Finally, a diagnosis!


It has a su-per long name that sounds just quite atrocious!

But it’s not life threat-en-ing and that is really awesome,

I’ll just take some helpful meds, avoid stress (something else that rhymes with “us”? Bogus? Onus? Ah..) that’s a bonus!

Yeah, so I haven’t disappeared or lost interest in the blog or anything. It’s just life that gets in the way, and tests, and keeping my shit together, which lately is like trying to keep 30 kittens in a shallow Amazon box– put one back in and three more escape.

But after numerous ECGs, a stress test, heart ultrasound, 24 hour and 48 hour Holter monitor and a two week Zio patch that left scars on my chest, I have the answer.

It’s only taken 9 months.

To get all medical, it’s something you’re born with. You have that electrical signal that jets to a “gatekeeper” as my cardiologist calls it (I hope it looks nothing like a Ghostbusters Rick Moranis), which then sends it to constrict the heart chambers correctly.

But with this, there’s an extra circuit that sometimes gets the signal, and it just kind of signals, signals, signals until the heart corrects itself. Kind of.

So those are the extra beats, the THUMP THUMP THUMP like my heart’s going to beat out of my chest and the 225bpm that were recorded and I sometimes feel.

And of course, as I get older, the episodes will increase in frequency and duration. Which isn’t a problem unless it doesn’t correct and I have to go to an ER to get it stopped.

So, there are three things I can do.

1. Nothing– awesome. I will let my heart binge Netflix

2. Take some beta blockers. Side effects are low blood pressure and fatigue. I didn’t know blood pressure could go lower than what mine already is, but ok. 90/65 is my normal. So he said to take it at night. You know, so if I faint, I’m already asleep?

3. A heart “procedure” that will completely cure it. They feed a catheter through the groin (that word is right next to “moist” as a word I hate) to the heart, find the circuit and fry it. I asked if they could make mine extra crispy with a side of mashed potatoes, but he didn’t hear me. Or maybe he was just ignoring me.

Since I’m kind of leery about, you know, A HEART PROCEDURE, which might as well be called a YOU WILL BE FUCKED IF ANYTHING GOES WRONG PROCEDURE, I’m going to stick with the beta blockers for now.

Getting old sucks.

Oh, and if you ever have to use the Zio patch, which apparently is the gold standard of diagnosing asshole hearts, and you start to itch and have pain, TAKE IT OFF before it looks like this:

Yeah. Eeww.

So I did a thing…

If you read my posts over the spring and summer, you know that I struggled with my third trip into the dregs of a major depression. I felt like this was by far the worst one because instead of just feeling like I was worthless and hopeless and without value, I felt like life itself had no value.

All life seemed pointless. I mean, why? Just why? Why get out of bed and do the things and be stressed and miserable and get back into bed just to do it all over again the next day? Until death?

Nothing made sense.

And always, when I have started down this path of despair before, I have been able to drag and scratch myself back up by looking at my kids and realizing that I absolutely HAD to survive so I could be there for them. No matter what was going on, no matter what lies my brain was trying to tell me, I held firm to the knowledge that my presence in my kids’ lives was vital.

But this spring, that belief blew away like the seeds of a dandelion.

And in its place grew guilt.

Guilt that I had brought two beautiful human beings into this world to face the same treacherous journey. To exist in a state of nothingness surrounded by horrible people and horrible circumstances. To struggle and strive and get knocked down and hate me for causing it.

I was so completely and hopelessly lost in the darkness. And there wasn’t even a glimmer of light.

Eventually, as you know, I got help and changed meds and worked and pushed and took every hand held out to me to pull me out of shadow.

And I feel well. Really well.

But I don’t ever want to get that far down again.

So I decided that if my brain can lie about the two reasons I do everything in my life and tell me that even they don’t matter, then I need a more permanent reminder.

I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, and I wanted it where I could see it every day, at every angle. It is with me when I circle my arms around them, and it will be with me when they have families of their own.

An eternal reminder, my own personal light.

The stressiest stress test

I recently “re-established care” after not seeing a regular doc for over two years. Long story short, my old doc sucked and then life was happening, and here we are.

Anyway, after nothing for two years now I have all kinds of appointments and preventive care stuff and one of them happened to be a treadmill stress test because I was having some palpitations and not the kind I get when I see Chris Hemsworth’s half naked body in Thor Ragnarok.

How bad could it be? I’m a runner, I have a treadmill, right?

I was picturing a room like a gym with some totally high end treadmill set up like this:

But I entered a super small room with a hospital bed, a monitor and a treadmill that looked like this:

And it was placed in the corner.

The first thing they wanted to do is do a resting EKG, so I was told I would have some privacy to undress from the waist up and put a gown on opening in the front.

Say what?

I have to run sans sports bra?

With the gown open?

But the techs were gone before I could ask so I hurriedly took off my dry wick shirt and sports bra and tied the gown around me, which was a total waste of time because they just untied it immediately after I said I was ready.

I laid on the bed and the techs placed all of the leads. They asked if I was a runner, how far I had run, yada, yada, yada.

Little did I know this was a trick.

After the resting EKG, I was told that a dude, we’ll call him MAJE for Most Awkward Job Ever, came in to do an ultrasound of my heart.

Not gonna lie. He came in and the techs dimmed the lights and left the room and I panicked just a smidge, but Maje asked what I did, and after I told him he made the joke, “Well, now I know why you’re stressed!”

I’m pretty sure I could have said I was a professional kitten cuddler and his response would have been the same.

So out comes the gel and gloved hands and I’m on my side and he’s got the tool and he’s only half looking at me and more looking at the screen and he’s rocking me back and forth to get a good image.

It was like high school sex all over again, except the Red Wings weren’t playing.

Anyhoo, it turns out my heart is an asshole that doesn’t want to be photographed. After moving my boob around and around and pressing the wandy-thing into my rib cage he asked if I had pectus excavatum which is where your breastbone goes all concave between your boobs instead of flat and before I could say yes, he looked and said, “Oh yeah, there it is!” and I think in certain countries that means we’re married now, which is awkward because I already have a hard time remembering my anniversary with my first husband.

So now there’s an issue. Time to bring in reinforcements. Not for me though, for Maje who feels bad that he can’t see all of my heart, and I was like, It’s just shy and doesn’t know you well yet, but he didn’t buy it and went to get another tech.

This tech had a super strong Slavic-like accent which could have been soothing except she kept saying “You, see ok?” at the end of each sentence. She couldn’t see my heart either, so she left me a $20 on the hospital bed and told me to get myself something nice.

Ok, so she didn’t leave me money, but after the second groping, I really felt like I earned it.

Maje finally gave up and said his images were good enough. Good enough? It’s my heart, not a school picture, but I guess that was all they could do and at this point there was no way I was rescheduling.

Now it was time for the treadmill. The techs came back in and they all marveled that I was actually dressed to run and then I started feeling like an idiot because I sensed a trap. One of the techs wrapped a belt around my waist so I didn’t trip over the leads and I almost asked if I could tuck my boobs in there too, but decided against it and hoped for the best. Plus, they were all gunky from the gel so I prayed they’d just stick to my body. Once I was strapped in, she used a piece of scotch tape to close my gown.

One piece.

Presents wrapped by a two year old are more stable than this. A single piece of tape is going to hold the gown closed so my boobs don’t flail around wildly like two half-filled water balloons? I think not.

Just for context, I’ve had two kids. The ONLY stretch marks I have are on my boobs. From engorgement. They aren’t pretty and I try to keep them under wraps at all costs. If I go braless, I’m like one of those National Geographic women who look like they have pouches attached to their chests.

I had no choice, so I got on the treadmill with both techs and Maje watching. There was no speed or incline indicator. It was all automatic, so each stage was three minutes at a speed and incline, and every three minutes both increased.

At first it was ok. The speed was brisk and the incline up, but I could walk and still just breathe through my nose and talk just fine. Simple. Boobs were just swaying like leaves in a summer breeze.

Then there was a beep and the speed and incline increased. Still ok, I was walking fast, but was now breathing out of my mouth and talking was a little bit more difficult. I wondered if the gown was still closed and if my nipple might poke the tech in the eye.

Before it could beep again, one of the leads was malfunctioning because it was jacked up from all the gel. Of course it was a lead on my side next to the wall.

The time ended and the speed and incline jacked up again. Now I had to run, on an incline that felt like Everest, and they wanted to change the lead while I was running. Fuxcuse me? I was afraid I was going to fall off the damn thing and my legs were about spent, so I quit.

So much for my running background…

Then it was back on the bed and there was blood pressure being taken, images of my asshole heart and EKG going. Honestly it was a little like an ER episode without a gang busting in to avenge a fallen brother.

Finally, it was over. They had all the data they needed and I was given the ok to dress and leave. The tech told me not to feel badly, that the average time is between 6 and 12 minutes.

I lasted 7.

I slowly put my bra and shirt back on. The room was in disarray. The lights were still dimmed. Everyone had gone. It looked like a used stage from some really specific niche porn flick.

I hope I get a cut of the profits.

Finally— remission

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because I don’t want to jinx anything.

But almost two weeks ago, I felt it. And it was a moment worth remembering.

I walked outside to go for a run. I started my app, jogged down the driveway, around the corner, and onto the sidewalk that parallels the main road…

And it happened.

I noticed the sidewalk stretching out before me. Saw the azure blue of the sky. Smelled the dew on the grass.

And was grateful. And awake. And content. And alive.

The run wasn’t anything special. I think it was maybe two miles total with several walking breaks.

But for the first time in a long time, it felt like all of the gears in my brain were finally in sync and running smoothly.

The first time in a very long time.

It’s taken eight months.

Four medication changes.

Numerous psychiatric visits and emails.

Side effects from withdrawal from medication and adjusting to new medication.

Insurance company squabbles.

But the darkness has retreated for now.

And even though I’m hesitant to celebrate, I need to share it.

Even though I question why I’m not sleeping, or why I’m tired, or panic if I have a negative thought, I need to share this.

It gets better.

For anyone out there who fights the darkness, you need to know that there is always a light.

Sometimes from a completely unexpected place.

When your brain lies to you and tells you you’re worthless and you don’t matter and nothing matters and what’s the point of it all, read this:

YOU are worth it. YOU matter. YOU are loved, and valued, and treasured, and make the world a better place.

This is my third episode of major depression. Each time I needed help. By the second episode, I realized how to ask for it. With this episode, I decided to share the journey with the hope of helping others understand the struggle.

I have no regrets.

And I have many people I am grateful for.

Even though going “public”was frightening, it helped having support from so many. Some I know and some I don’t.

Thank you.

I am experienced enough to realize that the odds of another episode are likely. And that this illness will return, come out of remission, and try to take over.

So for now, I’m going to breathe. And enjoy the contentment while it lasts.

I’m going to enjoy the ability to be present in the moment.

And try to remember that the light may fade, it may be obscured, but it is always there.

I have a nube skin and sometimes lay low like a bush camper, but I’m all in for Fortnite.

“Ok, we’re landing at Tilted. Follow my marker.”

“The blue one?”

“Yes, Mama. I’ll tell you when to jump…. JUMP!”

“Where should I land?”

“On top of that first building.”

“Crap. I think I opened my chute too soon. I’m going to land way away from there.”

“Ok, I have a shottie, a legendary SCAR and some mini-shields.”

“How do you find this stuff?”

“Don’t worry, Mama. I got you. I’m going to drop the minis for you and the shottie. Drink the shields. We have to get to the circle before the storm gets us.”


Most adults hate it. If you have kids, they have probably spent the better part of their summer playing it on their iPad, X-Box, PS4 or any other number of devices. The best part is it’s free. The worst part is it’s addicting and your kid has probably asked to spend the next five years’ allowance on V-bucks for battle passes and cool skins (avatars).

But contrary to what most of my friends think, I happen to like the game. And what I like more, is getting to play it with my kids.

Yes, there’s violence. The object is to kill/ survive until you are the last single, duo or squad standing. But there’s no blood, no gore, and no side vulgarities. If you die, a light kind of dissolves you leaving all of your loot behind for enemies to pick up.

What I really like is the teamwork and skill involved. Unless you’re playing singles, you have to work with others in order to win. So people will share shields with you. They’ll build for you if you suck at it (like me). And they’ll even revive you if you’re knocked down, which I find amazing. Even though my own kid chose a supply drop over reviving me once–asshole–random players have revived me again and again.

And again.

I told you, I really suck.

But I’m getting better.

I can land where I planned to and find chests with all the goodies. I can reload my weapons on the run. I know how to aim and shoot. I can build— albeit very slowly.

And I have to admit, I like getting better at something. I like the strategy involved in drawing your enemy out, in choosing the appropriate weapon. In running floor to floor in a house and knowing there is always a chest in the secret room in the basement. I like having my go-to landing spots—Retail Row, anyone?—that are now familiar. I like reviving nubes (new players) like me.

But most of all, I like the fact that my kids are way better than I am and yet they want to play with me.

My kids are 13 and 9. They’re both starting to hit that stage where I’m not cool enough to hang out with. In the future they’ll be way more interested in their friends and eventual boyfriends and girlfriends. So I cherish this time of looting and killing with them.

Even if it means I watch my daughter get excited about killing someone with a single headshot.

From behind.

And I like that they are the experts. I think it’s awesome that they can teach me, and that I suck at stuff that they excel at.

And what shocks me is the patience they have with me. Sometimes I get frustrated when I can’t pick up what I want to pick up. “Mama is your inventory full? You have to drop something, remember?” Sometimes I can maneuver the way they can. “Here, let me build another stair so you can jump easier.”

When I get killed, they empathize. When I get a kill, they’re ecstatic.

That’s only happened four times…

So yeah, Derek plays way more than I’d like him to, and sometimes I have to make him get dressed and see the sun.

And I’m like 99… ok, 93% certain that playing this won’t have negative long-lasting effects on him. Probably.

And it’s not quite the scenario I pictured when they were little. You know, visiting museums, appreciating art, reading books together… which sounds pretty boring now that I typed that out. Sheesh.

But he won’t always be nine and want to play with me.

So, thanks, Fortnite.

I’m sorry if I scared anyone

My poor mom. Whenever I have a sensitive post, I try and warn her ahead of time so she’s not blindsided. It’s the least, and I mean the very least, I can do.

So she read it immediately as I knew she would and a flurry of texts ensued about her fears and questions and need for assurance.

I’m really, really sorry, mom.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to read these things about your daughter. I know my friends are concerned when I write things like this. I’ve been offered all kinds of help and I am so, so appreciative of the outpouring of love and support that I almost think I deserve it.

That’s a joke.

As hard as it is to read, it’s equally hard to write. Because even though some might deny it, it alters their view of me.

And that’s ok.

I’m no different than I have been my entire life, but this part has been kept secret for years.

As I told my mom, I understand why she’s upset and scared because it’s the first time she’s reading about these things, but as I assured her, it’s not the first time I’ve felt them.

I remember the first time wanting to cut myself, but it was more of a “he’ll be sorry” kind of thing. I took a steak knife in my room, sat on my bed with ugly sobs blurring my hands and thought about what would happen.

But I was scared. Of getting in trouble.

So I waited for the sobs to subside and put the steak knife back in the kitchen drawer.

But there’s more than one way to harm oneself.

Over the years I’ve picked my cuticles until they bled, pulled out eyelashes and eyebrows, worked out to collapsing exhaustion, eaten myself into oblivion, drunk myself into forgetfulness, and starved myself.

All ways to distract attention from what was causing pain on the inside.

Coping mechanisms, but destructive ones.

So I get it. I may not fit the profile of someone you think of when you think “mental illness.” My eyes aren’t wild, I’m not a loner, and I get out of bed. Well, most days.

But there are more of us than you might realize.

Erasing the stigma is a HUGE goal of mine. Helping people see that you CAN learn coping skills and have a functional life, a family that loves you and laugh and play and not just survive but truly live with mental illness.

And every time I’ve gotten punched by a new episode, I end up going to my corner, getting new strategies, new meds, more love and more support, and I have been able to win.

This is just another one of those times.

And I can win.

I’m tired of writing about it and you’re probably tired of reading about it…

But I promised I’d be honest.

These are some of the things I’ve been thinking in the last few weeks.

It will get better when school is out.

It will get better when baseball is over.

It will get better when I’ve caught up on sleep.

It’s not better.

Yes, I haven’t been questioning the value of my existence, and that’s a huge step. Not one to take lightly and I truly am grateful for that.

But things still feel forced and are life draining.

I’ll have one day where I get up, get dressed, have a plan and fulfill it, checking items off my list like the productive, organized individual I used to be.

But then the next day I am completely spent. I sit in my chair and read. I don’t bother to make a list. I take a two hour nap. I dread appointments because then I’ll have to socialize. I order pizza for dinner and play mindless games on my iPad.

The other night I was so tired of broken sleep with disturbing dreams I took some Restoril and slept really well. The next day, even though I was clouded until 10, I actually had energy and weeded and planted and sprayed and watered.

The next day that energy vanished.

This past Wednesday was the worst, and it prompted me to try and schedule an earlier appointment with my doc.

The separation of children from their families was something I knew would tear me apart, but then there was an article in the Detroit Free Press that told of two centers that were receiving kids and were extremely low on supplies and caregivers for these children–some still in diapers.

I researched and donated and flooded my Twitter and Facebook feeds with articles and statistics, but it didn’t alleviate the anger and helplessness I felt. And that led to feelings of hopelessness.

By that evening, we were driving to my son’s last baseball game and I had an overwhelming desire to replace the emotional pain with physical pain. I wanted to cut myself. Feel the blade. See the blood. Focus on something outside to avoid my inside. The urge, fortunately, passed.

So here I am. Weeks into a drug regimen that should have reached its peak efficacy by now, and I fear I’m going to have to start all over again. I compare it to drug roulette. Maybe this one works, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the side effects will be tolerable, maybe they’ll be horrific.

And my greatest fear is that when all the drugs have been tried and nothing helps, what next?

I’m willing to try, but I guess this is one of the reasons depression is so hard for others to tolerate. Because it doesn’t just go away magically. There is no perfect cure that works for everyone. Something may work and then not work.

Depression is an incurable, chronic illness. Remission can be achieved, but there’s no guarantee how long it might last.

And when it does come back, it might be mild or severe. It might vary day to day. It might expose itself as rage, fatigue, restlessness, overeating, undereating, sleeping a lot, insomnia.

I get it–having a friend or family member with depression is exhausting and frustrating.

We’re exhausted and frustrated too.

Just please try and be patient. It’s a lot to ask, but we want to be normal as much as you want us to.

I want to be me again.

I’m at 85% and I don’t know if that’s good enough

The meds are working. That I know.

Are they working well enough?

That I don’t.

I go in every month now and see my psychiatrist for updates. This last month he asked how I was doing and I said I felt at about 85% of what I was. He replied that by this time, maximum relief should be present.

So what now?

Ha asked about work and of course I mentioned that it stressed me out. But doesn’t everyone’s to some degree?

He said he was looking back at his notes and noticed that work was a constant stressor that never seemed to abate during the school year and he asked why that might be.

And yes, there are stressors related to last minute changes, parents, being rushed, administrators and all that, but that’s not the main issue for me.

It’s the kids.

I’ve posted about this before, but every year the kids come in with more needs than ever. They come in with tougher backgrounds, secrets few people know, and hardships beyond most people’s imaginations.

And I encourage these kids to write about it. Talk about it. Release it just a bit from their conscience and allow them to work through it safely and somewhat objectively.

So I know they have been sexually assaulted. I know their parent has committed suicide. I know their sibling has died of an overdose. I know they were hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. I know their dad beats their mom. I know they have been traumatized by gun violence. I know they suffer crippling anxiety. I know they are homeless or living with grandma because mom or dad are in prison or abandoned them or died.

And I think about how I can help them. I wonder what I can do, I feel guilty that this is their reality, I feel angry that they have had their innocence brutally stripped from them.

And my mind turns.

On my drive home. While I’m grading papers. In the middle of the night. In the morning.

All day.

Every day.

I can’t shut it off.

After explaining this, he said that being in a constant state of high stress is horrible for my mental health and asked if I had considered trying anything to help buffer that pain.

Other than an early retirement? Which I can’t afford? No.

He said, I’m not going to say straight out that your job is making you ill, but…

Say no more. I know. I really do know. It’s not an accident that these episodes come at the same time every year. It’s not a coincidence that the summer and other breaks provide a temporary lift.

So what the fuck do I do?

He suggested therapy— figure out why I take these stories to heart and possibly learn strategies to buffer myself from them.

But I think I’m just wired this way.

And in my head, I don’t get how people aren’t wired this way.

I wish I knew their secret.

My school year is over. I haven’t run since a girls’ weekend in May. I had to quell an oncoming panic attack last night. Yesterday I looked around my house that resembles a city dump and felt like a failure as a mom, wife and teacher.

Is 85% enough?

I don’t know.

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.