Wednesday, May 31, 2006


We’re in Boston for my sister-in-law’s graduation from grad school.

Telling people I have a blog is getting easier, but like anything I have to deal with what I get. This ranges from a polite nod (Matt’s friend from the old neighborhood), to “Awesome! I am so in support of blogs! Everyone should have a blog!” (see below). Most people, though, don’t even ask what it’s about. Seems like either a conversation starter or stopper, like bringing up your diet plan or your personal exercise routine. (I find those subjects boring in the extreme, as I would someone discussing their waxing schedule, and tend to respond to them with a polite nod.)

At L.'s grad party, I struck up a conversation with the photographer. I liked her because she took massive photos of my children and because she seemed like a generally groovy chick. This was confirmed when she gushed about having lived in Seattle. Her love of Seattle's "laid-back attitude" is the only reason I could tell her what my blog was about without feeling like a complete freaking idiot.

“It’s pretty specific,” I told her, scribbling the address on a post-it at my father-in-law’s wet bar. “Depression, drugs, spiritual practice and yoga,” I said, wincing slightly.

Rawkin!” she growled, smiling big, then pointed at herself. “Recovering anorexic.”

“OK, you might relate,” I said.

The other person I told was a long-haired, tattooed guy, after he told me about his vision quest in Puerto Rico. I told him my blog was about depression as an opportunity for spiritual practice.

He rubbed his chin and looked to one side. “Depression,” he mumbled. “Spiritual practice.” That was all. He had first uttered the “s” word when he told me about his path to finding Native American spirituality. You can’t throw those words around in Boston so easily. People look at you like you must be stupid. Still, just because a person has done a vision quest doesn't mean he wants to discuss depression.

I haven't mentioned the blog to any of my New England in-laws, even to L., who just got a master's degree in social work. On a superficial level, it seems like it wouldn't be so radical to them: T is bipolar (unmedicated), R is chronically depressed and on Prozac, G has suffered so many syndromes and isms I can't list them all. Still, none of this means we should all be reading about my depression. I don't want to open myself up to criticism. It's hard enough being an in-law.

I have to be careful not to use my blog as a means to explain my behavior to people like my relatives. Before I got really sick, explaining my behavior had become a sort of a compulsion, along with the guilt and paranoia. They were all a sick little family of emotions nourishing the great weed of depression. Anyway, it could be tempting to use this writing as one big self-explanation to anyone who has ever disapproved of my behavior. But that would miss the point.

I'll admit, I do not always behave impeccably. Nor do I want to. Nor should anyone. One of the greatest stories I heard on this trip was from B (the above-mentioned polite nodder), who told of a grandmother who freaked out at his kid's birthday party. Frazzled by the chaos, she simply taped her cell phone number to the back of her grandchild's shirt and went for a walk.

This is the kind of thing I'm learning to do.

"Ha!" I yelped. "What a genius idea!"

B glared. "We were swamped. We didn't appreciate it."

It pisses people off, you know, the ones who say, "Well, someone has to take care of business." I know, because I used to be one of those people. Believe me, I take care of a lot of business. It's just that I don't always have to take care of all the business.

Read my blog. It explains why.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

B and J and E and Me

The only thing I kept doing was yoga. Everything else fell away. As long as I kept doing yoga, I could ride the small amount of goodness I got from it, at least until lost my shit again.

An observation about a class fom sometime in January...

I went to yoga today but was aware of only about half of what I was doing. I just felt so tired of doing. I didn’t want to do anything.There was all this crazy sadness going on, too. B., who has been in that class for something like ten years, and has always occupied the same spot in the row ahead of me since I’ve been there (5 years now?), is about to undergo chemotherapy for the third time. We meditated on her health. We are supposed to do it again tomorrow at 1 when the chemo begins.

And J., a woman maybe 5 years older than me, she is having a very hard time. She is usually an animal in class, always going for the hard stuff. She kept lying down, and Denise, our teacher, went over to her at one point. The two of them had a hushed conversation, and Denise said, "It’s fine to just sit here and try to be happy for everyone else. That’s a very advanced practice.”


And there I was, sunk in my own random depression, literally sandwiched between these two suffering women. When it came time to do handstand, I just scooted next to E., who never does handstand, and said, “I’m not doing this today. What do you usually do while everyone else is in handstand?”

“Nothing,” she laughed. “I just observe.” E. is seventy and suffers from arthritis and some other things she hasn’t shared with me. She’s a tiny, bony woman with wispy grey hair. She walks four miles a day (I spot her all the time around the neighborhood). She asked me why I wasn’t doing handstand today, and I said I was on medication that is making me dizzy.

I started taking Paxil last night, right in Dr. Clark’s office. I also got a script for a nice anti-anxiety drug, for those times when I think I’m going to have a panic attack. I am so happy to have drugs. I am so looking forward to being functional again.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Pick Your Poison

Joan, my therapist, helped a little, but to be honest, at that point I was beyond repair-by-talking.

"Maybe I should go on antidepressants," I told her. "I don't know what else to do. If I could get better by myself I would have by now."

"I think that's probably true," she said. "Once the chemicals of depression start flowing, it's hard to reverse them on your own."

"And I can't live like this. My family is suffering. I can't function."

"What would you do if you couldn't get help from your doctor?"

I thought about it. "If I stayed with my family, I'd have to become an alcoholic or start taking a lot of nonprescribed drugs." It's how my grandma did it when her five kids were small. She drank a six pack before noon, leaving beer cans all over the house as she did her chores.


"I think a lot about Percocet. And pot. And about drinking and smoking, all the time."


"Those drugs are all depressants," I observed.

"You'd be self-medicating," Joan observed.

Of course. So my choice was to self-medicate with depressants that would make me sicker, run away from home, or have my doctor prescribe antidepressants and monitor me closely.

It seems like a no-brainer. Still, sunk in Joan's office chair, I allowed myself the illusion of choice. What would it be like to veer off into alcoholism? I had such great role models for this; it couldn't possibly be that hard to get there. Of course, I'd have get treatment, because my husband would insist on it and I didn't want to screw up my kids in exactly the same way I am screwed up. And then I could give up all my responsibilities and go somewhere bucolic for 28 days to detox and get better. There was something very satisfying about that picture, about just...



Wednesday, May 17, 2006

You Can't Understand Your Heart With Your Brain

It's a January night. Mister J and I are lounging in his bed after reading several picture books. We've just told a story about his two favorite dogs. He wants another.

Me: Honey, I’m sorry but I don’t want to tell another story because I’m not feeling very good.

J: Where are you not feeling good?

Me: [pointing to heart] Right here.

J: Why?

Me: I don’t know.

J: I know why. Because you have the feelings like you need to go potty.

Me: It’s not that kind of feeling.

J: What kind of feeling is it?

Me: It’s a sad feeling.

J: Where’d the happy feelings go?

Me: I don’t know.

J: I know where they are. They’re in their beds sleeping. They went to bed because it’s dark outside.

His understanding is tied to his body and what he can see. He can understand a physical feeling, and really, that's where many of us grownups feel our emotions, too. We are just in the habit of using our cerebral cortex to analyze and evaluate them. [See Women's Moods by Sichel and Driscoll for lots of fascinating info on how memories and emotions are processed by the brain.] I try to make it so he can understand, but how can he really understand? And why should I burden him? He is three years old.

He wants to be sure I still love him, that I'm not going to leave him. That's what really matters.

So I try to find my love. I am so ashamed at how buried my love is, that this illness bedeviling my body and soul smothers attachment and affection. Even for my children. Where is it, exactly? I scan my organs for locations. The closest thing I can find is a small notion of gentleness in my shriveled heart.

I smooth J's soft brown hair. He wiggles with pleasure. I kiss him on the forehead.

"Goodnight," I say.

Monday, May 15, 2006

My Morning Present

Having changed my nighttime habits (no work after 9 p.m.) and noticing that the world continued to spin, I tried another new thing: mornings.

As I've said, mornings were a battlefield around here. It had to stop. So I made a small change. I sat in bed until I was awake enough to put on my bathrobe without stumbling. That meant everything and everybody had to wait just another few minutes. And they did. And it was fine.

One morning, while practicing my new "wake up before you get up" idea, J called for me from the bathroom. "Mom, I need to go poo." I took a few breaths and got up. I shuffled in and sat on the tile floor next to him while he went. I didn't tidy up the bathroom or brush my teeth or any of the other little chores I normally do during this particular event. Just sat. This was pretty Zen and quiet. Then we went downstairs.

I set Miss A up in her high chair with a big bowl of applesauce and yogurt. Then I poured myself a mug of coffee and curled up on the sofa for a few minutes, staring out the big front window at naked trees. I set my cup down and closed my eyes. For five golden minutes, I meditated. It wasn’t a great or complete meditation by any means, since there was a lot of activity going on behind me. But that was okay. Ram Dass made his students meditate in Times Square. I could give it a go while my kids ate breakfast.

I was interested to note that even though my mind was still fluctuating all over the place, while I meditated it was fluctuating into different areas than it normally would be at that time of day. That was an unexpected relief.

Then I remembered how yoga is meant to calm the fluctuations of the mind. Calling my thoughts and emotions “fluctuations of the mind” just relieved me of a whole load of guilt, analysis, scheming, and planning.

What a gift first thing in the morning.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

No Breakdown Lane

My story is already happening. I want this blog to be in real time. I wanted to be chronicling this from the very beginning, but I couldn't manage the implements of blogging.

So, readers, and I hope you are out there because I really want to talk to you, let me take your hand and lead you again to early January of this year, and a pertinent journal entry.

[twirly harp sounds and blurred vison]
I’m freaking out. Ever since Saturday, I’ve been crying, yelling, withdrawing to my bed. I am ill, sick to my stomach, like somebody died. What can I tell my husband? He is bewildered.

He is shouldering most of the parenting. I am good to no one right now.

He needs a break.

So, Sunday I took the kids to my mom’s, a two hour drive south on I-5 into logging country. It wasn't sunny, but it didn't rain. The fields are still brown there in the Shoestring Valley, nothing is growing. Still, there are wide-open spaces and tremendous ravens sitting on barbed-wire fences.

I had called that morning, asking if I could come. My mom sounded surprised and worried. "Of course," she said. "We'd love to see you and the babies."

I let the children be supervised by my mom and her new live-in boyfriend, my father. (More on that later.) I sat on Mom's Indian print couch couch and read her back issues of Martha Stewart. I barely spoke, and I know I never cracked a smile. I was just a warm body.

Finally, she put her hands on my shoulders and said, "Are you okay?"

"No, I'm not okay."

"What's going on?"

What could I say? "I'm depressed" sounded so pitiful. So I told her I just needed a break. I didn't want to get into a big list of my symptoms as we stood in the middle of the living room. Besides, I was afraid she'd give me some advice. I truly, truly, do not need advice.

Driving home in the dark, I believe I staved off about three panic attacks somehow, I guess so as not to veer off the road and kill my children in a wreck. I had brought the wrong pair of glasses, the ones that I can't see in at night. Plus, my senses were off. Sounds swirled around me. Cars menaced me with their headlights, chased me, intimidated me. I was totally losing sense of reality. I knew this was all crazy, but I couldn’t make it stop. So I cried and talked to myself and stayed in the right lane and prayed. I have never been so terrified, with my children sleeping in the back seat, depending on me not to screw up. Once I realized I shouldn't be driving, I was on the freeway. It was a half hour on a foggy country road to turn around and go back to my mom's. It was an hour and a half on a well-lit superhighway to get to Seattle. I decided to keep going until I couldn't, and then I would call M. No matter where I was.

I made it home.

Since then, I’ve been crying, and mostly unable to care for the children. Today M’s back at work, and the sitter is about to leave, and I am scared.

I need to get help.

The Pearl

In my Buddhist depression book I found a nice image to meditate on: a pearl wrapped in mud and algae and fish poop. The pearl is my true nature, the one I’m depressing in favor of what I think everyone else expects me to be. The fish shit, etc., is the detritus of life, the lies and projections from other people and my own twisted perceptions of what I should be. It is all wrapping the pearl.
Instead of using my intellect to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, I am going to try to visualize this pearl, and listen to it. My intellect just keeps taking me down the same worn path that leads back to the same unresolved questions.
My depression is a wonderful opportunity to step off that path. I can’t go on the normal way anymore. I am being forced to stop and listen.
So I’m going to do a lot of listening, or try anyway. And I’m not going to make any other plans but to proceed from what the pearl shows me. The pearl is there. I don't have to create it. I just have to learn to see it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Just Stop

M and I agreed that my rage had become detrimental to family life. Change was in order. But what to change? Our schedule? M's work life? Child care arrangments? Couldn't I just stop being a mother for awhile?

I took some concrete steps to let go of what was ailing me (except, of course, my kids). The first thing I let go of was chores after 9 pm. Having surmounted the chore of getting the kids to bed, I let that be enough for the day. I went to bed with a book for one whole hour. I found that nothing bad happened when I did this.

The next hurdle was mornings. Mornings were terrible for me. I spread my malaise all over the place. I made everyone know how much I resented their needs. I stomped. I slammed I yelled. One morning, fed up with my attitude, M said, "Why don't I just take the kids to the office this morning, so you can go to your room or whatever it is you need to do."

I paused while putting away a box of cereal. "I have to go to my room?" I joked.

"Why does Mommy have to go to her room?" J asked from the table.

“I hope you’re not just trying to make a point,” I said to M. “Because I’ll take you up on it.”

Then the doorbell rang and A had a poopy diaper and the dangling conversation was lost in the crush of small demands. I tried to brush my teeth and go to the bathroom, which was impossible because I had to answer the door again and watch A while my husband disappeared upstairs with Mister J.

I began tremble. My eyes filled with tears. I began to fear I would vomit. I dumped the baby at M's feet and fled to the basement to lie on the couch.

I inhaled the cool air. I lay there in the dark thinking, What is wrong with me? What should I do about this? Can I just buck up and let M do his work today?

But my brain couldn’t compute what bucking up might look like, so I stayed in this mental loop for awhile. I listened dispassionately to the thumping and whining and scuffling going on above me.

Then I heard the front door close. For at least an hour, I couldn’t bring myself to move or care what had become of my family.

I could do nothing.

I went to my room. I knew it was time to call in the big guns. I promised to phone my doctor as soon as I could speak again. For the moment, I pulled the down comforter up to my eyeballs and waited for something to happen.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Crack Up

It was 5 o'clock. I was alone with the kids. The recipe required a stick of butter.

Baby A, 15 months, was building up to a tantrum. As I tread the floorboards back and forth from sink to fridge to prep island, she followed at heel, whining for me, wrapping her chubby starfish hands around my calves. The dog paced in circles around the island, a slinky black figure, nosing the floor for drops.

The recipe required a stick of butter. I untangled the baby from my legs to step over her and reach the refrigerator. There stood my preschooler, Mister J.

"I want a cup of water with some ice in it," he said.

I stepped back over the baby. Opened a low cupboard. The baby shrieked, humped over to the cupboard door, and slammed it on my arm. There will be no open cupboards tonight! She continued to complain about the open cupboard as I retrieved a plastic cup. I stepped over her again to the fridge.

"Excuse me," I said to J. He ignored me and continued to stand in front of the refrigerator. Baby A's behavior had him transfixed. He stared at her with his soft brown gaze as she reapplied herself to my legs. "If you want the ice, you have to let me open the door."

He didn't move, but allowed himself to be herded aside as I opened the freezer, grabbed a handful of ice, and chucked it in the plastic cup. I peeled the baby off me.

"Here, now go sit at the table," I said, and stomped back to the recipe.

The recipe required a stick of butter. I turned back to the fridge. I opened the fridge. I got purchase on the butter.

"Momomomomomomommakeherstopshe'stryingtotakemyiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!" screeched Mister J. I looked down to find A smacking her brother's arm and grasping for his plastic cup. I put the butter down. I knelt and held A's smacking hands. "No hitting," I admonished. "J, go sit at the table where she can't get your cup."

"But I want to stand here."

Then A signed for milk. The dog, seeing that no food was actually being prepared, had retreated to her empty food bowl in the corner of the kitchen and was now whining and prancing in place. I got the milk. I fed the dog. I unwrapped the wax paper from the butter, halfway. Miss A grasped my leg again. I put the butter down. I gave her a pot and a wooden spoon. I opened the cupboard for a bowl to melt the butter in. SLAM it went on my arm again. I removed A's hands from the cupboard door. I snaked a bowl out. I finished unwrapping the butter. I dumped it into the bowl. I tried to open the microwave, which is under the counter. SLAM it went on my arm again. And there were fresh howls from the baby, as if she were protesting my opening the microwave when I knew how much it bothered her. Before I could set the cook time on the microwave, I had to attend to the problem of her howling. I sat on the floor and held her. But now Mister J was crying, too.

"Tell her to stop crying," he cried. "It hurts my ears!"

It hurt my ears, too. But the recipe required a stick of butter. And now the dog wanted out for a pee.

Not soon after, I morphed into one of those moms you see being trashed on Oprah because someone filmed her spanking the daylights out of her child in a Kmart parking lot. Luckily, I was in the walled kingdom of my house. It was winter. I am fairly certain no one heard the vulgarities that flew from my lips, the blunt four-letter words beiginning with F, the references to sons of female dogs, etc.

I didn't stop for two weeks.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


My understanding is primitive, I'll admit. But I love this idea of being a spiritual warrior. The image sustains me. We all have our burdens; mine are depression and motherhood. So I try to cultivate the Warrior to find heart, compassion, gratitude.

And you know, the path is dotted with Legos, preschool snacks, pink liquid amoxicillin for little ear infections. Sleeplessness. Plus the odd Major Depressive Episode that renders me dysfunctional and spiritually flat as a pancake.

To save my life, I have meditation, yoga, and the salmon-colored pills I down after breakfast. I am as ambivalent about those pills as I am about being the mother of two kids under four. But here we are.

I share my recent post-crack-up story, as it is still unfolding, because I know there are many more women out there like me. We know a lot about depression these days, especially PPD, but what about CMID (chronic motherhood-induced depression)? (I made this term up; you won't find it in the DSM-IV.) To me it feels like I must be a warrior just to make it out of bed, and so much more so to care for my children, and even more to care for myself. Beyond that, spiritual health can seem as far away as my old dress size. I want to hear more stories from the trenches.

And my story, well, it's my story. It's important that I tell the truth here. So, as they say in 12 step programs, take what you like and leave the rest.