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!

My Christmas list is too fucking long

I am brain fried. Mentally spent, physically exhausted.

All because of this list:

This is everything that will need to be done in the next two weeks.

I just finished 120 essays tests for English 11, and I’m numb. Many kids did well, but for some kids it’s like they weren’t even in class for the last two weeks. So the emotional roller coaster of “They got it!” to “What the FUCK??” has been running all weekend.

And now I’m nauseous. With heart burn.

My fellow teachers can relate. We’re all desperately trying to wrap things up before the two week break because once we come back, exams start seven days later.

And some of the kids are driving me insane.

“Umm, I’m going to be gone that week before break because that’s when we’re going to Jamaica, so can I have my work?”

Umm, no because I don’t have my shit together enough to even know what we’re doing tomorrow. And let’s be honest. You’re not going to do it anyway.

“I was absent. Can I get my work?”

Absent?!? I think you mean truant. You’ve been out 38 days. And now your 16% has finally caught your attention and you want to make up all the work? Good luck.

*explosive sigh* “Why don’t we ever do anything fun? Can’t we have a free day?”

No. My job is to make you as miserable as possible and never allow even a smile to escape your lips. And for the record, I never charge. Every day is free, fuck you very much.

Maybe I’m just getting too old for this shit. Maybe I need the break more than I thought. Maybe my inner Scrooge is just a little too visible. Maybe I just need a drink and a big nap.

The only thing I want for Christmas is an empty list. No tasks, no jobs, no to-dos.

That would make a very merry Christmas.

My uterus is being an asshole

Any woman “of a certain age” will get this.

Stages of assholery:

Fuck with hormones to create a fatigue that would overwhelm a meth addict. Make it impossible to stay awake and impair cognition. Fall asleep in chairs, at red lights and during conversations.

Relive labor pains with contractions that are just a few minutes apart. Call for anesthesia and realize there is no epidural to save you. Down bottles of Aleve and Motrin. Kill liver. Decide liver is already dead, so pour vodka down throat. Rage at children for atrocities such as whispering loudly and laughing while playing nicely with each other. Secretly imagine husband’s face being torn off by eagle talons because he is placidly watching football and tapping on his laptop.

Decide everyone sucks and retreat to bedroom to hate everything the world has ever created, except dogs and cats, and then dissolve into rage tears because you are aware of what a horrible human being you are and a rush of guilt and love and appreciation sweep through you like a Noah flood and all the rage you had at everyone else is now pointed at yourself.

Google “home hysterectomy” and consider it. Seriously.

Fall into uneasy sleep and dread getting into a vertical position because now the Noah flood is all too real. (Sorry, not sorry, guys. You all suck.)

Eat 10,000 calories. All carbs. In an hour. Hate self for lack of control. Eat 10,000 more.

Be cranky, tired, angry, sad, hopeless. Be cranky, tired, upset, depressed. Be cranky, tired, happy to notice the sun. Be amused at Bob’sBurgers, alive enough to wash hair, awake enough to consider a run.

Wonder who the hell you have been for the last few days.

Repeat anytime between 21 and 30 days.

Asshole.

This actually fucking happened and I need to just crawl into a hole now before I hurt someone

Mondays are crazy. Two practices at two different times means dinner options are minimal. But on the way home, inspiration hit.

Panera.

Yes, clean food, fresh ingredients, no preservatives– it’s like I can claim I cooked a decent meal instead of running through Wendys. Again.

But this encounter is just a hint of what my entire day was like.

I walk in, and make sure I stand toward the back, not at the counter, while I text Bill to see what he wants. Eyes still on my phone, I hear, “Whenever you’re ready, I’m ready.”

Unsure if this was some kind of mating ritual at Panera at 3:30 in the afternoon, I glance up and see the cashier staring at me.

Umm… I’m just waiting for my husband to text his order back to me.

More staring.

More staring.

Fuck it, Bill, you’re getting a turkey bravo.

Hi, this order is to go. Can I get two grilled cheese sandwiches?

Uh, hold on, I think we’re out of white bread. *yells to guy three feet away* Hey, are we out of white bread?

They are out of white bread.

How can you be out of white bread?

Uh, we’ll, is there another bread that you want?

Do you have honey wheat?

*yells again* Hey, do we have honey wheat?

They don’t have honey wheat.

Tell you what, just tell me what bread you have.

Uhh, *yells again* what bread do we have?

No lie, the guy replies, Sourdough and THE OTHER ONE.

Umm, what’s the other one?

*yells again, although the guy can clearly hear me* what’s the other one?

Sesame. Like white bread. With sesame seeds on the crust.

MAYBE START WITH THAT ONE????

AND WHY ARE YOU OUT OF ALL THE BREAD AT 3:30?!?! Your name is Panera BREAD for fuck sake! Are you out of flour? Water? No??? THEN MAKE SOME FUCKING BREAD.

Ok, so two grilled cheese on sesame.

Do you want drinks?

No… and a quart of chicken soup.

Do you want drinks?

No… and a goddess Cobb salad.

Do you want drinks?

*FUCK NO I DON’T WANT DRINKS!*

No… and a turkey bravo.

Do you want drinks?

My head plays this:

IF I WAS IN THE FUCKING SAHARA DESERT FOR SIX MONTHS AND WAS DYING OF THIRST AND YOU WALKED UP AND ASKED ME IF I WANTED DRINKS I WOULD TELL YOU WHERE YOU COULD PUT THOSE FUCKING DRINKS!!!

This is why I need to wear a warning label at all times.

WARNING: This person is unstable and may blow at any moment. If you are a slow driver in the left lane, someone who repeatedly jams the copy machine and leaves, or repeatedly asks stupid questions be aware.

I’m having a rough time, but who isn’t?

I can sense it, feel it, almost grasp it. The depression is lurking near, waiting for an opportunity to materialize. Right now it’s a transparent fog. This time of year always beckons it.

The days are shorter, the rain is more prevalent. The workload is overwhelming, the activities are draining. Monotony sets in, motivation stumbles.

I say yes to invitations and bail at the last minute. I make promises to exercise and make excuses not to go. I go to bed early and pledge to catch up on sleep and wind up with excruciating dreams and lonely midnights.

So it’s calling me. Coaxing me. Trying to lure me.

It’s so easy to give in, much harder to fight. Easy to just stop planning, caring and producing. Just let the darkness take over, keep everyone out, slide into nothingness. Why struggle?

I self care. I get a massage, text with a friend, make jokes, plan lessons, hug my kids, take naps, have a drink.

I self-sabotage. I am irritable, snap at others, dwell on the negative, skip showers, eat too much.

Which way to go?

Of course, I know the answer. The only answer. To fight, struggle, bite, kick, scratch and maim my way to wellness.

But it’s so fucking hard sometimes.

And sometimes I just want to give in and allow the darkness to swallow me whole, without resistance. But there are two sources of light that keep me from giving in.


The only two.

It’s a rough time of year. For a lot of people. I know I’m not alone. I’ll do my best to be there for you. In fact, I’m a better cheerleader for you than I am for myself.

And if you are struggling as I am right now, take solace in the light that pulls you away from the darkness. Whatever form that takes. 

We’ll make it.

10 Things I learned this week

1. Trying to keep the attention of 30+ students when my classroom is 84 degrees is an exercise in futility. By the end of the day, we all feel like we’ve been through a car wash and just want to lie down and softly moan in our heat exhaustion induced hallucinations. Thank you, kids, for playing along as well as you did.

2. Michigan’s way forward might just be with John O’Korn and not Wilton Speight. From one offensive touchdown last week to four this week, Harbaugh has some decisions to make during the bye week. Make the right one, Coach.

3. The word “leader” is just a title. Being a leader involves much more. If you have to scream, intimidate, and belittle those around you, you are not a leader, sir. You are an asshole. And I’m not afraid of you anymore. Bring it.

4. It doesn’t matter what the Lions do, the universe just doesn’t want them to succeed. This time it isn’t the fault of poor drafting, poor coaching or poor management, it’s just that Lion fans are doomed to watch the Super Bowl outside in the bitter cold for all eternity. All. Eternity.

5. I run slow, I walk a lot, I sweat buckets and have a bum back and hip. But I never regret going. Even when my awesome hubby has to pick me up because I just can’t go any farther. 

6. Sigh… Despite the fact that she hasn’t really grown since the fourth grade, my little girl is maturing into a responsible young adult. She is capable, confident and a force to be reckoned with. I’m so proud of her and happy for her, and eager to see who she becomes. But it’s bittersweet. If I start weeping over baby pictures, call someone.

7. I really shouldn’t be allowed in grocery stores. I was using the self-checkout, because, you know– people– and after being told for the sixth time to “place the item in the bagging area,” by that annoying robot voice, I said (maybe loudly), “I DID, bitch!” Apparently, the guy who supervises that area takes his job way too seriously, because he paused while opening the bags for the next customer and gave me the look of death. I think I’m banned now, but I haven’t been back to check.

8. I’ve confirmed that one of my biggest fears is disappointing others. This came back into focus as my students ranked the books they want to read, and I ordered 15 books online so no student had to resort to their third choice. $150 later, it’s all good.

9. When people loot in protest, critics say, “Why can’t they protest peacefully? Violence solves nothing,” but when people protest peacefully, the most hateful, venomous vitriol is spewed toward them for being unamerican. What gives?

10. My mental health has been really good lately. And part of it is because I just stopped giving certain people any power over me. At this point in time, I think I’m a good teacher, mom, wife and friend. And, right now, I’m good for me. It could change tomorrow, but this feeling is unfamiliar enough that I recognize it and am grateful for it. Thank you.

Summer’s sunset

Yesterday was the perfect day. 

I sailed through Meijer without rushing, without a deadline. Every item I needed was in stock and when I went to check out, no one was in line. 

I ran three miles around the neighborhood feeling joy in the fact that I could. 

I walked my dog, I sat outside, I counted the many bikes in the driveway and I listened to my kids and their friends laughing.

I wish it could always be like this. 

But it can’t, because next week I will be back to work again and the kids will be in school. 

And I will have a really hard time with it. 

I don’t like change, even if it’s one that I know is coming. I suddenly start panicking about how we’ll get laundry done. How we’ll fit homework and practice and yard work and housework all into just evenings and weekends. 

And my kids!!!

This was a glorious summer, I have to admit. Hang in there if you’ve got younger ones, and if your kids are older, don’t worry— I am not taking this summer for granted. 

They were old enough to ride around the neighborhood without supervision, and I’m fortunate enough to live in a true village that watches out for everyone’s kids. Some days I had a house full, while other days it was oddly quiet. 

I completed projects, read, took naps, read some more and stalked @dog_rates. 

And all was right with the world. 

But now it’s back to real life. 

To setting the alarm for 5am.

To packing lunches the night before.

To choosing my clothes for the next day.

To carrying loads of papers home to grade during baseball practices and gymnastics meets. 

To talking to my husband more through text than face to face. 

To giving exhausted ‘Good nights’ and brief goodnight kisses.

To seeing my kids for only a few hours each day. 

Every year I whine and ask Bill if I really have to go back to work. And it’s not that I hate what I do, I love it. 

But I also love this:

And this:


And I love it more than I will ever love anything else in my life. 

So if I’m a little out of sorts and weepy for the next couple of weeks, it’s just because I’m not ready to give up the summer. 

Not just yet. 

Anxiety overload

My chest is tight. My brain is in hyperdrive. My thoughts are scattered. I thought I was doing ok, but now I’m not.

That’s how anxiety works. I can be completely fine, then one thing will happen that triggers an attack. And I don’t want to scare my kids or lose myself completely, so it’s all kept inside.

Writing this is my outlet.

And it’s all over something stupid, inane and everyday. 

There have been utility workers parked in front of my house digging holes, marking lines and burying cigarette butts in my yard. All. Week. Long. 

I tried to alleviate it by trying to see the humor in it. So I posted this:


And called it “Fiber Optic Phallus.”

Today I came home to this:


More holes and more strange men. 

I opened the back door to let Ginger out and heard two men discussing the sign our neighbor posted about her dog. She got the idea because I put up a similar sign. See, a short time ago, a dog in my city was shot and killed by a utility worker for barking at the stranger in her yard. Doing what dogs do. So I put up this sign:


It sounded like these guys were making fun of it, so I went outside with Ginger. 

Since then, my neighbor has called the foreman and she called me. I was standing by the window talking to her when one worker spotted me. He said something to his buddy and he then looked at me too.

And now my paranoia and anxiety are peaking. I had wanted to clean the basement, but all my anxiety demons are protesting. “What if someone comes in? You won’t hear them. There’s no escape in the basement.”

I’m afraid to let my kids ride their bikes. Afraid of what these strangers might say or do. I’m afraid to let my dog out on her own. What if they do something to her out of spite because I put up a sign to protect her? What if one of them sees me use the garage code and records it to come back later? If I complain, will one of them take revenge? On me? My kids? My dog?

I’m afraid of talking to them. I’m afraid of not talking to them. I don’t want to seem too friendly or too bitchy. 

It is isolating and confining and terrible and suffocating and frightening to feel this way. 

And it’s not rational or logical or sane to think this way. I KNOW that. But my brain sometimes fights logic and reason with the unknowns of ‘what if?’

Sorry, there’s no real end to this post, because the feelings are there and raw. I’m going to make some tea and check on the kids. And maybe try and find refuge away from my brain.

I fucking hate this, but writing it feels better. Thanks.