Sunday, September 25, 2016

Here comes the rain again

It's been a long time since I've written about depression, or about being someone with a diagnosis of depression.  When it's been so well managed for so long, it falls off the radar.  You take medication that works. You exercise regularly. You feel good.

Horrible things might happen - and they are horrible - but the shock and sadness don't feel like depression.  They feel like shock and sadness. In other words, like they're supposed to.

So when you have a monstrously shitty weekend, for reasons that don't even really matter, you're prepared to feel monstrously shitty. But you're not prepared to have it feel like depression used to feel.

Not prepared for the feeling of hopelessness. Of worthlessness. Of being unloved and unlovable. Of rejection and isolation. Betrayal. Confusion. Humiliation. Loneliness. One bad feeling engendering another, like a snowball.  

It's been so long since you've had those feelings, it knocks you on your ass. And wears you out. The exhaustion is overwhelming. Emotional exhaustion. Exhaustion from feeling like you're once again back on your heels and playing defense in a battle that you thought was over. Exhausted from feeling awful, and by the prospect of waking up tomorrow and continuing to feel like this.

All you want to do is go to sleep and not wake up for a long, long time.

Of course, that's not an option. There is work to do, employees to supervise, a house to maintain, children to raise. You know that you have to get up in the morning and attend to responsibilities.  And most likely, and with any luck, you'll wake up in the morning and things won't feel so grim. Everything will be OK.  A good night's sleep, and some perspective, can do that.

But right now, it sucks. It's astounding how much it sucks.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Who run the world? Girls. Who run this mother? Girls.

My darling, sweet, crazy Josephine,

My Josie, Josie-jo, JoJo, JoJo-Bean. Little Monkey. Sweet Pea.


Today you are seven years old.  It's crazy to think that it's been seven years since I checked myself into St. Joe's at the crack of dawn so that I could meet you a few hours later. Happy birthday to you. Happy birth day to me.

It's been amazing fun hanging out with you and watching you grow. Last year when I was writing your birthday post, you were just starting first grade and it was a little daunting for you. Though you like to ham it up and act like the life of the party, I could tell that being the youngest kid in the class at a time when so much of learning is developmental was hard. Other kids were getting comfortable with reading and you had fallen a little bit behind and sometimes it made you feel stupid.

Reading is one of those things that kids get when they get. One day it just clicks. I knew it would click for you eventually and that you'd be fine.  But seeing you struggle in the meantime was hard.

Of course, it did click for you and then you were off and running, getting a reading award for your class by the end of the year.  It was another opportunity to watch you go from "I'm stupid and I can't do anything" to "Mama, look how great I am" in the blink of an eye.

You continue to be this warm, friendly, outgoing social butterfly. On the first day of school, after being all anxious about whether anyone would like you or be happy to see you, as soon as we got to the playground you saw some of your girlfriends and the three of you immediately threw your arms around each other and started jumping up and down and squealing. When I'm dropping you off before school, I'll run into the parents of friends of yours and they all laugh about how funny and amazing you are. "We need to set up a play date! Snowflake never stops talking about how hilarious Josie is!"

You walk around cracking jokes and making funny faces and goofing off with people, young and old. You're affectionate and sweet and generous. You'll sit on my dad's lap and give him kisses and scruff up his hair and say, "Papa, you're so cute! I love you so much!"  When Lisa and her kids came to the Outer Banks with us, you adopted four-year-old India as your special charge, holding her hand in the water and snuggling with her during quiet time.

You have recently developed this urge to give people money. You're constantly sticking coins or dollar bills in your backpack because you want to give money to your teachers, or your friends, or to Mimi and Papa.  When a bunch of my India peeps were visiting and I was having a get-together at the house, you brought your piggy bank downstairs to give to my friend Rob - the image of him sitting in the living room chatting with people while holding your big ceramic Minions bank in his lap is one that cracks me up to think about.

Another new thing is that you have developed a, shall we say, interesting relationship with the truth. You seem to have no compunction at all about making up random shit when the mood strikes.  My favorite recent example involves your new second grade teacher. The first week of school you came home all excited to tell me that Mr. O is Australian.

"Really?" I asked. "That's so cool. You guys have that in common."

"Weeeell, he's not all the way Australian.  Just half, like me. I know he spent a bunch of time teaching and traveling there."

"You'll have to tell him about your trips there," I said.

That night I relayed this story to my mom.

"Do you think she's telling the truth?" she asked.

She knows you.

"I think so. It strikes me as a weirdly random and specific thing to make up," I answered.

A day or two later when I was dropping you off at school, I walked up to Mr. O to say hi.

"I hear you and Josie have Australian heritage in common," I said. "She told me you're part Australian and that you spent time there."

He gave me the blankest look imaginable.

"Noooo," he responded.

I looked down at you. "Girl, what's the deal?" I asked.

You smiled and shrugged.

Mr. O offered, "my father is from Nigeria."

He and I had a good laugh about it.

Your relationship with your brother continues to bring me great joy. The two of you are each other's best friend.  You look out for each other and play and giggle and conspire together.  And also fight.

The fights can get interesting.

The other night you and Zeke were arguing about something - the basis of the dispute was the inability of any of us to remember whose turn it was to sit next to me while watching a movie.

This is something that must be diligently tracked.  God forbid either of you should get one more moment of snuggle time with me than the other does.

I was exhausted and irritated by the entire argument, so I left the room and told the two of you to figure it out.  You and Zeke proceeded to scream furiously at each other at top volume.  It was so loud and awful-sounding that I half expected the police to knock on the door.

After five minutes, Zeke came and found me. He was crying.  I opened my arms and he crawled into them, despondent.

"What happened, honey?" I asked.

"Josie screamed at me that I have a terrible memory, and then she called me a fucking idiot," he sobbed.

Yikes. Damn, girl.

You came into the room a couple of minutes later, also crying and terribly upset.  I gathered you on the other side of me and the three of us sat there quietly for a minute.

"You guys need to make up," I said. "You need to get over this fight. Josie, you can't swear at Zeke and call him names like that.  You guys can't scream at each other like that.  Take a deep breath and let's calm down.  Can you do that?"

The answer was yes. You calmed down. You apologized to Zeke and gave him a hug.  We went into my room and snuggled up to watch Mythbusters (your favorite show).

I think seven is going to be an interesting year.

As ever, I consider it a great privilege and blessing to be your mother, and to usher you through childhood and into adulthood. You make me happy and proud. You're great company. You make me laugh and cry.

And you make me drink a little.  Let's be honest.

 Happy birthday, sweet baby girl. I love you to stars and back.


Monday, September 12, 2016

I climbed a mountain and turned around

I was out on Saturday, driving around, running errands, when I came over a rise and had this magnificent view of the Rockies. It was a clear, beautiful day - one of those days when I am struck, once again, by how amazing it is to live here.  And suddenly, I felt an overwhelming need to get out there and climb a mountain.

I carried that transformative hike up the Longs Peak trail with me to Emma's funeral. I started walking to work as a way to foster the healing process. Walking gave me a release and made me feel closer to her.

Last year, around the anniversary of her death, I climbed Mt. Quandary to scatter her ashes.

And I guess my brain has decided that I have to make it an annual thing - a hard climb as a way of honoring her by pushing my physical limits and celebrating the beauty of the world and of being alive. I felt compelled.

So I called my friend Christin, my hiking buddy on Longs and Quandary, and someone who I really love hanging out with. She was game, so we agreed to meet at the crack of dawn and climb Mt. Bierstadt.

As soon as we solidified the plan I had this sense of dread. Fourteeners are so hard for me. Above 12,000 feet, I really feel the altitude and it's a struggle.  Quandary was an emotional hike and I'm glad I did it, but it also kicked my ass physically.

"It's going to suck," I thought to myself. "It's going to be hard and grueling and I'm going to feel like shit. I'm out of shape from being sick so long and I'm still coughing sporadically and it's going to suck."

But I couldn't back out. I had to do it.

I stopped on the way home from errands and bought new hiking poles. I went to the grocery store and loaded up on snacks. I went home and made sandwiches and laid out my clothes. I packed my backpack and threw in my inhaler (that my doctor had prescribed for the coughing fits) just in case. I went to the app store and downloaded an altimeter onto my phone, so we could track our altitude. On Christin's advice, I threw in a parka, hat and gloves, because it's been chilly up in the mountains. I tied my green Red Sox baseball hat to my pack - Emma was a Sox fan and I'd worn that hat on all my other big climbs.

The entire time I was thinking, "ugh, why am I doing this?"

That thought stayed with me after a shitty night's sleep, and after waking up at 4:30, and as I drove out in the dark to meet Christin at our designated meeting place. We had a laugh because she had a shitty night's sleep as well, and we were both thinking about how we were going to be tired and it was going to suck.

But we got to chatting and perked up as we drove up to the trailhead. The sun came out and the view was beautiful and we were happy to be out there once we started.

At the trailhead. Christin was right - it was chilly.  And as soon as I saw this picture I ordered new long hiking pants - those capris look ridiculous.
The sun comes up behind the mountains.
My sense of dread turned out to be unfounded - the hike was spectacular, perhaps only second to the Longs hike that was so perfect. The setting is gorgeous - lots of greens and golds, beautiful vistas all the way up, and some truly phenomenal clouds.  It was cold and windy and overcast on the way up, but we were prepared and it wasn't unpleasant at all.

Heading up the trail through the willows. Those clouds, tho...
that jagged peak behind us is called the Sawtooth. Behind it is the summit of Mt. Evans, which I climbed three years ago (it was my first fourteener).  The Bierstadt summit 
is out of the picture, to the right.
There were a lot of people doing the climb that day. That's the view 
behind us as we were climbing up. 
The view down the mountain from about 13,500 feet.  Check out the nuns in full habits. They were impressive climbers - they passed us on the way up and on the way down.
The view up towards the summit from 13,500.  It looked so daunting, 
but it was only another 500 vertical. 
The climb was challenging, but it felt much less grueling than last year's. I think it's because Quandary is more of a steady uphill climb up the ridge line, so it feels endless and kind of boring.  Bierstadt has more switchbacks, so you'll have a really steep pitch and then it will level out a bit and you can catch your breath.

The last 200 feet are actually kind of fun - rather than straight hiking there's a lot of boulder climbing, which Christin and I really enjoyed.

And then we were there and it was exhilarating. The views were breathtaking, and right when we reached the top, the wind died down, the clouds parted, and the sun came out.

The crowd at the summit.
I love this shot. This guy sitting with his feet hanging down, with the incredible view of the mountains and valleys in the background, is quintessential Colorado.

We hung out at the summit for about 20 minutes. I ate my PB&J. We talked about Emma a little bit and I teared up, but mostly I felt this sense of elation, almost like doing the climb in Emma's honor and having it go well was kismet (even though I don't believe in that sort of thing). What I thought would be a painful act of mourning felt more like a celebration, and one that Christin and I decided we would do every year.

As we had done on the way up, we talked the entire way down - an analysis of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the ethical dilemmas of putting an infirm pet to sleep vs. pulling the plug on a human who was ready to die, the most cringe-worthy antics we got up to in college, the importance of access to quality reproductive health for women, the uncomfortable dynamics of having to fire an employee, and on and on. As we were descending, the nuns hauled ass past us as they recited "hail Mary, full of grace..." We laughed, and maybe rolled our eyes a little.

By the time we were at the bottom, it was warm and sunny and we had shed our winter gear.

Before heading to our respective homes, we stopped in Idaho Springs for celebratory beer and nachos. The beer was the tastiest beer ever brewed. The nachos were the most perfect nachos ever assembled. And after another perfect hike, we planted the seeds for next year's celebration.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Into these last nine beers, I have cried a million tears

It has been two years.

So much has changed. Life proceeds apace - children get older, we pursue happiness and lightness and love.  Even so, tragedy has continued to strike in surreal, unfathomable ways. But Emma's death is the epicenter of it, with waves and tremors flowing from that one horrible, heart-breaking event.

Grief is such a bizarre, fluid thing.  It doesn't proceed in a measured, predictable way. On a graph it wouldn't be a straight line, ebbing with the passage time. It comes in waves with the unpredictability of a tsunami triggered by unseen forces at the bottom of the ocean.  Some of the roughest edges of the initial shock and trauma wear off, but the feeling of loss never goes away. It just becomes more familiar.

Obviously, the "milestones" are difficult - the anniversary, her birthday. Other times as well - I recently saw a Facebook post by the UVA alumni association welcoming students back to school, and I started thinking about the fact that she would be 19 now and a sophomore in college.  I sometimes feel like she lives on in my head and I follow her imagined progression through life.

It's a miserably poor substitute for celebrating the real thing, but better than nothing, I guess.

This is one of my favorite pictures of the two of us.  We were in the Outer Banks on our annual beach trip. I think she was two, and she was this delightful, hilarious, bubbly little girl. I don't remember what we were talking about as we played with Play-doh, but I love the conspiratorial looks on our faces, like we were up to something that no one else was in on. I have this picture in a frame in my room and it makes me smile every time I look at it.

My brother continues to be a model of grace and strength. Tonight he and some of his friends will gather at his house and hang out around a fire in front of Emma's tree in their back yard.  He's referring to it as a "tears and beers" event, which I love.

I will try to celebrate her life similarly. I've shed tears, I've looked at pictures of her and smiled and cried, and tonight I will raise a glass to her memory, which lives on in my family, and always will.