Here at my house, we’re in self-quarantine mode. A week ago Saturday, my husband drove up into the mountains to fetch home our son for Spring Break. The next day, Sunday, late in the afternoon, two days AFTER colleges let out for vacation, the Colorado Health Department put out an alert stating that all those in several mountain towns, including our son’s, should NOT LEAVE and, if they had, they should isolate themselves for fourteen days.
Monday I called the Health Department (and was on hold so long that the battery on one of our handsets gave out) and was told, yes, we all had to stay at home for the fortnight. (Just for the record, the woman with whom I spoke was kind and sensible. She answered all my questions and never rushed me to get off the phone.) So the warning came too late for us, and we’re mostly here at home. My husband and son, as recommended, are getting out for solitary walks and bike rides, both of them careful to stay six feet away from anyone else. My M.E. keeps me closer to home, but we are fortunate enough to have our own backyard and a park across the street.
So far, none of us is showing any signs of the virus, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time before at least one of us comes down with it. I confess the prospect of having a tube put down my throat to breathe for me scares me tremendously. Worse is the idea of someone for whom I care being taken away someplace where I can’t ladle chicken soup down her or his throat.
We’d been having groceries delivered, but now the demand is so high for both delivery and curbside pick up that we haven’t been able to schedule a time to obtain food. We’ll be able to hold out until Saturday when, presumably, we’ll be able to shop for ourselves again.
A lot has been written about the perils of isolation, and I feel some of that. Jenny Lawson wrote
I am a natural introvert so I’ve been training for this for my whole life, but don’t let anyone tell you that this is easy for hermits. Personally, I’m feeling very grateful that Victor and I already work from home and Hailey has been in correspondence high school so this shouldn’t really feel very different for us but honestly it really is and it’s very easy for me to fall back into my agoraphobic tendencies and spiral into a depression or let my anxiety spin me out so remember to take care of yourself and others mentally during this time.
I’m another introvert, but just knowing that I can’t go places I need or want to go (I’m missing physical therapy and doctors’ appointments, and do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been to the book store? It’s been over three weeks now, people. I expect to get the literary DTs any moment and start talking to large, pink Elizabeth Bennets, Violas, Bagginses, and Peter Grants) makes me feel trapped. I’m finding that sheltering in place isn’t helping my anxiety and depression either.
But for now, what’s harder is the lack of isolation. I’m used to spending most of my time by myself, but now there are these two big guys in my space ALL THE TIME. They act like they live here. The nerve! The gall!
To make matters worse, our house has paper-thin walls and air ducts that carry sound beautifully. So while it’s possible to close a door and not be seen, there is no aural privacy, no way to have a bit of a cry, throw a minor tantrum, conduct a confidential conversation, or indulge in some maniacal laughter without being overheard.
While I could use a few hours of isolation, that’s probably about all I could take. Ultimately, I’m happier with my family here at home, where I am irrationally believing that I’ll be able to ward off this virus with my well-honed Evil Eye. Please don’t disillusion me.
Phobias: who doesn’t have a few? I have my share, but triskaidekaphobia isn’t one of them. In fact, thirteen is my favourite number, partly because I think it has been unfairly demonized. so here are some things to respect about the lovely number thirteen, gleaned from around the internet:
If you’re one of the few people who might be reading this, perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve been away for a while. I wasn’t really abducted by aliens — that would have been all over the tabloids, right? — but I often feel as if I get transported to a place where I inexplicably lose time and all memory of what I was supposed to be doing.
It’s hard to know how to dive into this post, not because I don’t know what to write, but because others, especially Jenny Lawson and Wil Wheaton, have already said it better than I ever shall.
You’re back? Great. That was a pretty awesome speech, wasn’t it? OK: here we go.
I am Ruth Feiertag, and I live with Chronic Depression.
In many ways, my life has been very different from Mr. Wheaton’s. I rank among the least famous people on the planet. I do love Star Trek, but I never even got to be a neon-skinned alien with tentacles or antennae lurking, uncredited, in the background. But he and I do have some things in common. In my own way, I also have been fortunate. I have always had a place to live, enough to eat, clothes to wear, access to health care and decent schools, and almost all the books I wanted: you know, the basic necessities. I grew up in a stable home with parents and siblings who loved me. I went on to create a family of my own. Pretty damn lucky.
But like Wil Wheaton, I live with chronic depression and anxiety, what he aptly calls “the tag team champions of the World Wrestling With Mental Illness Federation.” (I also have myalgic encephalomyelitis, the condition formerly known as chronic fatigue, and a couple other door-prizes I’ve discovered or picked up along the way.) I’m offering up my story, in part, to add to my voice to the chorus1 of those trying to defuse the stigma around mental illness and, in part, to explain what happened to my Inktober tale.
Again like Mr. Wheaton, I got the message early and clearly that mental illness was a shameful character flaw, one that would redound to my family’s shame. My mother was particularly expressive on this subject. Over the years, even well into my adulthood, Mom told me that psychologists only mess people up, that they always blame the mothers (thank you, Dr. Freud), that they take children away from their parents — a prospect that frightened me horribly. People who have mental problems, my mom would say, need to be tough and get past to whatever they might be attributing their depression. Mom made it plain that if we ever sought help for mental issues, she would be the one to suffer.
To be fair, my mother’s fears were not entirely unfounded. She did have some damaging experiences, especially with school counselors who were quick to fault my mother for things beyond her control. It was not Mom’s fault that I was (am) shy and socially inept, tom-boyish and gawky, just as it was not her “fault” that I used to be tall for my age, liked books, and was good at catching lizards. My hair-cut, though — that was ENTIRELY Mom’s fault.
My anxiety manifested young. I got kicked out of nursery school for being so shy and anxious that I couldn’t make friends or interact with the other children. I remember standing on the margins of the playground, hoping equally that no one would notice me and that one of the other children would ask me to come play. I think I was there about three weeks before the teachers told Mom to keep me home. Mom attributed my behaviour to selfishness. There was a baby, and Mom said that I didn’t want to let her have time with him.
Grammar school was a little better. After all, public schools can’t kick out students for being socially awkward. I spent a lot of recesses tucked away in odd corners, reading. But my anxiety was still powerful enough to give me stomach aches. There was a day in first grade when I my stomach was cramping up painfully, but Mom insisted that I go to school anyway. She did tell me, however, to let my teacher know that if I didn’t feel better after a while, the teacher should let me call home.
Mrs. Persons was one of those firm teachers with high expectations and her opinion was immensely important to me. I was so shakingly nervous about conveying Mom’s message to her that I immediately burst into tears and couldn’t speak with any coherency. Mrs. Persons sent me to the nurse, the nurse called Mom, and Mom came to get me, and she was not amused.
Even worse, when I went back to school the next day, Mrs. Persons shamed me during circle time in front of the other students, chastising me for my “crocodile tears” and accusing me of lying about feeling ill. (That wasn’t even what I had been trying to tell her. I’d been trying to say that if I still felt ill later, then, Mom had said, I should get to call home.) Other than that one instance, Mrs. Persons was a wonderful teacher who encouraged me and celebrated my intelligence, but I realized that she felt I had been dishonest and, on some level, that I had made her look bad, and I was disappointed with myself, verging on being ashamed, for letting her down. I had been bad, not in need of understanding.
By junior high, I was talking with friends about whether I might be crazy. In high school, I would regularly miss a couple weeks of school due to a mysterious lethargy that my parents finally decided was caused by my allergies.
It wasn’t until after the birth of my first child that I saw a therapist. The beautiful cherub we brought home from the hospital turned out to be an adorable demon who didn’t — and as an adult, still doesn’t — need much sleep. For a year, I thought that my low mood was due to an exhaustion that would go away about the time our sleepless wonder went to college. All I had to do was hold up for another seventeen years…
Then, at the children’s used-clothing store up the street, I picked up a local parents’ newspaper that had an article on postpartum depression and I realized that sleep deprivation might not be my only problem.
This was back before health insurance had to offer behavioural health benefits and before we had money to spare for luxuries like counselling, so it was lucky that the article also listed organizations that would help new mothers find the support they needed. The local United Way found me a therapist and sent someone around to check on me every week or so until I regained my balance. It took only a few months, that time, for me to feel like myself again and to start to re-build my hopes and ambitions, and then to work to start bringing them about.
Over the next few years, I had bouts of melancholy that would come and go, but eventually the depression came to stay. I have now spent about a quarter-century living with the sadness, the self-doubt, and other emotional accessories that come with the second skin of melancholy.2
Because here’s what Mr. Wheaton’s speech doesn’t say: about a third of us who suffer from chronic depression are stuck with it. The drugs don’t work — all the ones I’ve tried had side-effects that made me worse, sometimes trip-to-the-ER worse — and counselling doesn’t scare away the depression either. (I have a brilliant therapist. While she hasn’t been able to disappear the depression, she does keep me from living under my covers.) And even those who do get relief from drugs or therapy usually find what some people call the Black Dog (not Sirius Black. This is a different black dog. Sirius Black would be cool) padding along beside them at times throughout their lives.
When my depression and fatigue become rampant, sometimes my mind walls off sections in an arbitrary fashion. And that’s what happened with my Inktober project. I kept up with writing the prompts, but not with typing up my ramblings and posting them. I have, slowly, over the past many weeks, gotten my Inktoberings into shape, and will start posting them, one every couple of days.3
So that’s where I’ve been, sorting out my mom’s estate (a Work In Progress) and living in my head (another WIP). But if you’d rather think I was abducted by aliens, go ahead. That would be a better story. Maybe I was aboard a UFO with aliens who found my Inktober efforts sufficiently amusing to let me bring my notebook and pens. Maybe the depression is just a cover story planted in my brain to account for my absence. Maybe I’m still on the ship and don’t know it, though I’d expect space-travelling aliens to have better WiFi than what we have at our house…
1. Mr. Wheaton, in addition to his NAMI speech, blogs about his depression (and other matters). Sarah Marsh, in the NAMI newsletter, tells us that “Mental Illness Should Not Be A Secret” in a story much like Mr. Wheaton’s. In one of the Rumpus’ Lettersin the Mail, Rion Amilcar Scott discusses the depression-troll that sits on his shoulder and has become a companion. And the Queen of Mental Illness, Jenny Lawson, thebloggess, writes about her own struggles on her blog and in her hysterically funny book, Furiously Happy. (I was going to quote something pertinent from the appendix in the middle of her book, but I couldn’t choose just one.)
2. I do have moments of joy, especially when my children come home, but also after a trip to the bookstore, or during an outing with friends.
3. I saddled poor Hannah with my chronic fatigue, sadness, and self-doubt, mostly to give a plausible reason for the days I couldn’t think up a plot-point.
It’s been six months, as of today, since my mother died. I feel like I’m in a Greek myth-Freaky Friday mash-up: I’m Persephone waiting for Ceres to come back after her half-year in the Underworld. It ain’t gonna happen, but I still rather expect Mom to show up and want to know why we haven’t finished fixing up the house.
To mark the day, here’s one of my mother’s favourite poems, “One Perfect Rose,” by one of her favourite authors, Dorothy Parker:
A single flow’r he sent me, since we met. All tenderly his messenger he chose; Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet – One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret; ‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’ Love long has taken for his amulet One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet One perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose.
To all our veterans, wounded warriors, first responders, their families, and others who serve or have served: thank you for your sacrifices and dedication. I can’t pretend to understand what you have given or given up for our country, but you have my gratitude and respect. If any of you care to write about your service, I will read your accounts.
Many years ago, I sent my uncle and aunt a notebook and a pen each. I wanted to know about their lives, to learn the stories they hadn’t told. My uncle had been trained as a medic in World War II (he went on to become a fantastic optometrist), been captured by the Germans almost as soon as he arrived, and, like many of his generation, had refused to talk about his experiences. I hoped a notebook might elicit some more of his history.
I didn’t hear back from either my aunt or uncle about the package until I was visiting my parents and my dad called his brother. And here let me mention that my uncle was from New Jersey, and he exemplified almost every stereotype about denizens of the Garden State that is known to humanity. Generally speaking, anything that popped into his head, popped out of his mouth. Once, when he and my aunt were on vacation with my parents, a tour bus pulled up and let out a group of Japanese tourists. In a move that made my father want to sink into the earth, my uncle took one look at the new-comers, marched over to the nearest visitor, held out his camera, and demanded to know if it was a good one. Fortunately, none of the group seemed to understand English — or my uncle’s version of it anyway — or were polite enough to pretend they didn’t. And now you know why my father moved away from “Joisey.”
So that day at my parents’, I got on the phone with my uncle, who lit right in: “LISTEN! WHADDYOU SENT ME THAT NOTEBOOK FOR? Nobody wants to read about my life. Nobody wants to hear about that stuff. Nobody wants to hear about…” and he then spent about an hour telling all the “stuff” nobody would ever want to hear. I was completely unprepared, had no paper, no writing instrument, no way to record all the personal history he rattled off at warp speed.
The central story of my uncle’s war is that of his capture. It happened within a few days — maybe even the first day — after he was sent over. When he and the other POWs were brought to the prison camp, a British officer was helping process the new arrivals. When my uncle approached the table, the officer asked for his name, rank, serial number, and, as was usual then, his religion. My uncle said, “Jewish.”
“No, you’re not,” the officer told him. My uncle wasn’t stupid, but he was young, and didn’t understand at first. So he replied,
“Yes, I’m Jewish.” The officer looked at him hard and repeated,
“No, you’re not. Lose your dog-tags!” That officer saved my uncle, and I suspect a lot of other young men, from dying in a gas chamber.
I wish I knew that officer’s name. I wish I knew what happened to him. I hope he made it home and managed to live well and happily. My uncle did. (Despite his foibles, my uncle was a decent guy. He and my aunt lived a few blocks away from my grandparents, took care of them, raised a daughter, ran a business, and was gregarious and out-going.) He died a little less than a year ago at the age of ninety-six. I wish I had managed to write down his history that day on the phone.
Anyone wishing to support and honour those who serve or have served might consider writing a letter to one of these folks. An e-mail from Endless Pens reminded me about Operation Gratitude, an organization that collects letters for deployed troops, veterans, new recruits, wounded heroes, caregivers, and first responders. Read the instructions carefully — there are rules — and if you write, maybe you’ll get someone’s history in reply.
Remember when “enchantment” was a charming word, the stuff of childhood fantasies and the cause of inconvenient, over-long naps? And now the word has a noxious look; it lies there, where I’ve written it, watching, glaring, all its innocence lost.
Perhaps I am seeing it through the haze of your letter, which I opened and read when I woke today. “Subtle differences,” you write, “subtle, but easily discernible to those who know him.”
Bridget, I know you don’t want to see the changes in your father, but even through your letter I can tell the changes are not subtle. Your father has always been a person of vast intelligence, but “wily, deceitful”? These are not attributes of your papa. Dr. Morgan has eliminated all the obvious medical causes, and while she is still waiting for other test results, we should open our minds to other possibilities, even if they provoke a shiver in our souls.
So your father has intuited that you may not be taking your walks in the woods as he has “encouraged” you to do and wants you to bring a “sand flower” (and you’re right; he made that up) from the edge of the lake to hasten his recovery.Bridie, we both know your father would never manipulate you so and that if he were mad, his insanity would be a gentler sort, one that would give him an excuse to live in his library, in a literary world with his favourite characters. Moreover, if he were ever to retreat so, he would invite you in to whatever realm he was inhabiting and would not insist you walk away from him to become “wode within this wood.”
Birdie, I have an idea forming in my head, but my weariness is sliding the pen out of the hand of
Your loving, Hannah
(And, truly, more and more it seems your father is enchanted by some power whose epicenter is in thge wood.)
Autumn is good and finally here. For weeks, the flowers & trees have seemed still & quiet — waiting. But now they begin to ring out with glory and colour. It started with the drifting, spinning leaves of the locust, floating down like slow-motion largesse, looking like the tinkling of a wind-chime in a lazy breeze.
But now the reds & oranges ring out on the trees and bell out that ‘Fall has come!’ in deeper tones than even the aspen can manage. There is a mystery to the liminal seasons, a mystery of which I never tire.
You are laughing, I’m sure, at my florid prose, but I am even more sure you will forgive and indulge
It’s been a month of inks and pens. For those of us who love fountain pens, #30inks30days, the brain-child of Tom Oddo, gives us an excuse to play around with some of the amazing inks that are available these days. While fountain pens have never completely gone out of style, the allure of deeply saturated inks, of inks that shade, shine, sheen, and shimmer, of inks that are “bulletproof” and more enduring than biro inks, of inks that highlight texts and glow in the dark, has certainly contributed to the resurgence of interest in fountain pens.
The idea behind #30inks30days is that one will use a different ink every day of the month, then clean one’s pen and move on to a different ink on the following day. Ink samples and sharing make it more affordable to come up with thirty different tones and tints.
Then one posts whatever one has written with the ink. Some people just write out the name and brand of their ink of the day; other folks draw detailed illustrations or calligraph beloved quotations. It’s my favourite kind of game — one in which all the players win.
I’ve been posting my meagre thoughts and sketches on my Tumblr, but here are my contributions all together. As you can see, I am looking to place some of my creations in the Museum of Modern Mediocre Efforts. But I am trying to be a little more daring, a little braver, so I’ll post them here too. And off we go: