I forgot how much this hurts

This is a tough post to write. First I didn’t have the energy for it. But then I was afraid to write it. To try and put into words what it feels like when your brain’s been hijacked by itself. To adequately explain what it’s like in the depths of darkness.

So here goes.

I have been over the max dose of my medication, so it was time to try a different one. The idea was to wean off the first while building the second.

And everything went to hell.

I felt like my brain was mis-firing on every level. I had symptoms of withdrawal from the first drug, and side effects from the new one.

The fatigue was overwhelming, and my body felt like I had the flu. Headaches raged for days at a time. I felt nauseous, dizzy and dumb. My concentration was shot and I had no appetite.

And those were just the physical symptoms.

My brain is kind of s shit show right now. I can feel ok and think about a goal, and the next feel so exhausted I have to sleep for the next 12 hours. I cry about being a burden to my family and my inability to be there for them, and I get numb with complete apathy for anyone or anything. I second guess everything until I have to mentally shut down and go into safe mode.

About ten days ago, on a Tuesday, I actually had a pretty good day. I sang to the radio on the way to work. I laughed sincerely. I asked students questions and really wanted to hear the answers. I joked around.

I felt like I was maybe turning the corner.

And then the next day, I had less energy. I tried to play it off, denying that I might not be as well as I had hoped. By Friday, I was about as low as when this all started.

And I felt hopeless. Defeated. Weak.

My poor colleague took one look at me, asked what was wrong and I burst into tears.

It sucked.

I haven’t run since spring break. I haven’t left the house unless necessary. I have buffers with me wherever I go— I bring Ginger, or keep score, or have one of the kids, or my parents. I have pre-planned places to escape if needed. There are some nights where I just can’t do anything but be quiet and stare at my iPad.

Otherwise it’s too exhausting.

I’m afraid of going backward, afraid this medication won’t work, afraid I’ll damage the kids, afraid I won’t be able to finish the school year, afraid I’m too much of a burden.

I’m afraid I’ll never feel well again.

But I haven’t lost hope.

I snuggle cats, hold Ginger close, pour my fears out to Bill, take my medicine and stay in constant contact with my doctor. I take a day off, let the grading slide, lie in my bed and push the snooze button. I go to track meets and baseball games and work and function as well as I can.

The fact that I can write this shows I’m a little better.

But I’m not sure these are the right words to communicate what’s going on. How depression makes your soul hurt. How it steals the belief in everything that’s good with your life and replaces it with numbness and pain. How it tells you you’re worthless and without value. How you question the point of your very existence and wonder why anyone bothers with you.

Just typing this— and it’s taken all day— I feel the fatigue closing in and the ache in my arms.

But I still believe it will get better. I have to. Because the alternative would drive me to madness. And I need to get better because I still believe that being a mom in my current state is better than not being a mom at all.

I don’t even know how to end this, except “to be continued” because it’s not over. It will never be completely over, that’s not how depression works, but it needs to go into remission. Slowly, I hope to pack it away— a little tighter, a little more carefully— so it can’t escape again.

Pot, paintings and palm rats, oh my!

No exposition, I’m getting right to it.

We rented a house in Naples, FL. Did our research, checked reviews, beautiful house.

We pull up after 9, totally dark and there’s a pimped out Jeep, monster tires, top down in the carport.

The owner left the house open, so we turn the knob and hear jazz playing throughout the house.

We walk in a little further and the TV in the screened in porch is on.

And the whole house smells like Hash Bash at Michigan every year. At least that’s what someone told me.

Where they also used to have the Naked Mile. Allegedly.

So I am completely freaked out and we start calling, “Hello?” but no one answers and I’m starting to think we just scared off a group of hellions in the middle of a Jazz-listening, pot-smoking, Disney TV-watching soirée.

I mean, that happens. Somewhere.

But no answers, and I walk through every room opening every closet door and bathroom door and looking and peering and running through all of my kick ass Black Widow moves but there’s nothing to stun with the taser discs attached to my bra (not really, but I would love those) so we unpack and watch the end of the NCAA Championship final (sad but expected) and go to sleep.

But not before noting some of the owner’s… ahem… art.

And what the fuck is up with that photo? Yeah, here’s a cute picture of mom and daughter and I think I’ll put it on the table under the painting of these women and their vaginas. And while I’m at it, I’ll set the clock to six. Permanently.

And then this one.

I call it Woman in Bush with Bush.

Now, I’m not a critic and everyone has their own taste and ideas of what might be appealing, but when your 13 year old daughter says, “The guy and the girl in the painting in my room are totally naked and you can see the guy’s penis,” well… nuff said.

Fast forward 36 hours where I get groceries, we go to the beach, out to dinner, I drink a little much, the kids swim and we fall into bed.

Next morning, hubby goes golfing with friends who are also in Florida. Kids are watching TV when I go get a banana.

And find this.

And this.

And text this.

And this was me, in the kitchen, behind the kids who were still watching TV.

🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯🤯

If you’re unfamiliar with the palm rat, it is common in southern Florida, and looks like this.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?!

If you’re a new reader, this is not my first encounter with rodents. Please see my earlier terror in the archives.

I start putting boxes on shelves and throwing things away quietly and quickly. “Hey kids, how about we get Dunkin Donuts on the way to the beach? We’ll eat lunch at the restaurant too.”

Yay…cool mom points.

So we go to the beach. For SIX HOURS while Bill and I try to figure out what to do because there is no fucking way I am going back into that house unless it’s to pack and get the hell out.

We eat at the restaurant and I have a drink. YES JUST ONE WHAT DO YOU TAKE ME FOR?

Oh, right.

And I furiously text and badger my dad and friends back home because I HAD to talk about it, but not to the kids because they would totally freak out unlike me who was holding her shit together, thank you very much.

Bill returned to the house after golf and started packing everything up, and by the time the kids and I got back, we had a place to stay. During the packing, I threw a ton of stuff in the trash and found this.

Fuckers.

We drove away while explaining why to the kids, and then vacationed happily ever after.

Except for the whole red tide alert thing. Which apparently causes a rash. In some. With me it’s like a nuclear reactor erupted under my skin. And of course, I’m the only one of us who got it because that’s just the waythings are.

My brain is on fire, but I need to make it a rainbow

My brain is rattling rattling rattling and running running running. It’s zooming and pinging and bouncing and banging and thinking and asking and full of worry but I’m just so tired it

Needs

To

Stop

Papers to grade, plans to make dinner to cook, practice to drive, visits to schedule, things to buy, plans to set, people to text and pets to feed.

Nothing in focus, nothing in memory, nothing gets done, it’s halfway or midway or half paid and then it zooms away and in comes something new.

And I’m tired, so tired. Coffee to get me out the door, to stay awake on prep, to stay awake to drive home, but I need to grade and run and drive and cook and be nice and prepare and bathe and

Just

Lie

Down

But then it’s night and the meds didn’t work and I fell asleep but not totally asleep and the dreams came and I was in grandma’s house and I was sleeping in the dream and trying so hard to wake up and looking at the clock and watching TV and drinking a can of Coke— not the big can, but the small can— and the sugar and syrup tasted so good and I looked at the clock and it was late morning.

And in my dream I wondered why Grandma wasn’t up yet and what would happen if she died in her sleep while I was visiting and who would I call— Blair Funeral Home— and what clothes would I send— the outfit in the back of her closet— and what would I do— call EMS first, then my parents— and then, still in the dream, I realized

Grandma was already dead.

And this was her house and it was empty except for me and I got up and walked to the bedroom door and that’s when my alarm

Went

Off

And I woke and I brushed and I clothed and I drank and I fed and I walked out the garage door to face the day

A day of running and talking and explaining and helping and caring and encouraging and raging and commiserating and moving and I’m now

So

Tired

But I don’t want to disappoint

Anyone

My greatest fear

And I’m hanging on to my appointment like a lifeline and hoping there’s a life preserver and the end and not a frayed end to find out what the hell is wrong THIS time and what did I do and what can be done and how long will it take to

Feel

Normal

So tonight I will run

I will take a shower that runs out the hot water

I will snuggle with my pup and cuddle my cats

I will play mindless iPad games

I will scroll through @dog_rates

I will breathe in

And out

And in deeper

And out longer

And I will begin anew

What’s helping

Thanks to all of you, and I’m sorry if it scared you. I think it’s scary too.

But it’s real, and like any issue, there are things that help alleviate the darkness. I wanted to make a list of what’s helping right now so I can look back and either add things or remember things that bring me joy today. So here they are in no particular order.

Seeing the sun rising as I drive to work

Daylight savings time

Awesome friends that keep inviting me places and treat me like a regular human being

Naps with Ginger

Snuggling with cats

Encircling my girl with my arms, telling her I love her, and she doesn’t resist

Sharing my chair with my boy while he shows me his Minecraft house

Sharing my kids’ triumphs

Running outside

Sleeping in

Because of the way the mental health care system works, I don’t have an appointment until the second week in April. And as any high functioning depressive will tell you, we don’t usually decide to make the call until we’ve already tried everything else. So I’m doing what most people struggling with depression do.

I’m going to work, driving to practice, fulfilling most obligations, making dinner once in a while, showering, washing my hair, going to my kids’ events, being polite and kind to my students, friends and neighbors, and sleeping… kind of. But I’m taking things day by day, or hour by hour, or breath by breath.

And right now, it’s ok.

Thank you to all who let me know in so many ways that you care. And if you didn’t say anything because it’s awkward or you didn’t know what to say, it’s ok. It’s taken me 13 years to be able to talk about it, and I still do a shitty job and don’t completely understand it.

Right now I’m just going to do things that make me smile and feel good. And if that includes destroying a box of Entenmann’s chocolate covered donuts, so be it.

Self-care, y’all.

I need help. Again.

Warning— this is not a funny post, or uplifting, or positive. When I first started this blog, I wanted to open a dialogue for anyone dealing with mental illness and provide some insight into regular person (me) who has dealt with this and will continue dealing with it for the rest of my life.

Sometimes depression goes into remission, but then it comes barreling back.

It’s back.

Over the last several weeks I’ve been denying, ignoring, rationalizing and negotiating these feelings and why they’ve returned, but as usual, that doesn’t work, so now I’m admitting that my brain has become reckless and ruthless and I need help to stave off its lies.

It’s really uncomfortable and upsetting when you have no idea what your brain is going to tell you every day. And it can switch at a moment’s notice.

There are days when it lies to me from the moment I wake up. It says that I’m useless. That nothing I do matters. That no one would miss me if I was gone. Yeah, they’d be sad, but they’d get over it and move on because life is for the living.

It asks questions like what is the point of existing? We live, we die, and more people come to take our place. It reminds me of the ee cummings’ poem, “anyone lived in a pretty how town” that expresses the monotony of everyday life and the lack of impact people have in the world. I’m not curing cancer or discovering new worlds or saving lives or really doing anything worthwhile.

Except raising my kids.

They are the ones who I know need me. The ones who I HAVE to be here for. The ones that make me need to fight my brain.

I KNOW with absolute certainty that no matter how broken I am, I’m better broken than non-existent.

But when I’m driving or up at night and it’s just me and my brain, we don’t always get along and it gets tough to tell it to shut the fuck up.

And it gets so confusing because I’ve always relied on my brain and trusted it. It’s my sense of humor, my intelligence, my drive, my skepticism, my ability to see things from multiple perspectives and I LOVE my brain.

Until it starts being an asshole.

A lot of people have asked me what depression feels like, and I can’t speak for everyone, but this is the best analogy I can make for how it feels right now.

Imagine that you have a gallon of milk without the cap, and from the time you get out of bed until the time you go back to bed, you have to carry that gallon without spilling a drop. At first, it’s not bad. You figure out how to drive to work and maybe congratulate yourself for your strength. Maybe you even mock people who say that this is a difficult task.

Then you get to work and start your day and your fingers start to get numb. So you switch hands. Then you notice a ridge of plastic that’s cutting into your fingers, so you reposition the milk to avoid it.

As the day goes on, all you can think about is the milk.

You can’t concentrate, or do your job, or experience joy because all you can think about is how painful the fucking milk has become and you know it’s just milk and you shouldn’t be such a baby, but no one else has to do this and you hate them just a little bit because don’t they see how much you’re struggling?

So now you’re obsessed with the milk and you hate the milk and you wish you could just dump the whole damn thing and just end it but you know you can’t for real, but you think about how light you would be without the milk, and how the pain would stop.

But you manage to make it through the day. But you’re exhausted and have a headache and your stomach hurts and you have no energy to do anything and you’re irritable and impatient and miserable to be around.

You finally get into bed.

And the milk goes on the side table.

And you think of all the mistakes you made, and all of the strategies you’ll try tomorrow and all of the guilt you feel because you could only focus on the milk and you finally fall into a restless sleep at 2am.

The alarm goes off at 5.

Time to carry the fucking milk.

So, I’ve started the process. Again.

I’ve come clean to Bill and emailed my doctor and requested an appointment.

I’ve researched if the meds I’m on lose their efficacy over time and what can cause a recurrence, and I’m doing what I can do be nice to myself and trying to ignore my brain that says I don’t deserve to be nice to myself.

And right now, in this moment, I’m ok.

But I’ll apologize now for saying no to plans, or making a quick getaway, or changing my mind at the last minute, or staying in my house and cuddling with kids and animals rather than talk to humans.

And I’ll say thanks for reading, and hopefully understanding.

Official diagnosis— crazy (mouse saga part 2)

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse.

I entered my classroom at 7am ready with elbow length rubber gloves, bleach-infused cleaner, and a roll of paper towels.

It was time to disinfect and re-claim my desk drawers. I felt like a Bad Ass Martha Stewart.

I removed the drawers, hoisted them onto a front desk, pulled the trash can close by and prepared to remove all rodent feces and urine.

After the first few paper towels, I heard it.

*scritch, scritch*

*scritch*

Behind my mini fridge, a brown blur disappeared.

Are you fucking kidding me? Not today, sir, NOT TODAY!

Then it ran behind an empty cardboard box.

Without thinking, I pushed the box against the wall to trap the bastard.

Its little head stuck out from behind the box, its beady eyes watching me.

I was on prep, alone, and shouted for help. And shouted again. And again.

No one came.

I grabbed a hold of my phone with one hand and called the office and my work wife.

“I need you! I have the mouse trapped!”

But when people came, and set up traps on both side of the box, I pulled the box away from the wall, and Dasher fell over sideways. Dead.

And then I cried.

My principal wrapped him in a plastic bag and there were only 8 minutes until my prep was over and classes would begin.

It was the only time I have been grateful for standardized testing because I could get the kids started and just zone out.

I was numb the rest of the day, grossed out, sad, disgusted, panicked, depressed.

I slept horribly that night, but returned the next morning to finish cleaning.

Halfway into it, my arms started burning and a rash appeared.

In exasperation, I trotted to the office to evoke sympathy for my NEW calamity, when our Health Occupations teacher, an RN, took one look and said, “That looks like a strep rash. I’d go get tested.”

I needed no further prodding. I grabbed my stuff, arranged for a sub and left.

Then my brain took its twisted journey into crazy-ville.

What if I have something from inhaling the spores from the shit and piss? Hantavirus– potentially fatal. Leptospirosis. Lasso Fever. Lymphocytic Chorio-Meningitis!!

Maybe I should go to the ER! Maybe I need to call Bill! Am I dying because of mouse shit?

I decided that the normal thing to do was go to urgent care first and then they would probably admit me or send me to the ER to treat me. Wow–thank goodness I was informed about this ahead of time! I could save the doctors all kinds of time by explaining my exposure and symptoms and history and could avoid death!

But this is how the convo went.

Doctor (kind of? I still think he might have been an imposter): Well, you’re not 9 years old, so I don’t think it’s a strep rash and if you’re worried about mouse droppings then you might as well never eat at a restaurant or drink a canned soda or eat canned food because they’ve all been contaminated by mouse droppings, and the only thing you can catch from rodents is the plague, and we wiped that out hundreds of years ago.

Me: (internally shouting) What about hantavirus, huh? What about leptospirosis? (actually verbalized): You’re not helping me by saying that.

“Doctor”: Well, we’ll swab you just to put your mind at ease, but I really think you’re fine.

I got swabbed, but the “test”was complete in less than a minute.

“Doctor”: All normal! Go home and rest.

Me: (embarrassed and ashamed): ok…

I went home exhausted and developed a migraine that put me out for another day.

The only bright spot was that Bill came home with a bag full of presents.

Mouse traps.

I can’t make this shit up

About six weeks ago, the week before Christmas vacation, a potential new student showed his face in my classroom. He was small and shy, but had a clever air about him. He didn’t tell me his name, so in the spirit of the holiday, I christened him Dasher.

Now, mice don’t really bother me, but I’m also a realist that understand that this is how epidemics of the plague start, so I reported him to the proper authorities, “Hey, Megan, I have one in my room,” made a meme, added some jokes and I never saw him again.

Fast forward to last Friday.

The weather was temperate, the sun was shining, it was the end of the first week of the new semester, and I was all set to proceed through my lessons and have a nice ease into the weekend.

I was so fucking wrong.

Being in my awesome mood, I thought, I haven’t filled my mint basket in a while. So I opened the bottom drawer of my desk grabbed the mints and some leftover suckers I had.

And then I made the most audible gasp ever that interrupted my class while they took a quiz.

Is that… MOUSE SHIT?!?!

Oh, but that’s not all. I pulled the drawer all the way open.

This fucker, who I had NAMED and deemed HARMLESS had unrolled the plastic bag, pulled the candy out, unwrapped it with his little paws, ate it, and then MADE A NEST OF THE WRAPPERS.

Forget Bear Grylls. This kid’s a real survivalist.

The bell rang, and even though I was nauseous, I went to lunch to decompress and plan my next move.

The next hour started, and I explained to my students what was going on. I had some gloves, so while they started working, I began emptying everything from the drawer into the trash. All was tolerable, but then I decided to check the drawer above it.

And that’s where I lost it.

I was done, it was over, I needed to go home, I needed a Silkwood shower.

I grabbed a huge trash can and dumped everything. I lost boxes of pens and pencils, clipboards, student work, surveys, speakers, and even a pair of gloves I kept in there for days when my classroom is 64 degrees. All of it eaten and shredded.

The best I could do was borrow a vacuum and suck up the dried pellets.

I apologized to my class for not being a teacher that day, and I hope they understood.

In all of my college classes that were meant to prepare me for educating young minds, this was never mentioned.

Fucking out of touch professors.

When you’re in the darkest dark, an ember lights your way

Darkness has been closing in, in many ways, through various forms.

Some are derived from the usual sources.

News headlines.

Judgmental eyes.

Weather.

But lately, they have been accompanied by an avalanche of stories.

Tragedy.

Hopelessness.

Futility.

Pointlessness.

And they link, and spread, and envelope, and engulf, and overwhelm, and suffocate.

And you think, “Why keep breathing, when it’s such a struggle?”

You see no one, hear nothing but your thoughts.

And they lie.

Tears roll down your cheeks and you have a tinge of relief that you still feel.

But that’s part of the problem.

You feel.

For the dogs left outside to freeze. For the little girl tortured and killed by her mother. For the girl in class who is hungry. For the strangers you never met. For the loved ones who are struggling.

And it becomes a swirl of black and gray and indigo and it’s chalky and it gets in your eyes and ears and mouth and nose and lungs and you choke and sputter and almost relinquish and stop fighting.

Then, inexplicably, the corner of your crusted eye sees something.

It’s so small and weak you have to stare intently.

It glows.

A tiny ember.

And you stare, afraid to blink, afraid to scare it away.

You sweep your hands through the darkness, trying to get closer.

The closer you get, the larger it becomes.

It is warm.

It is a beacon.

You reach it and stretch it and pull it around you like a blanket, tucking your arms into yourself and curling your legs to your chest.

You feed from the light.

Slowly, your eyes begin to clear. The chalky darkness begins to fade from your body. Its inky blackness drains from your mind.

And at last you see the full picture.

The rescue group saving the dogs. The prosecutor guaranteeing this mother will harm no child again. The offering of food. The people who are helping the strangers. The outpouring of love and support for loved ones.

So you hold on and keep breathing. And you take notes, remembering this experience. And you realize that there is always an ember there when you need it.

Even in your darkest days.

Always, always search for the light.

It’s there.

I love Christmas, but it can be tough

Anxiety doesn’t know that the kids are excited for Christmas, and it doesn’t give a shit that you have a million things to do. It pops up unexpectedly like a jack in the box without the lyrical cues.

Last night I texted my dad asking what time he and my mom were planning to come over today. It was 9pm, so of course I was texting from bed. I played a few games on my phone, went to turn out the light, and saw the clock–9:40.

No reply.

My dad always replies and he goes to bed later than I do. So I did want any sane person would do. Various scenarios of them dead began to play in my head.

They have been having some remodeling work done on the house, so of course one of the workers broke in, robbed them and bludgeoned them to death in the process. The scene was gruesome. The police came and carted them off to the morgue and I was called to identify them. I would have Bill stay with the kids and tell them I just had to run an errand. I would get there and the drape would be pulled back and I would see their swollen faces.

What would I tell the kids? Not the truth because they would be afraid of the same thing happening at our house. It would have to be an accident of some sort until they could understand when they were older. Would my brother be able to get a flight home? Probably not right away because it would be Christmas Eve.

And we’d have to postpone Christmas. I would have to take weeks off of work for the trial because I would want to know every single detail of the case. Which prosecutor would take the case?

What would happen after? I’m not ready to lose my parents. They are finally enjoying the retirement they worked so hard for. It’s so fucking unfair!

STOP THIS SHIT

Finally, my other brain breaks through.

My conscious self says, This is bullshit. You are tired, stressed and overwhelmed and are vulnerable to this crap.

You need to STOP. Right now.

I take a deep breath. Notice my heart beating visibly through my T-shirt. Feel tears release from the corners of my eyes. Unclench my fists and feel the divots from my fingernails. Ginger stares at me.

I inhale

1-2-3-4-5-6-7

Hold

1-2-3-4-5-6-7

Exhale

1-2-3-4-5-6-7

I remind myself where I am. Concentrate on the weight of the sheets and blankets. The breeze from the fan.

I tell myself they are probably watching a movie. The phone is on vibrate. They are talking to my brother.

Sometimes after an episode, I feel really stupid. Ashamed. Weak.

Sometimes after an episode, I feel confused. Shaken. Weak.

I scooch over to Ginger, pressing my leg against her body and feel calmer.

I look at the clock.

12:37

I love the holidays. But sometimes it’s hard. And sometimes it’s hard for different reasons. I’ll have my mental armor on tonight, and will wear it for the next several days.

Just in case.

If you’re struggling, you’re not alone.

If you think you have everything handled, and you’re good, and then suddenly something happens and you’re not, it’s ok.

You can get through it. We can get through it.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Be sure to give yourself some love, patience and care.

The twelve days of Christmas— teacher style

It’s hell for just about all classroom teachers right now. The kids are insane, the classroom heaters are either blowing 97 or 7 degrees, administrators are trying to squeeze in evaluations, and the school board took away the secret Valium lick in the teacher’s lounge.

So for all of my fellow teachers, here is a little song to help you make it to the break. Because vodka doesn’t translate in this format. And because no one has time for the full thing, here’s the countdown from twelve. Enjoy!

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my students gave to me: twelve new gray hairs

Eleven whiny whiners

Ten tardy passes

Nine late assignments

Eight stomach ulcers

Seven hours of grading

Six stupid questions

Nasty stomach flu!

Four copied papers

Three parent emails

Two eyes a twitching

And a headache that needs some Aleve!

Hang in there, everyone!