they are totally kick-ass), I decided that if I had to take a pill everyday for the rest of my life to feel better, I would. And I do. Well, now I take two, and this is only after ten years of trial and error.

Look it, I’ve been on Wellbutrin (awesome-sauce, but it made my blood pressure skyrocket), Prozac (the magic pill for more reasons than one, but it gave me horrible migraines after three years), Buspar (this is an anti-psychotic that they paired with Prozac to help with anxiety after I lost my daughter and now it’s on all my charts as a no-go because it made me suicidal), Celexa (good stuff, but plummeted my libido), Zoloft (made me feel no emotions, like zero emotion, all the time, weird stuff), Lexapro (Celexa’s sister, but the one I am currently on because I finally decided I could deal with the libido and the inability to lose weight like a normal fucking person as long as I have a pill that makes me not sad about those two things very often) there has to be some give and take. Then there are the other pills.

The first time I took a Xanax was the night I was released from the hospital after giving birth to my dead daughter. Yeah, that sounds harsh. Because it was fucking harsh. I was given a prescription for Xanax before I left the hospital and my husband drove to Target to get it filled before we went home just in case, even though I told him there is no way in hell I’d be taking that kind of pill. Stigma, remember? Well, I took that kind of pill (which happens to be a pill in the benzodiazepine class. It also happens to be highly addictive and is a way that a many of lonely housewives made it through the 70s, apparently, Valium is in that class) and I was able to sleep that first night. For a few hours anyway. Until I woke up screaming that I was a baby-murderer and had to take another one. That was eight years ago and I still, to this day, keep a bottle of Xanax next to my bed. I am on the lowest dose possible, and I routinely break it in half. I am prescribed 30 of them to last me for three months and I have never run out of them. Why? Because at this point they are more of a crutch than anything else. Just knowing I have them when a panic attack threatens is good enough for me. But things are changing now.

This new town, new me has me thinking differently. For the first time in two years I am with a therapist on the reg. She is a licensed therapist, so she can’t prescribe drugs, but I still wanted to take the burden off of my PCP, so my therapist told that I could use her offices’ Mental Health Nurse Practitioner for all my mental health medication needs. It was interesting, and a little weird at first, but after our first visit I felt confident that she gets it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my PCP, but she doesn’t specialize in mental health. I mean, when I have lady-garden issues, I go to a lady-garden doctor. When I have tooth pain, I see the dentist. So it makes sense that I would go to a mental health professional for my medication now too. And she is nice, but she is aggressive.

The first thing she did was take me off Xanax. Now remember, I have been on this pill (as needed) for eight years. I was a little nervous, but talk about being on a pill with a stigma. In fact, one of the first things I said to my new pill-lady was, See, see that face you made when I said I take Xanax, I’m tired of that face. There is a stigma attached to this pill and I don’t like it. She smiled and apologized for the face. She gets it though, and then she explained the stigma. It’s a highly addictive pill, with a big street value. I know all this of course. I know it first hand. I have a very close friend who was addicted to them a few years back and I watched her life unravel at an alarming rate. She finally got real help, but at a major cost to her life and to her family. So I get it. I do. But when something works, it is hard to turn your back on it.

Long story short (What do you mean, Missy? You always tell a long-ass story, we know this about you!) Well thanks, but let me get to the point here. Long story short, she put me on a new pill. Not a new anti-depressant (just yet), but a new benzodiazepine. And this new one is old, really old. Maybe you have heard of it, it’s called Klonopin. I had heard of it. In fact, I had heard bad things about it, I guess the sorts of things people hear about Xanax, but this one is supposed to be longer lasting so you don’t have to take as much, meaning it has a lower risk of addiction. Okay, I went with it. Next month we are changing my other pill. Apparently there are new fancy ones with less side effects. I’m game. I always trust the professionals.

So here we are. I came home and started to read all about Klonopin, then got myself so upset by what I was reading that I had to take a damn Klonopin, y’all. I wish I were joking. But, it turned out to be okay. It sort of cleared my mind, a feeling I haven’t had in awhile. And it made me talkative and happy. It made me relax and appreciate the good stuff all around. I might be able to get used to this. Maybe just maybe.

I’m telling you all this today because I have learned over the last few years that the only way to break down a stigma is to talk about it. An open and honest discourse about uncomfortable topics has never let me down. We see very little progress when we keep closed off. When we let other people dictate how we should feel, or act, or get help when we need it. We see very little progress when we feed into those antiquated ideas of what is right and what is good. Because the bottom line is, what is good for me may not be good for you. But we shouldn’t be judging each other when we are just trying to figure it all out.

As always take care of yourself and others.

M.

Broken Record

It’s difficult for me to ask for help when I need it. This is something I am just figuring out about myself well into my thirties. It’s not the only thing I am figuring out well into my thirties, but I suspect prioritizing Adele songs in order of their meaningfulness to my own life isn’t the “ah-ha” moment Oprah wanted for me. It’s difficult for me to ask for help and it is difficult for me to reach out to other people when I am sad, or lonely, or overwhelmed. There, that is out there in the world now, I feel better.

Yesterday I was sad. Christ, Missy we know, tell us something new. I know it seems like I am a broken record, like I’m all, Hey you guys! I’m sad today, boohoo what shall I do? But in all truth the sad days are less and less now, partly because it is summertime and partly because I have a new medication. But yesterday my husband left for a work trip, again, and I realized that I’m not missing him when he goes anymore. Let me back up. I always miss him when he is away, what I mean to say is that there was a time when we were always together, and we had a toddler, and life was chaotic, and the thought of us being separated for a week was painful. He’s my best friend and I need his presence. But yesterday, as I was driving back from the airport listing to sad Adele songs (yeah, I know, shut it) I realized that I have grown accustomed to his absence now. And that made me sad as hell.

So I did what anyone would do, I sat on the couch and cried, until my best friend called me. She was having an off day too and she called to just tell me about it, and we talked for two hours and I felt so much better. So I reached out to more people. People who I adore, people I haven’t talked to in a long time. I sent some silly texts, I asked how days were going, I checked on a VERY pregnant friend just to make sure. And you know what, I felt a hell of a lot better, and I hope they did too.

Is there is a lesson in this? Of course there is. And it is one that our therapists have been screaming into our ears for years. But sometimes it takes a little time, a little age, a little trial and error to really make it click. It clicked for me yesterday. I know, I know I am a broken record. But I am broken. We all are, and sometimes we need to realize, accept, and adapt. It has the capacity to make us feel better.

What do you want from us, Missy? I want you to reach out to people when you need to. Ask for help if you need it. Call your best friend. If you don’t have one, find one. Don’t worry if you think they might be busy. Don’t worry if you think they might be surprised, or caught off guard, or, or, or. Make time. Send a funny email. Dance a little jig in the your kitchen with your dog, or your partner, or your child. Put on Adele and cry a river. Doesn’t matter. Take care of yourself and your people, however and whenever you need to. And remember, I love you.

M.

Tattered

That word has been on my mind. Tattered. But not in the sense that you think. I haven’t been thinking of tattered clothes; worn out socks, hip jeans made to look abused. I’ve been thinking of what a tattered person looks like. A tattered life. A tattered mind. A tattered soul. The OED says tatter is from Middle English, slashed scraps of cloth. Being in poor condition. Yeah, I feel that some days.

I struggle with mental health issues. I have been diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety. I take pills to cope. I reject common ways of decompressing my stress. I don’t work out when I’m having a panic attack, or do yoga, even though I know it helps. I don’t meditate or focus on my breath. I don’t count to ten or repeat a word over and over until the feeling goes away.

I eat. I cry. I hide in my bathroom, or under my blankets, or in the closet with the door closed until the feeling of panic, willed by brain receptors not firing correctly, passes. If I’m in the car, I turn the radio up loud and I sing, oblivious to anyone watching. If I’m somewhere with people, in a situation I can’t get out of, I shut down. Unless there is wine, then I drink.

I’ve learned these coping mechanisms through trial and error, because these problems aren’t new. I don’t read self-help books. I feel a stigma with doing that. I don’t routinely visit a therapist, I always feel worse when I’m there. I don’t even take some of my medicine regularly. I almost forget it’s there when I really need it. In short, I have some work to do, but it’s on me. And that’s the problem.

I have no problem putting others’ needs in front of my own. My son is P1. I worry about his health, his sleep, his school work, his friends. I worry that he’s getting a cough. I worry about his mental health. Then there’s my husband. Is he happy or just content? I worry about my dog. Why does he bark that way? Does he need outside? Should I take him to the vet for this behavior? Then there’s my mom. My family. My friends. Then, there’s me. By the time I get down to me I shrug and say, “I’ll be alright.” Cause, I will. I always have been. But even as I say this, I know this way of thinking takes a toll.

It has taken a toll, on a lot of us.

The curious thing is, back before I was a mommy, way back, before I was even a wife, just loosely hanging on as an “adult” I never worried about any of this. I never worried about worrying about myself. Even when myself was all I really had to worry over. God, that doesn’t make sense, I know. In more ways than one, but that’s the best way I can say it. Back when I could focus on myself, and not feel guilty about it, I didn’t know enough to know that my mental health was abnormal. I’ve always been this way, I thought this was normal. Then I started to meet people who didn’t wake up crying at 2 am because they realized death was inevitable and how could I actually stop feeling this weight press down on my chest?! And I was like, hmpf, that’s weird.

I dunno. I guess I am having a down day today. We all do sometimes. And then it all sort of adds up. So consider this mindless chatter, this relentless cloud of sadness that sort of hangs around me. Consider it, I don’t know, a reminder. Check in on your people. Call your mom. Send a handwritten card to someone you care about. If you feel up to it. But try to put your feelings and emotions and mental health first for a change. Then see how the rest falls around you. I hear if you can master it, it is remarkable. Meanwhile, put on some new sweatpants. Take a shower. Wash your hair and don’t blow dry it. Get out of the tattered place and back into the sunshine.

M.

Pulling Out My Hair

All morning I have been putting my hands on my keyboard in an attempt to will myself to write something, but nothing comes out. This has been happening for about two weeks. I don’t mean with this silly, little blog. I have a million topics for this place. Climbing out of this blue spot I have been in. My recent gastro-intestinal upset. Our house-hunting trip to Atlanta. Jackson’s ongoing obsession with Harry Potter. Those are all easy topics for me to slap down here for our mutual reading pleasure. What I’m having a really hard time with is writing other things. Things I need to be writing. Short stories, and flash fiction, and creative non-fiction. Things that I write to send out for consideration. Things that, you know, a writer should care about.

A couple of weeks ago I started an essay about mental health. It’s morphed into more of a lyric essay. I talk about my penchant for weeding, then I talk about the unnerving condition I was diagnosed with shortly after the loss of my daughter. It’s called trichotillomania, which is a really long, crazy-sounding word that means at times of high stress I pull my hair out. Literally. I subconsciously run my fingers through my hair, often times when I am asleep, and I pull strands of hair out. I do it over and over again, in the same spot, until finally I have a little bald patch on my scalp and I have to part my hair to cover it. It sorta sucks. But also, I guess it sort of helps too.

It doesn’t always happen when I am asleep. Sometimes I am fully-awake, but I am distracted. When I first noticed it I was sitting on the couch with my husband. We were watching tv, toddler Jackson was asleep, and I was actually engrossed in whatever was happening in that episode of, probably, The Office. Before I knew what was happening I had taken my pony tail out and began running my fingers through my hair. At some point my husband looked over at me and asked what was wrong. I told him nothing was wrong. Because nothing was wrong. Weirdo. Then after the episode he looked at the spot next to me and asked again what was wrong. I looked over too, and there was a massive pile of my hair sitting next to me. We didn’t really know what to say. Over the next few weeks it got worse. I was waking up in the middle of the night to clumps of hair all around me, and my hand resting on my head. It was exhausting. So I finally asked the doctor and she explained this all to me. I felt relieved, but you know, not really.

So here I am, reliving all of this to write it out on the page, in hopes that I will actually finish this essay, submit it to a publication, they won’t think I’m too weird, and they will publish it, so that maybe, maybe, someone who pulls their hair out realizes, perhaps for the first time, that it is a mental health problem. Realizes they are not alone. Realizes they need to seek help. But until then, I am stuck, you see. Stuck. Unable to think. Unable to write. Unable to help. Stuck with idle hands, wanting to pull out my hair.

M.

Panic! Not Just at the Disco

The first time I remember having a panic attack I was 17 years old. I’m almost positive, looking back, that I’d had them before that, but I just didn’t know what to call it. Once, when I was about nine, I was so nervous waiting for my mom to come pick me up from a sleepover, that I had to go sit in my friend’s bathroom, away from all the noise and laughter. I was trembling, and my hands and feet were clammy, and my chest felt very tight. I sat in the bathtub, pulled the curtain closed, and waited for my friend’s mom to open the basement door and call down to tell me that my mom was there. In hindsight, that was probably one of my first panic attacks, but I didn’t know it at the time. I did know, however, that I was different than the other girls.

At seventeen I woke up in the middle of the night. I’ve always struggled with sleep, so I didn’t think much of it. This was back before you kept your cell phone charging next to your head, so I would just lie awake and stare at the ceiling listening for unfamiliar noises and worrying, mainly, about all the things that could go wrong in my life. What if I didn’t pass my next chemistry test? What if my mom found out that I had pot stashed in my dresser drawer? Those sorts of things. This particular night I remember with clarity, because it was the first time I thought about death. I wasn’t suicidal, never have been. Save for that time I was put on a medicine to help with anxiety and it didn’t react well with me. But we will save that for another time. What I mean is, I became hyper-aware for the first time, that one day I would die. That’s the funny thing about this life. It ends the same for everyone. And when you’re a kid or a reckless teenager, you don’t think too much about that. Until the day you do.

Existential dread or angst, I jokingly call it now. Jokingly because it happens to me all the time, I sort of live in this space, and it happens to a lot of us, most of use, from time to time. But when I was seventeen, I didn’t know what the hell it was. I just realized I would die, then wondered how I would die, then ventured into this whole new world of anxiety and worry that was never there before. It struck me so violently that I found myself awake for days, unable to sleep, consumed first and foremost by the idea that I was going to die, I had convinced myself, at any moment.

Of course I did the worst possible thing, I told no one. I went about life as normal as I could, all the while plagued with these constant, OCD thoughts about death. In AP English I’d think about death. In Chemistry, I’d think about death. At lunch, death. Hanging out at my friends’ houses after school, talking about crushes and pretending to care about my make-up and hair, death.

Then one day, months after the first thought, I had a total and complete meltdown. I was still a kid, as much as I thought otherwise, so I had my meltdown in a totally kid way. First, I flipped out at school. I got into a fight with my best friend, on purpose, because I wasn’t happy and she was and that pissed me off. Then I hitched a ride home halfway through the day with another friend (read: we skipped school and got high, then went to Taco Bell). Afterward, she dropped me off at home. I forgot that I don’t normally beat my mom home from work (don’t smoke weed kids, mkay), so she was confused when she got there and I was home. This led to a fight when she accused me of skipping school. I was appalled that she would “accuse” me of such a thing, then I went into my room, and slammed my door. (Ugh, moms are the worst!)

That night my mom went out and she told me not to leave the house, I was “grounded” in as much as she could ground me. So at about 8:00 pm, a friend picked me up and we left to go smoke more weed down at the river. Here’s the thing. The “river” was the cool place to hang, way down by the railroad tracks, because we were totes sad, sordid, teenagers with the weight of the world on our shoulders, oh poor, pitiful us… We were living every single scene from #MySoCalledLife.

The cops came, as they often do, and everyone took off running. Well, I don’t run, ya dig? Even when I think my life is in danger. Like if a bear came at me in the woods I would be the last one there, trying to reason with the bear, all, Listen bear, I’m mostly fat and who likes the fatty parts of the meat? So I just sort of walked away, down the railroad tracks to an old railcar. (Insert the Daria soundtrack). Turns out the cops weren’t too hellbent on arresting a few teens passing a dime bag, so they took off, but there I was alone, at night, a little high, on the train tracks. When, you guessed it, a train came.

Now, I’m not suicidal (see above), so meandering around the live tracks at night, weren’t exactly what I was going for. In fact, I was scared shitless, and I started back to the riverfront park to find my friends, but they had left my ass. That’s about the time the intrusive thoughts started up again. I know it, I told myself, I’m going to die and this is probably the night. I could smell the fire burning from the hobo village (I don’t think that is politically accurate now, but that’s what we called it) under the bridge, the train was approaching, my friends had left me, and there may or may not be cops lurking in the woods waiting to arrest me for being out after curfew. Plus, I was going to die. Maybe not that night, but certainly some day.

I made it down to the park, where there was a large mound of grass, and a well-lit walking trail. I sat down as the train approached, and all the things hit me at once. My chest tightened and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My hands became clammy, my feet went numb. The train hit the city limits. The thoughts raced through my mind. Things are changing, it won’t always be this way. The lights on the track flashed their warning, the bars lowered. Breathe, Missy, breathe. The bells chimed. The engine gave a loud hiss. I can’t stop time, one day I will be here on this earth, and the next I will not be and the whole wide world will still spin around without me. The sound of the wheels on the wood, louder and faster. I’m going to die. The train wooshed by. All the people I love, we will all be gone. And then, just like that, it was all over.


Jesus, this all sounds dramatic. But it really felt like the end of the world. Of my world, anyway. And sometimes, some days, it still does. I wish to all the universes that this was something that I grew out of, or something that never happened again. Something that goes away every day when I take my pills. But no, it’s always here. And I’ve had about ten or so of the actual, painful, Am-I-having-a-heart-attack panic attacks in my life. I can remember each one of them with a clarity I wish I could have given to my chemistry homework. The time Jerimiah had to hold me in the living room because I couldn’t sit still. The time I had to excuse myself from class because I thought the walls were caving in on me. That time I was driving through Tennessee, my son snuggled up in the backseat, and I had to call my friend just to talk. Thankfully, I have people, and thankfully I know when to reach out.

I wanted to share this today for two reasons: 1. It is coming. I’m headed down a dark, bleak hole, and I know it and I feel it, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. The stress is inching up in my neck and in the next few days I will be down for the count. It’s not anything different than it was yesterday, or last year, or 10 years ago. I just know how to read the signs now. How to better equip myself for the fall. Which leads me to number 2. I’m still here. I’m still alive, and this is only temporary. One of my favorite writers likes to remind us that #DepressionLies, and shit yeah it does. But man, it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. It doesn’t feel like it when it’s 2:00 am or 2:00 pm and you are in your bed, covered to your neck in blankets because that is the only way you can get through the day. It doesn’t feel like it when you stop texting friends back, or when you just want to eat chocolate and not make eye contact with your partner or your kid. It feels like you are trapped in this dark place. It feels like you did it all to yourself. It feels like it will never be right again and that you will never be right again. But you will.

Take care of yourselves, y’all.

And I’ll take care of me.

M.