Hormone Crazy

Hello my dear friends. Thanks for being so patient with me during my unexpected hiatus. And thank you ever so much to those of you who emailed to check up on me. You folks are good people and the world is better because of you. Thank you for your kindness to a lady from the internet.

I’ve gotten walloped by a bunch of bad things in a row and I just plain reached the end of my resources. The final straw was starting this new course of medication. It’s not new to me, this is my third round of Lupron and it’s been a miracle drug for me every time, but this time around is totally different. Lupron often comes with some pretty gnarly side effects, and until now I’ve been lucky enough to largely avoid them. But this time? Holy crap. My brain has been snatched and replaced with that of a 12 year old girl. It is marinating in hormones so powerful that I cry because I’m lonely when my family is in the room, I cry because I love them so much, and then I cry again because I miss Atti when he’s asleep. I cry because it’s raining, I rage because I have a food craving I can’t satisfy, I laugh hysterically at how ridiculous I am, and then I cry at how ridiculous I am. I’m weak and lightheaded with hot flashes that keep me up all night and then fatigue that nails me to the couch all day.

These three weeks were exactly what I needed – the permission to just deal with what I need to deal with and to disappear for a while. I’m not yet over the worst of it – I get a shot every month and I’m hoping that the second shot will bring me a little equilibrium – so I’m still going to have to take things a little easier than I used to, but at least I’m rested now and not at such a low emotional ebb. And who knows, maybe at the end of all this I’ll not only be healthy, but manage to get a little baby out of it all too.


Welcome Back Endometriosis. You weren’t missed.

I’ve had to come to a tough realization over the last couple of weeks: The endo is back.

It never truly goes away. Whenever I finish a course of the drugs that put me through menopause I start right back up with the slow growth process. Eventually I have to admit that midol won’t get me through my period. And then slowly I’ll go from having one bad pain day to having a bad pain week when I’m on my period. And then eventually I’ll have pain around the time of ovulation. And now I have to admit that I’m having pain every day.

This really blows.

Aside from the obvious, pain hurts and that sucks, it’s hard to manage my life when I have to be on serious pain killers. Right now I have to wake up and rush through any work that requires my faculties. Any writing, any thinking, any interviews or public speaking, I have to do it all while gritting my teeth until I have to cry uncle and go take the drugs. And then I have to deal with all the guilt and shame that comes along with chronic illness – feeling like a waste of space, feeling guilty for being a burden, feeling intense intense shame over being stoned in front of Atticus and not present for him. Every day I have to decide, do I want to be in pain? Or do I want to be functional? Which is a higher priority? And because a mom taking prescription drugs is such a ridiculous cliche, I try as hard as I can to never let people see me medicated. I’ll talk about it publicly on my own terms, but I don’t ever want a teacher or bus driver to see me altered. And I obviously never drive on medication – duh – which puts another crimp in my life management plans. No trips to Target for diapers or to the grocery store when the fridge is empty.

But what I’m really struggling with right now is the fear. I’m afraid it will get as bad as it was in my 20’s when I was completely disabled. Back when I first started blogging because I was on pain medication every minute I was awake and I could go weeks without talking to a human besides Bear. I lost a decade already to this disease, it’s terrifying to contemplate going back there.

Of course, this time I actually have health insurance. I have a doctor who doesn’t think I’m crazy or that periods are supposed to hurt. I have a treatment plan in place and I just have to wait until the medicine is available at the right time in my cycle. It shouldn’t be much longer before I’m complaining about hot flashes and food cravings again.

But for today, I’m mourning. I’m mourning my own limitations, I’m mourning the pain I feel and all the emotions that come with that, and I’m mourning that I can’t be the kind of mom I want to be. I guess the good thing is that in just a little while the pain medication will kick in and I’ll find it all hilarious.


How to cope with suicide

Atticus looking at the light

Someone close to us killed himself two weeks ago, and we spent the end of last week traveling down and attending the funeral. It is tragic and heartbreaking, but out of respect for the family I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, I want to talk about how to cope in the aftermath.

As someone who struggles openly with mental illness, I want to speak for those who commit suicide.

There have been times in my life with the threat of suicide was very very real. Times when I had a plan and the only thing that kept me from enacting it was people who helped me when I reached out to them. So I feel like I can speak from experience when I say: no one does this because they’re thinking rationally. Teenagers have their own unique dilemmas that threaten suicide, but if we’re talking adults? They do this because the disease they are living with – depression, bipolar disorder, addiction – has overcome them. It’s the disease that ends their life. Suicide was just the form it took.

That distinction is crucial in every way. When we process a loss, we all go through the anger stage. This is a normal and healthy part of processing our grief and isn’t something to be avoided. But when it’s suicide that complicates that loss, the anger stage contains a specific component that blames the loved one. We talk about the person “giving up” or say they “couldn’t cope.” That they’ve abandoned their family or sneer that suicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Well, sometimes that problem is temporary – the problems that often affect teen suicides can be temporary – but sometimes it isn’t. Mental illness and addiction are not temporary. And if someone dies from suicide after a struggle with a permanent problem like that, it’s not because they couldn’t cope. It’s because the treatment failed.

If someone had cancer, and they had good care from doctors and fought through chemotherapy and they still died, we would never say it was because they couldn’t cope or lament that they weren’t stronger or criticize them for being selfish. We would say the treatment failed. That despite every effort the cancer did not respond to chemotherapy and it took their life. That’s how we need to treat mental illness and addiction. (I keep saying mental illness and addiction because I want to pay special attention to addiction. It is, in fact, a mental illness and should be taken every bit as seriously.)

I am extremely lucky because in a nation where it is far from the norm, I have had access to mental health care including prescription medications. And I’m lucky again because the medications work, and I am absolutely diligent about staying healthy with the help of supportive family and friends. Not everyone has that string of luck.

We have no real treatment for addiction. There is no medical treatment, there is no cure. We have some excellent therapeutic tools, but we have no way to change brain chemistry or structure in a way that consistently and reliably counteracts addiction. Which means that every person you know who is sober and living with addiction is performing a mind over matter feat of strength that should humble us to our core. Unless we can use our mind to lower our cholesterol or blood pressure, how dare we judge an addict whose disease ends their life?

Blaming a victim of suicide for being weak reinforces the stigma surrounding mental health and feeds into the diseased mind that tells us the world would be better off without us, that we’re too much of a burden on our loved ones, that we shouldn’t reach out for help, that we’re not capable of coping.

But it also is a tragedy for the people left behind.

Your loved ones didn’t commit suicide because you didn’t love them enough. They didn’t commit suicide because they didn’t love *you* enough. They didn’t do it because you enforced boundaries or consequences or to teach you a lesson. They did it because the disease overwhelmed them and the treatment failed.

No other cause of death has us feeling so guilty. We wouldn’t tell ourselves that if we had put up with the cancer better than our loved ones would have survived. If only they loved us more they wouldn’t have been overcome by the tumors. If we had loved them better than they never would have gotten cancer in the first place. All of those thoughts are absurd, but when you replace cancer with addiction, they are commonplace.

Mental illness is a disease. Addiction is a disease. And losing someone to it is tragic, but it does not make them, or us, weak. All we can do is rest in the knowledge that their fight is over and try to leave room in our hearts for the knowledge that whatever length of time they managed to fight this disease was heroic.


Growing up is breaking my heart

Atti's growing up

Whenever we stay at Grandma’s house, we all sleep in one big bed. It’s a luxury I treasure since we don’t do it at home – early mornings and places to get mean we actually need sleep, which we can never count on when Atti’s in the bed. This most recent trip I went down with Atti by myself while Bear stayed behind to work, so I had a big queen bed to myself and a snuggly little guy. It was heaven.

I snuck into bed after he had been asleep for a few hours and turned on the lamp so I could get in some hard-won reading time. In the lamplight I curled over to cuddle up to my boy, took one look at him slumbering there, and my heart snapped in half.

When he’s sleeping Atti looks so little to me. I can always see the baby still lingering around the edges. But with his mouth open wide enough for me to see the gaps in his teeth – gaps from his jaw and mouth getting too big for his little baby teeth – I felt that baby disappear forever.

Atti will be six this week. Six.

Every birthday has me feeling maudlin and sentimental, but this one is getting to be a bit much. He got his haircut and I cried. He wears jeans and t-shirts and looks like a big kid and I cry. He brings home school work and notes from his teacher and I cry. No mom is ever ‘ready’ for their baby to grow up, but right now? I’m taking it especially hard.

I think it’s the infertility. Each year that goes by without a sibling for him feels like I’m further and further out on that tail of statistical improbability. Each year older makes it harder, and less likely, that I’ll ever get to have another baby. I have to not only accept the fact that my baby is growing up, I have to try and face that this might be my only shot at motherhood.

Before I had Atti I always tried to hold a place in my heart for people suffering through secondary infertility, but it was always an exercise in radical empathy. Deep deep down, I really believed they didn’t have a right to ache like I did. They got to be a mom. They shouldn’t be greedy. But now I know so so so much better. For one thing, I know that pain is not relative, and anyone who tries to rank “appropriate” pain is just a jerk. But I also know what happens to your heart when you open it up enough to be a mom. I feel like this raw pulsing organ, running around with arms outstretched begging for someone to let me love them. I feel like I have no defenses. Like my vulnerability is wandering unsupervised through the world and I can never again pretend to be hard and closed off and impenetrable. My achilles heel is riding around on wheels and pushing his hair out of his eyes.

As hard as it was to not be a mom, and it was so so hard, it’s also, and a different kind of hard, to not get to be the kind of mom you want to be. Either way I had my coping devices. Pre-parenthood it was pursuing careers and education, taking advantage of my freedom, closing myself off to the world of babies and kids and putting all my attention on the adult world. Now it is wrapping myself up in my sweet little guy, getting kisses from him even if it means I have to trick him into playing a game where he gets to smash his face into my lips. I see now that there’s really no comparing the two. Being a mom of one doesn’t erase the pain of infertility, even as you enjoy every moment of it. Just like being independent and having opportunity doesn’t erase the pain of not having children, even as you enjoy every moment of that. It’s hard and it’s great. Full of silver linings and wonderful joys and also full of sorrow. It’s both at the same time.

No matter what the circumstances surrounding it are, it is always heartbreaking to want to love and not have an opportunity to give it.

I’ll be celebrating Atti’s birthday with him later this week, but today I’m grieving. Every bit of independence our kids achieve is us mom’s putting ourselves more and more out of a job. That’s tough for all of us. But it feels especially bitter and only a little sweet to me today. I love being a mom more than anything else. I want another chance.


Mental Illness at Christmas time

Christmas Takedown
The holidays are a tough time to have wonky brain chemistry. The few hours of daylight, the pressure to be happy happy happy, the family get togethers that often remind you of how screwed up things are, it all gets to be too much for a depressed brain to deal with.

My brain is a complicated mix of brain chemistry and conditioned behaviors and the way things work together is sometimes awesome, and sometimes decidedly not. Since I have both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder, sometimes those things combine like the Wonder Twins and I get creativity, energy, and focus. Other times I can’t pick up the phone or leave my house.

During Christmas time I tend to be more manic than anything else, and I think that’s mostly because of this blog right here and the big plans I commit myself to every year. Mania can be provoked by creating the right conditions, and for me that’s stress, deadlines, and a lot of work. So right up until Christmas Day I’m humming along, fingers flying, making and making and making and not bothered in the least by the sun going down at 4 o’clock.

It’s right after Christmas Day, when the work stops, when most people are relaxing with their families and taking time off, that I start the slide down to the depressed pole. And typically I stay there throughout most of winter. Looking through the archives, you’ll never find the New Year greeted with the ferociousness of Christmas. I often don’t even get my New Year’s projects up until February, because it takes that long to navigate through the molasses of depression that closes in as the last of the wrapping paper is thrown away.

This year we were slow to end Christmas. One cold, and then another cold on top of that cold, and then the stomach flu, meant that we were not exactly on top of our game. I think I finally have to admit that my Christmas cards are not going out this year, despite paying for a photo shoot and getting my favorite picture ever, because on top of the epic string of sickness I also had my local Costco lose my print order not once, but twice. I was not letting go this year, hoping that it wasn’t too late to get those out, and then just yesterday I finally had to face facts. The cards weren’t getting out, my house needed to be cleaned, and it was time to face the New Year.

But of course, going so big for Christmas means that it’s a big process to take it down. And this is where the OCD became a real problem. Boxes stacked up everywhere, pine needles and glitter on every surface, a huge pile of dried sap on my wood floors, trying to keep Atti away from stacks of boxes threatening to crush him, and the chaos – the total swirling chaos. Last night when it became clear we were not going to get Christmas cleaned up before it was time for bed I had an honest to goodness panic attack. Not a “Oh dear, I’m finding this stressful!” moment. A hyperventilating, weeping, clutching at my heart, panic attack at the thought of having that chaos in my house while I slept.

But I’m not new at this. I did what I’ve come to think of as “working the program.” (Which is recovery speak for any of you friends who aren’t Anonymous :wink wink:) I took my medication, I spent some time meditating on the scripts I want running through my head, I exercised some self-care. So I think in this sordid tale of mental illness, this is what I’d like to tell my friends walking this road with me. I got through it. I did sleep. I got up this morning and I got to work and I did it. I’m typing this in a clean house, with a clean and orderly garage full of decorations waiting for next year’s celebration of abundance. I’ve got a list of New Year’s plans on a notepad next to me and I’m looking out my window at my giant dog basking in the winter sunshine.

In the midst of the suffering, it’s hard to think anything will ever be OK again. But it will be. We can do this. These are the hard months, but they’re not impossible. Batten down the hatches, commit to health, and let’s get through this together.

Christmas Card 2013

New Year Card 2013


Harvest Festival

Farm Portrait
Despite the fact that Bear and I are still just barely coming out of our ‘indoor kid’ cocoons, somebody at church thought it would be a great idea to put us in charge of the ward Harvest Festival. The intention was great – shake things up, get us new folks involved – but the logistics of it all proved to be a nightmare. On top of our pretty ludicrously busy lives, Bear has been getting up at 5:30 to teach early morning seminary to the teenagers, I’ve been planning the monthly Relief Society activity, and then we had this Harvest Festival. I’ve been averaging about one weepy breakdown a day. But we did it, our team did it, and it was a huge success.

Pie Eating Contest
When we were first presented with the opportunity to plan this event, we thought we were planning a chili cookoff. Ho Ho Ho Ho were we wrong. This thing is SERIOUS. People treat this Harvest Festival like the event of the year. Everyone had stories of their favorite game or tradition, the year that they ran out of food, the year the kids got into the orchard and picked all the fruit, the year it rained, and everybody had an opinion about what HAD to happen to make it a real Green Valley Ward Harvest Festival. It was all a tad overwhelming.

Chubby Bunny
Complicating the matters was the fact that since we’ve only been in the congregation since April, and have pretty heavy travel schedules and even heavier bouts of illness, we still don’t know many people. We kept hearing, “Oh, soandso knows all about that. You gotta talk to soandso.” And, of course, we’d never met soandso. We were tossed right out of our comfort zone and into the thick of the ward happenings.

Sister Missionaries caught the chicken
By far, the favorite and most eagerly awaited event was the chicken rodeo. We all stood in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, to make an arena, and then a few people at a time were called out into the center to capture a chicken set free to run. It was hilarious, especially watching the littlest kids get into it. No, I take it back. Especially watching the biggest kids get into it. The sister missionaries in particular tucked their skirts up and got down.

Smith Family Chicken Chasers
The big surprise of the chicken rodeo was our dear friends the Smith’s. Their family caught every chicken they went out for. You know those reality shows about people who hunt feral hogs? If feral chickens ever become a problem, I think the Smith family has a new career.

Daddy pulling the wagon
The party was held at the home of one of the ward members, and the property was stunning. There was a barn with a full sized water wheel, a teepee set up for story time, a hay maze with a slide for an exit, and the most incredible view. Bear spent most of the evening running around doing hosting duties, so I dragged Atti in his little orange wagon all over creation. He has gotten really into farm life lately and all he wanted to do was pet the goats, eat popcorn, and watch the chickens in their coop while he said, “Wow! Look!” By the end of the night he was exhausted from too much sugar and excitement and I was exhausted from hiking all over the place dragging a wagon behind me. I needed a pack mule.

Antique Desk
If I had realized what I was getting myself into, I never would have agreed to take it on. And heaven knows I could have done without all the stress. (My house, you guys. It is currently so dirty that I’m not sure it’s safe to live here.) But! There was no getting out of this event without becoming a full on part of the ward. We are the new kids no longer. We had to get over our reticence, make phone calls, hold meetings, ask for help, accept the help, ask for more help, make announcements and jump into the traditions of this area with both feet. We have new friendships forged in the trenches of planning big things, and the gratitude of good people. A few years from now when some other poor sod gets this job they’ll be told about the year the kids picked all the fruit from the orchard, the year they ran out of food, the year it rained, and the year the Edmunds’ thought they were planning a chili cookoff.


Time for new tactics

This picture doesn’t have much to do with anything, but it cracks me up.

I have been sick for three weeks. Just a stupid run of the mill cold, but it won’t leave me alone. Atti got it and it flattened him, but only for about two days. This brave little kid of mine, the kid who is up and playing the same day he has surgery, the kid who is in pain every day and never says anything about it, asked to stay home from school and snuggle and then coughed and said, “Atti’s so sick.”

So it was a doozy of a cold, but it was just a cold. Atti was down for two days and Bear had it for about a day and a half and then they both resumed their normal activities with a little bit of a stuffy nose and an occasional cough. Meanwhile I cannot get out of bed and am sleeping about 18 hours a day.

This is nothing new. I have a whole life plagued by chronic illness and mysterious symptoms. I’ve run every test, had sympathetic and non-sympathetic doctors, supplements and therapy, and I’m still here flattened by every virus that crosses my path. My last sympathetic doctor, after exhausting his expertise, suggested that I probably had some kind of an auto-immune disorder that we weren’t aware of yet. He said that the field of rheumatology was in its infancy and that ten years ago nobody knew what fibromyalgia was. I think he’s probably right, but it doesn’t do much for me in the meantime.

As a sufferer of both chronic illness and infertility, I am a prime target for everybody’s miracle cure. If I had a nickle for every suggestion I’ve heard about how to change my diet, things to eliminate, things to add, oils to swallow, blah blah blah I might still be suffering but at least I’d be rich. I tend to treat these suggestions with suspicion. In my lifetime eggs and butter went from being viewed as poison to being viewed as the best thing to eat. And if you’re a history buff you’ll read all kinds of crazy things people used to believe. (Every wonder where graham crackers or corn flakes came from?) (Or that people actually used to think that water was fattening. Seriously. Water.) Nobody really knows what works or else they’d be billionaires. I just never had the faith that any diet change would cure me, and never had the energy to devote to it.

But. I’ve been reading a lot about gluten sensitivities and I have every symptom on the list. I have friends with legitimate celiac disease, like, crackers could kill her kind of thing, and so I’ve been annoyed by people adopting it as the latest diet fad when I know people whose lives are significantly endangered by something that the rest of us are all playing at. To me it’s like somebody saying, “Oh my gosh I totally have a sugar sensitivity” when there are actual diabetics in the world.

But hey, jerks exist in every population, so if that’s my only reason for turning my nose up at something, it’s not a very good one. And while having a sugar sensitivity isn’t really a thing, eating a lot of sugar can have detrimental health effects, so why not the same thing with gluten?

So I’ve decided that I’m going to experiment with this whole gluten free thing. But the main way I’m going to do this is by making as much of my food from scratch as I can. I can’t imagine a life without bread if I don’t have to, but if I’m going to have to pay a health price for eating it it better be worth it. No more boxes of cheese-its in lieu of lunch. I’m going to try and eat something fresh and then cash in my gluten points on one of Bear’s cakes instead.

Whether it’s gluten or high fructose corn syrup or some other mystery substance that the bastards at Monsanto are slipping into our food, it doesn’t really matter. Eating from scratch can only be good for me. This is one diet change that I feel can be worth the effort.

You're kidding me!
Apparently I could not believe what my friend was saying.


Hope in Healing

Brittany's Hope
Brittany wants to dance again. Read the note at the bottom to find out how you can help.

I spent yesterday and today at doctor’s offices, not for Atticus for once, but for me. I tend to get neglected when there are already so many other appointments to make and places to be and there are so few hours available without Atti at my side. I’ll be helping him bathe and toilet for a lot longer than most kids, we’re close enough without him coming with me to the gynecologist.

Moving means finding a new doctor, and switching insurances means learning a whole new set of ropes. I’ve had Kaiser for my whole adult life which is great in that you don’t have to search for people who can help you, but it’s also bad because you can’t search for people who can help you. Kaiser was top notch for Atti’s care and I’d go back without a qualm if it ended up that way, but I had a lot of bad bad years trying to get my own medical needs addressed. Doctor’s who told me that I was crazy, that wouldn’t prescribe me pain medication until I saw a psychiatrist, that performed surgeries incorrectly, that told me to read The Secret. (I also had doctors who saved my life, saved Atti’s life, and gave me the keys to understanding how my mind works, so this is more a bash on bad doctors than Kaiser doctors, but with Kaiser the options are far far fewer.)

Honestly, I’ve pretty much given up hope about ever feeling healthy. On top of the endometriosis there are a couple of other issues that I haven’t written about because they involve my gynecological health and even I have my limits. I will write about the inner workings of my diseased mind, but apparently not the inner workings of my diseased vagina. Except for that sentence right there.

Doctor’s rarely take female pain seriously, they almost never take gynecological pain seriously, and they very very very rarely consider something that lab tests don’t show. I have every single symptom and risk factor for a major auto-immune disease like Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus, but the one test most doctors put all their faith in says I’m good, so the doctors keep treating all the different symptoms and tell me that there’s nothing wrong. After losing my twenties to being bed-ridden and in pain, I figure that I’m just not going to get everything I want and I should be grateful that I at least have the ability to function and a beautiful son. A healthy body and feeling great are just not going to be in the cards for me, and I had resigned myself to that.

Yesterday I went to the doctor for a nagging hip pain. Every time I try to stand up the hip goes out on me in such a sharp pain it takes my breath away. I hunch over and groan my way up from the couch every time I have to move. After a little manipulation, the doctor discovered that it’s not my hip that’s the problem, it’s my ligament. A ligament that is usually only pulled in dancers or gymnasts, and since I am neither of those things and can’t point to a specific injury, say, some time I was playing soccer and took a hit, then it means I injured it during sex. At which point I laughed and laughed and laughed, because, of course.

Since it’s not torn and doesn’t require surgery, there’s nothing to do but baby this hip until it heals. That’s where most doctors would tell me to have a nice day. But this doctor actually kept asking questions. Since I’m not into anything in the bedroom that regularly results in injury, he suspected there were other health issues going on, and kept researching until he came up with a plan. I was honestly shocked. He asked me if I had ever tried medications that every other doctor I’ve ever had flat out refused to prescribe as a matter of course, not because the medications wouldn’t help me but because the doctors didn’t want to deal with the red tape of prescribing tightly regulated drugs. They treated me as if I was an addict looking to score instead of a patient wanting to responsibly use the medication as it was intended to be used. My new doctor automatically extended me the benefit of the doubt.

Giving a medical history is always a scary thing to me. On paper, I am a mess. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar II Disease, Endometriosis. For doctors that spells: Trouble. That says “pain in the neck hypochondriac attention seeker time and energy vampire.” Most doctors want something they know how to fix, not a big mystery of mental health issues and chronic pain. So they look at my medical history and put me in a box in their head labeled “Can’t Be Trusted.” I told my new doctor about my mental health and cringed as he typed it in, waiting for his voice to change to the “speaking slowly and calmly” voice people use around the crazy and the elderly. But he didn’t even slow down. He told me about another patient he treated with OCD and how he recognized it as a truly debilitating disease. He expressed concern with my current medications and how they would affect my BPII and we talked about my love of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. He studied Ayurvedic medicine and is a believer in a mind/body connection, but not in the fanciful “Just read The Secret” way, in the “Mental Health is a significant and real part of Physical Health” way, and so he took all my history in stride, unthreatened.

I left with some bummer news I hadn’t wanted to address, but also, with a strange feeling of hope. I realized how thoroughly I had given up on finding help, but I think I may have actually found some.

**My friend Brittany is another chronic pain sufferer and needs help rediscovering her own sense of hope. After years of battling lyme disease and having it ravage her body, rob her of her health, and defer her dancing dreams, she is finally beginning to experience treatment that works. But she needs your help. BrittanysHope.net**


Personal Best

I am awesome
Growing up poor has left quite a number of marks on me. My love of thrifting, my make do attitude, the fact that any form of canned beef still makes me gag, and a paralyzing fear of having people know we’re poor. To be specific, my parents weren’t poor, I was. Which really complicated things. I didn’t qualify for any programs like school lunch or other assistance, and I didn’t want people to know that I couldn’t have things just because my parents wouldn’t – not couldn’t – pay for them, so I made up a ton of thin excuses about how unhungry I was, or how the field trip seemed lame, or how I never really wanted to participate in sports.

I still visibly cringe when I think about the time when I was in seventh grade and I missed the Girl’s Ensemble competition. I was in an elite choral group that had worked hard and prepared for a competition, that I knew my parents would neither support nor attend. So I just didn’t show. And then got in ENORMOUS trouble for it. All the other girls were mad at me, they compared notes to find out my excuses contradicted each other and just thought I was a huge liar, the teacher told me how disappointed she was in me, and I ended up leaving the group over the grief I got. But hey, no one knew my parents were neglectful abusers, so…mission accomplished?

When I left home at 16 things really got financially precarious and I was regularly juggling late fees and shut off dates. In college I was used to having $5 in my bank account and feeling flush. The rest of the time I was walking down to the bank and begging them to reverse bounced check charges so I had a prayer of digging myself out of the hole I’d made.

Things haven’t been that bad in a really long time. As married adults we’ve always lived paycheck to paycheck, but the paychecks actually meet, which to me feels like total luxury. Bear has a harder time with it. He doesn’t know how to be poor, so just the fact that there is a finite amount of money stresses him out. Poor thing. Abundance crippled him.

Still, after all those years of being poor, and the shame associated with why, I have a residual fear that I can’t seem to shake. Every time I use my card I find myself holding my breath and waiting to see if it gets accepted. It doesn’t matter how much is in the account or how close it is to payday, whenever I’m standing at a register, I’m saying a little prayer.

Nobody feels good when their card gets declined, it’s on nobody’s list of things that happen on a good day, but it crosses over into the irrational for me. I’ve worked retail. I know people’s cards get declined constantly, for a million different reasons, only one of which has anything to do with how much money is in the account. Still, even when the reader isn’t working and I just have to swipe my card a second time, the shame of my childhood comes flooding back to me and I want to turn into vapor and waft out the door.

This week I was shopping for outdoor cushions, trying to get an end of season deal, so I went to WalMart.com. But my card wouldn’t work. It told me to go into the store, so I assumed the problem was on their end. I went into the store to try and pay for my online purchase, which none of the cashiers seemed to know how to do. After waiting in line and calling the manager over to ring it up, my debit card is declined. I try to use it as credit. Still declined. We’ve been trying to get rid of our credit card debt so that card that has been declined is the only form of payment I have on me. I have to wait there, holding up the line full of people staring daggers into my back, waiting for the manager to come back and void it so that it doesn’t mess up my order.

I call my bank to find out what happened and it turned that a local grocery store had a database breach. So they warned my bank and they were keeping an eye on the card. From there all it took was an attempt at a purchase on WalMart.com for them to flag the fraud alert.

We got everything straightened out, I waited in line again, the manager had to come over again, my card actually went through, and everything seemed OK. The nice lady at the bank said that she’d send new cards out just to be safe and apologized for the inconvenience, and despite my desperate wishes, I was not struck dead.

Then yesterday I went to my favorite thrift store for their 50% off everything holiday sale. I had an epic haul that probably outdid even my own record for thrifting. For $120 I got a couch, a vase, two pieces of carnival glass, an afghan, five sweaters, fabric, two wooden chairs, and NINE upholstered dining room chairs. Four of those chairs came out to $1.25 a piece. A DOLLAR AND A QUARTER FOR A CHAIR!! WHAT IS BIGGER THAN ALL CAPS BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT I NEED RIGHT NOW!

I wait in line forever with all the rest of the holiday bargain hunters, have her go through the complicated process of ringing up all that furniture, chit chat with my friend who came with me, and then my card gets declined again.

They had canceled the cards without sending any new ones.

My friend had to buy my $1.25 chairs and then I had to write her a check to pay her back. Because I couldn’t even use an ATM.

In one week my card was not only declined, not only declined twice, but declined at Wal-Mart and at a thrift store.

And then I died.


Coping with the darkness

Duvet Day

My new friend Lillian left an amazing comment, and as part of that she asked: “When you are in your dark place how do you force yourself to even get out of bed?”

Today just happens to be one of those days. I feel the darkness hovering and today is the day when I have to drop everything and deal with this before it gets worse. So that’s step 1: Pay attention and try to head it off before it gets dangerous.

Step 2: Tell someone. Bear has always been super supportive of me, but he didn’t get how this disease worked for a long time. We’ve been working on educating him and me learning to speak my needs and it’s paid off for us. This morning all I had to say was “I’m feeling the darkness around the edges,” and he knew what that meant. He made plans to get home from work as soon as he could, he’s planning to make dinner, and this evening he’ll be working on cleaning the house, since chaos in my environment is always a big trigger for me. I’ll also be reaching out to my network of friends who can just remind me that there is love and friendship in this world.

Step 3: Make sure I’m up on my medications. Medicating is really hard, particularly for people who deal with depression. I really try to be rigorous with myself but if I’ve gotten lazy or lost track, I have to address it. I also have some medication I can use when I’m sliding into one or the other of my poles, so I’ll use that.

Step 4: Decide what the bare minimum is that I need to do today. When I’m depressed then even fixing lunch seems insurmountable. If I hold myself up to my usual standards than the weight of it all will bury me. Some days the bare minimum is to just make it to the end of the day. Today I’ve decided that I can get Atti to and from school, and keep us both fed and safe. And maybe, after I’ve rested I’ll take a shower. And for extra bonus points I might even color my hair. Every single other thing will just have to wait.

Step 5: Self-care. When I have a cold, I love to eat popsicles and drink hot tea. They make my throat feel better and clear out my sinuses. When I am depressed, I do puzzles. I cross stitch. I watch British comedy. They make my brain feel better. The stigma around mental illness is so enormous that most of us have internalized it. I’ve found that my answer to that is to pathologize it. Treat it like the disease that it is in every way. When I have a cold I feel no shame about staying in bed and drinking tea. So today I will shake off the shame, stay in bed, and laugh at British sitcoms until I feel better.

If you are struggling, know that you are not alone. Take care of yourselves, friends.