Searching for something

Almost four years ago, I began this blog to address the feelings of being drowned out and erased by motherhood. It was purely a selfish stab in the darkness.

Hello? Hello? Anybody out there?

Depression’s seed had already sprouted inside, but it would take a year or so before I began to recognize it. By then, the twisting thorny pain had wound itself through every cell, infecting all functions and clouding my vision with inky black lies.

Devouring. Suffocating. Obliterating.

I could not see.

I could not breathe.

I could not move.

This blog became the home for the words I didn’t dare say out loud, my refuge in the darkness. I could type silently the pain and anger I wished would go away, release some of the pressure, and reach my quiet hand up for someone to see.

Some of you read the words and nodded in solidarity, my sisters and brothers of shadow.

Some of you read the words and tossed me tendrils of hope, which I desperately clung to with both hands.

With every word typed and every tear cried, I’ve been ripping and untangling the dense thicket of torment and suffering I’d surrendered to.

Now, with only a few coils still attached, I’m feeling exposed and naked.

Stripped down.

Bare.

I’m free, but lost.

Seen, but scared.

I have no idea what to do next.

Depression became my identity, filling the emptiness up with dark and giving me plenty of lies to ponder and pain to feel. It became my voice; it spoke through me, providing a plethora of excuses to hide behind and inside.

Hello darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again

I want to shed the deceitful sense of purpose depression gave me and embrace something new. I long to find the true voice inside me, the one buried by all the layers of bullshit I’ve let define me for so long.

I feel wobbly in this new space and unsure how to proceed.

So, I come here again, to this space of words and ideas. I come with eyes wide open, my heart engaged and my mind clear.

Do you see me? Will you accept this version? Will I?

Our country is so filled with division, misinformation and lies right now. We have joined the rest of the world, in a global sense of unease and unrest. There are so many things happening, so fast, it would be easier to retreat back into my self-pitying hole of depression and hunker down.

But this is the time for action.

The time to declare a new purpose and to find a new voice.

A time to say, I’m still here.

We are still here.

Now what are we going to do?

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My attempt at painting this new feeling.

 

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If you need me, I’ll be in my love apartment

I circle the same three blocks, looking for a parking spot my minivan can fit into, feeling a sense of apprehension and anticipation. I pass the stark white walls of the 1800s fort-turned-museum and the ornate catholic church with its tiny monk statues.

These buildings are markers and judges, watching as I cry, sometimes before, and always after. I find their presence either comforting and protective, or mocking and dangerous. I’m the sinner or the saint. The settler or the native.

I’ve been making this weekly trek for several years. It has become a sort of personal pilgrimage, one I either appreciate or resent, depending on where I am in my cycle of emotions.

Up and down.

Round and round.

The fucking never-ending ferris wheel of my feelings.

Some days, walking up the steep steps of the Victorian house feel impossible, my broken heart not able to pump enough energy into my body. Other times, like this week, I fly up the stairs eager for my time with my very own listener.

“I’m not in chaos.”

I proclaim it to my therapist boldly, as I take my seat on the couch and face him. He smiles back at me in the quiet, thoughtful way he always does.

I try and expand on my declaration, but as I do, I feel the truth of the words slipping away from me.

No, I don’t want to run away from my family or hurt myself anymore. I don’t spend hours curled up crying until my stomach burns like acid. I am not drinking myself to sleep every night.

In those ways, I am not in chaos.

Yet, I see the patterns in my life I still can’t break. I feel the familiar panic, simmering under my skin, ready to first whisper, and then scream, the lies which tear me down. It’s a demon, and it will devour me if I don’t keep fighting.

I fear I’m only at the top of the ferris wheel again and I’ll come crashing back down any second. I want off. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m so tired.

The walk back to the van is silent, as it always is. I hold my keys in my hand, the longest key sticking out between my index and middle finger, prepared to defend myself.

I didn’t cry on the couch tonight. I held it in, standing fast to my assertion I’m not in chaos, even as the doubts swirled inside. I faked feeling good.

I climb into the empty van and lock the door behind me. I sit until the interior lights turn off and I’m alone in the dark. The paper bird, Leonard, in his soft blue paper cage, hangs from the rearview mirror watching me.

I reach into the little compartment below the radio, past the mints, the earbuds and two kazoos, to the seashell and the dried leaf I know are there. I don’t take them out, I just feel them. I let my finger trace over them both, gently, as I release all I’ve held in, even from my paid listener.

I’m not in chaos.

I start home, the monks winking at me tonight and the white walls looking small and easily penetrable.

I walk into my dark house full of my sleeping family. There is a line of plastic geckos on the living room table, a stack of books, an opened bottle of glue, colored pencils and the “love drawing” my daughter did earlier in the week.

img_8497I sit on the couch and stare at the drawing, thinking of our conversation before I left.

“Do you want to move into the Love Apartments?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“What floor?”

“You pick.”

“We don’t have an elevator, so you might want a lower one, that’s a lot of stairs to walk up. But not the first floor, because the views are better higher up and you’ll want a good view when you write.”

“Whatever you think.”

“You have to decide mom, and I’d act quick. There gonna sell fast.”

I barley glance at her.

“3rd floor.”

“OK.”

I can’t remember hugging her goodbye or saying I love you.

There’s a second picture on the table, a new interior view of the apartments. She must have created this while I was gone, using the big table because of the size of the paper.

img_8496I see “sold” and “BKW” on my new 3rd floor apartment.

I smile and picture myself sitting in a big comfy chair, licking an ice cream from the shop next door and looking out the window at the perfect view for writing. A grocery store, the “Bank of a Heart” and music lessons all within walking distance.

No tall white walls.

No judgmental monks.

No plunging ferris wheels.

I kiss my sleeping children gently, slip into my pajamas and cuddle up next to my husband.

“You OK?” he asks and sleepily puts his arm over me.

“Yes,” I whisper.

My love affair with the Goblin King

img_7026I can’t imagine sharing this moment with anyone else, so I take the kids out of school early to join me.

The theater lights go out and the first notes swell around us.

“It’s only forever.
Not long at all.
Lost and lonely.”

There are tears in my eyes as the digital owl swoops across the screen. My boy is happily shoving popcorn into his mouth and smiling. My girl grabs my hand and we share a mutual giggle of excitement.

It is a perfect moment.

The film unfolds in front of us, beautifully bright and with amazing sound, and I can’t stop smiling. It feels like sitting Christmas morning next to the twinkling tree surrounded by wrapping paper, warm coffee in my hand and the smell of freshly baking cinnamon rolls in the oven.

Yes, it feels that perfect.

To say I love the movie “Labyrinth” feels like saying I love my hands. It is a part of me in a way I find hard to explain or even separate from myself.

The story of Sarah, Jareth, Ludo and Hoggle has become as real to me as anything else. It feels more like memory than film. Like I can remember the time I fought my way to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that was stolen.

I can remember it happening to me as clearly as I can remember the time I crashed my tricycle riding it down the driveway with my best friend. I can feel the black eye and the scrapped elbow, and the hands grabbing me as I plunged into the darkness of the oubliette.

I have similar connections to “Goonies,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (the original of course), “Princess Bride” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol”.

All of these stories have attached themselves to me in some way and helped shape how I look at the world, myself and my place in it. I find, much like my connection to music, I use these particular films as markers in my life and ways to reconnect with parts of myself whenever I am feeling lost.

“Labyrinth” is the one I turn to the most. Thanks to the talented and beautiful David Bowie (whose death I am not ready to talk about), it works on a visual and musical level to bring me back when nothing else will.

When I was in the dense darkness of depression, there was an intensity about me which I now find hard to fully recall. There was this sense of impending death and destruction which I wore close to me and it clouded every interaction I had.

It was in this place, I really leaned on my childish love of the Goblin King to save me.

***

I’m parked in front of my children’s school sobbing in the backseat of my minivan. Again. I’m crying so hard I can barely breath.

I want to either run away or die. I feel everything I have become is wrong and there is no way out of the darkness.

The Goblin King is sitting in his castle, much older now. There are wrinkles around his eyes, but his gaze is still fierce and intense. He is alone, the goblins no longer under his control because of the choice Sarah/I made. He is wearing layers of white and grey clothes, the silver and gold amulet sitting on his slightly exposed chest, the afternoon light through the castle windows making it appear he is glowing.

He is waiting for me to decide to call upon him again, so he can offer me his gift.

“I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

In his left hand, he twirls three crystals slowly, a soft clinking sound filling the empty throne room and echoing off the vast stonewalls. In his right hand, he gazes into the crystal and watches me sob and clutch at my stomach.

He longs to wipe the tears from my face and save me.

“Say the words,” he whispers.

He sits on the edge of his seat now.

“Give everything up love. Surrender everything about yourself and I will take complete control. You won’t have to worry anymore.”

I sit up and consider giving myself to him. The words are on my tongue and I can feel his anticipation rising with mine.

Then the sounds of the playground break through and I’m dragged back.

No.

My children.

I want to be here struggling in the real world with my kids, my family, my friends and my problems. I can’t leave them. I can’t give myself to him.

I dry my own tears from my face and stare straight ahead.

I say the words loudly and clear.

“You have no power of me.”

By the time the kids get out of school, I’ve crawled out of the complete darkness and am partially back to myself. I’ve refuted the Goblin King’s offer again to take all my burdens from me and I carry them once again.

I can’t tell you how many times this story has played out in my head as I’ve cried.

Dozens?

Hundreds?

Whenever I’m in the place of utter despair, when I feel abandoned by God and love and everything good and decent in the world, I go there.

I picture him, my Goblin King, sitting there loving me, watching me and waiting for me.

It makes the darkness somehow more bearable and makes me feel special/separate/unique.

I’ve often judged myself harshly for these fantasies and told myself I need to grow up. Life doesn’t contain the magic you pretend it does.

But it does.

I’ve seen it.

My 11-year-old son running from across the playground at school to give me a hug and tell me he loves me, in front of his friends.

My daughter glowing with confidence and joy as she plays her keyboard in the early morning light, her hair looking like spun gold.

The smell of the pine trees after it rains as I walk inside the barn to a job with my best friend I can hardly believe is real.

Watching myself grow and become the person I’ve always wanted to be in ways I could not have predicted or imagined.

Is it really such a stretch to believe the Goblin King is watching me from his castle?

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, my kingdom is as great.

You have no power of me.”

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Last year I stumbled across this at the EMP Museum in Seattle. I may have cried.

Running toward the meadow: One definition of depression and anxiety

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Sometimes it is a small shuddering mouse, shaking in the darkness, afraid to come out for fear of death. It darts quickly around, hiding, sneaking, and trying desperately to be unseen. Twitching, sniffing and cowering, it is convinced danger is lurking behind everything and everyone. So it keeps to the shadowy, dark corners and doesn’t let anyone in.

Sometimes it is a hungry tiger, twisting primal urges forcing it to seek some kind of satisfaction. It lurks large, but not without stealth and a need to be sneaky and calculating. Forever unable to quench the desires deep inside, it hunts and roams with a desperation swelling with each passing second. Moments of boldness are followed by a deeper need to hoard away the spoils for fear they will be taken or lost.

Sometimes it is a black hole, feeding on the memories of past disappointments and the future failures lurking just ahead. Self-loathing bubbling always at the edges, it eats through everything else until there is only black and nothingness. It is a great expanse of darkness perfect for hiding in, safe from the colorful world of choices and chaos.

Dreams bring me images of running in a meadow that is free of gnawing animals and hidden dark holes waiting to swallow me. I can almost see the expanse of waving stalks blowing in the gentle breeze. I can almost smell the sweet lavender and honey-scented air filling my lungs. I can almost feel the soft wispy flowers brushing against my bare legs and the squishy earth beneath my toes.

Almost.

I read a bedtime story to my daughter and she puts her hand on my chest, feeling around and pressing into the skin. She finds comfort in the squishy warmth and her body relaxes preparing for rest and renewal. I kiss her. She embraces me and whispers her love into my ear. It floods me and takes me to the very edge of the meadow where I sit longingly and yearn.

I look at the stack of paper; the manuscript I finally wrote after years of letting the relentless pursuit of perfection slap me and kick me into the ditch of you can’t do it. When I let it go, the words spilled out in a tumble of excitement mixed with promise and joy. I giggled and typed until my neck ached and my family drew me back to them.

Yet pride and accomplishment are glued to qualifiers that I feel I must give you. Don’t think because I wrote all those words, they are something worth reading. The story is nothing remarkable, nothing amazing, nothing life changing for anyone but me. I feel you must know the fear of having my words read is almost greater than actually writing them.

You speak words of encouragement and love to me. I eat them. I crave them more than I should ever admit and even as I swallow them my focus is on all the words you didn’t say. The unspoken truths hidden just behind the door that I am certain I can hear knocking and rattling the handle.

The words ride on the backs of the beasts as they trample me down, sharp teeth tearing into my soft flesh and erasing the kindness you shared. I hear only what isn’t there and twist it into the perverted truth I insist on believing.

I long to have skin built tough and strong, an impenetrable fortress fortified with self-confidence and loving thoughts. Meditation. Affirmations. Love. It is never enough. My skin stays thin and fragile. A small look of disappointment, an intake of breath, an awkward moment of silence; all punch holes that fill quickly and relentlessly with emptying darkness.

Those of you who suffer like I do, we know the truth. We do not choose this path. We don’t consciously run away from the meadow and dive head first into the dark pit that surrounds us.

No.

We are driven there every single day by forces we can’t control and minds that betray the real us. The moat is deep and everywhere we turn it surrounds us. We can try to jump over it and sometimes we almost do.

Almost.

As I write these words I’m aware my attempt to convey my feelings falls short and might be taken as excessive and trying too hard. I’m so desperate to somehow find the right words to be profound and make you understand. I want it so badly.

If I can reach you then maybe you can reach me. Maybe if we both lean across and stretch our arms and fingers out we can connect and find a moment of solace and peace together.

I am scared and terrified at what you think of me. I feel the judgment before I even hit the publish button, yet some part of me knows I will do it. I will take the leap and let it fall where it may.

I keep doing hard things.

I keep crawling back out of the dark, even with the knowledge I will forever be pursued by it.

I keep running toward the meadow.

I just keep running.

I am not here to make you feel guilty

tableParent after parent walk to the table and say the same thing.

“I don’t have time to volunteer.”

They spit the words at me like I’m a viper about to attack them.

I smile and hand them a schedule of activities for the year. I offer them a cookie and a cup of coffee.

“If you had your meetings at night I would come, but I work during the day.”

They say this angry too and look at me like I’m trying to sell them a shitty used car.

I smile again and point out the activities we have planned for evenings. They look around agitated and I can see they want to bolt.

My very face seems to make them cringe inside.

I put the gold star on their registration card, the only reason they stopped at my table, and they move away.

I am their guilt personified. They can’t stand me.

I am just a mom who volunteers to coordinate things at the school. I didn’t want this role and I almost burst into tears.

Luckily, this isn’t all the parents. Some are excited to hear about the speakers, crafts and events we have planned for the school year. Others are just grateful.

But the glaring, agitated moms are the one’s that get to me. I turn to my co-chair.

“What can we do to make them not feel guilty,” I say. “I haven’t volunteered every year. This is just our turn.”

She doesn’t know.

I don’t either.

I go from being upset to angry. Stop pushing your guilt onto me. I am not the fucking bad guy. I’m not pushing my religion or trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner. I’m a mom at your school telling you about things you can be involved in. I’m giving you options, not obligations.

I am not to blame for the bad feelings you have. Those are all yours. Take them back.

I’m at the verge of losing it when a father walks up and talks to me. He doesn’t shrink away or spit angry excuses at me. He listens, gets his sticker and walks away with a cookie.

I know he won’t be able to attend meetings and so does he, but he isn’t an asshole about it. He doesn’t take my very presence as a personal affront to him. He doesn’t make excuses or make me feel bad. He takes the damn flyer and acts grateful that I brought snacks.

But I get it.

I have been on both ends of this exchange and I know what those moms are feeling.

When my depression was at its worst, walking up to the parent volunteer table felt like a punishment. Go talk to the ladies and tell them you suck, I would tell myself. Tell them you can barely get out of bed. Tell them they can’t count on you for anything.

All my self-hatred bubbled up and I didn’t want to even make eye contact.

I get it.

I just hate it.

I hate it for both of us.

I hate that you look at me and think I have my shit together, which I don’t by the way. I made those flyers last minute and I want to quit. I’m not as excited about the school year as I’m pretending to be, but somebody has be the cheerleader and it’s my turn.

I hate that you see me and it makes you feel all the bad things. All the lies you tell yourself about how inadequate and failing you are as a mother. It’s all so stupid.

So just stop it. Stop feeling bad about not doing enough. Stop punishing yourself and comparing. Stop thinking I am the bad guy.

Please.

Just take a cookie and smile.

You are fine.

The middle chapters are usually like this, aren’t they?

I tear open the candy bar wrapper and take a little bite. Just one bite I tell myself. Just enough to shove down the tears.

The most perfectly fit couple is getting into the car next to me. They have on workout gear and a bag of new golf balls. They are smiling and he opens the door for her. I think they kiss, but I look away before seeing it.

Shame and jealousy overwhelms me. My face burns as I sink down from the judgment I feel through the glass.

I wait until they drive away and then I eat the whole thing.

I don’t even taste it.

The tears come again.

Fuck.

I hear voices and dry my eyes. A woman is ushering a few kids into the van parked next to me. The exact same van as mine. Grey. Plain. Completely practical. The official vehicle of women like us. She makes eye contact with me and I know she sees the tears and the chocolate pooled in the corners of my mouth. She looks away.

I do too.

I keep having these epiphanies, but they fade. Like a dog being fooled by the same trick of throwing the ball, I keep running ahead just in case it was really thrown this time.

Next time I’ll get it.

This part of my life is boring. The monotony and responsibility of being an adult is such a huge letdown from the optimism and hope of youth.

If I am to believe Facebook, I’m alone in this feeling. Yet I know better. I know the truth.

All those memes about changing perspective and living in the moment aren’t just for my benefit. All those pictures of our kids that we post, the one’s where they are smiling and happy, aren’t just to make others think we are so great.

We are all trying to shift focus. Stay in the light. Find the good.

It’s not a lie.

Not really.

It’s just not the whole truth. It’s a version of the truth we all tell ourselves.

FullSizeRenderIt’s the middle of the story and not much is happening.

It’s the boring part of the book you skim, the endless paragraphs of bullshit self-reflection.

It’s the part when the main character wallows in self-pity until you want to punch her in the face and tell her to wake up.

Yeah. That’s where I am.

My story isn’t over.

I think about Abdi, this Somali refugee I heard about on This American Life. He won the U.S. visa lottery, but still had to go through some ridiculous shit to make his American dream come true. He had some real reasons to cry and shove sugar into his veins. Yet his is a story of endurance and patience.

I think about my mom. A few weeks ago, I hugged her goodbye and put her on a plane destined to meet the daughter she gave up for adoption before I was born. She has waited decades for this time, the pain never really going away, and now she got to hug her and look into her eyes and tell her all the things she’d whispered quietly to herself.

I think about waking up in a tent and having my two children climb into my sleeping bag with me to get warm. They giggle and jostle closer, elbows and knees and mangled hair and wet kisses. They love this broken-down woman they call mamma and don’t care she is extra squishy and cries quickly.

I think about this cashier at the grocery store by my home. She is always smiling. Always. Not the fake “can’t wait to get of her look” either. Real. Genuine. I ask her how she is and she always says, “Blessed, thank you.” She means it. It’s not bullshit. I’ve seen customers be rude and throw fits. She handles herself with grace and ease.

I think about this place I’m stuck in. This self-imposed crazy whirlpool spinning me around until I’m disorientated and I want to just sink down in defeat. Happy. Sad. Up. Down. Defeated. Motivated.

Here I am. Right here. I’m at the part of the story when the character has to decide to do something. The time has come for action.

My story isn’t over.

Dead rosebushes keep you busy

They had to go.

They were all dead and no amount of water would bring them back to life.

As I started pulling the first one apart, breaking off the dead limbs of the once beautiful rosebush, the tears came.

Stupid. Weak. Tears.

I was transported back to the very day it was planted. My boy was only a few months old and we had a wonderful gardener. He was a young veteran trying to find his way back into civilian life. His excitement about my yard was contagious and he was so hopeful and filled with joy.

I remember holding baby Cooper in my arms as I watched him dig the holes and plant the rosebushes around our tiny tree. Red. White. Red. White. Red. White. All in a circle.

A new baby. A new yard. A new start.

That was a long time ago.

The white bushes died years ago, a casualty of broken sprinklers and neglect. They have been waiting for me to do something, a nice visual symbol of regret and guilt right in the center of my front yard.

I decided this week it was time.

They had to go.

The first two bushes came up easy, but the third one decided to give me a fight. When pulling didn’t work, I resorted to kicking and shoving, sweating, crying, filling more and more with rage and sadness.

Give. Up. You. Stupid. Dead. Plant.

I finally cut the roots one at a time with hand clippers until it released its hold on the ground. Shaking, I threw it into the bucket and stood up.

It was done.

***

For over a month now, I’ve been burying myself deep.

I’ve taken on a multitude of new tasks/roles at my children’s school. I challenged myself to crochet an enormous number of shamrocks. I cleaned and organized every closet and cupboard in my house. I’m learning to watercolor paint and play ukulele.

Waking up each morning I make myself a list of things I need to get done. I check them off all day, but never get to the end. Every night I go to bed feeling upset that I didn’t do some task I set for myself.

I know it is crazy.

I see it.

I feel it.

I’m avoiding doing the things that I need to do like write, exercise and pray. Those things are hard and require me to face what I am avoiding.

So I keep moving and focusing on all the things I have to get done. I ignore the sadness that tugs at my sleeve by giving it jobs to do.

There is always something more to be done.

Then there are nights like tonight. My body is exhausted, yet sadness ripped me out of bed and is tormenting me. It repeatedly whispers its familiar tune.

You aren’t good enough.

Everyone thinks you’re a joke.

You’re such a big disappointment.

Today was a great day. I helped with my son’s dress rehearsal, had a delicious lunch with a friend as we brainstormed ideas for the next school year, cooked a healthy dinner for my family, watched my son’s class play and even had ice cream.

Yet tonight the sadness is big.

Glacier size actually.

I am longing for things that can’t be.

I am mourning my own weakness.

I am wallowing in my childish wish that I can make everyone happy.

No amount of tasks in the world will ever erase the way I feel. It is a hurt that is deep in my soul and all I can do is feel it when it comes and let it wash over me.

I can also write. I can turn to you and tell you that I am broken, yet I love you. I am weak, but I am still here. I don’t have much to offer, but I will give you what I have.

I will get up tomorrow and I might have to bury myself again to make it through, but it really is OK.

I am not alone and neither are you.