Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Pulling Joy out of the Lost and Found

I lost my father, Bob Berwick, to a sudden heart, thirteen years and one month ago. I'm not going to lie, I still miss him almost every day. But something has shifted in me, that I've only noticed in this last month, and I wanted to talk about it a little.

You see, every year since he died, May 3 has been a hard day for me. That's the day he passed, and also the day his father died, several years before him. Some years I consciously remember as it approaches, and feel sad. Other years, I don't even know what's making me so moody, blue, irritable, unsettled, quick to cry, etc., until I look at a calendar and realize what day is coming.

This year I didn't even remember that the 13th anniversary had been marked until two days afterward. And I wondered if I should feel a little guilty, but I knew better as soon as I had the thought, so I just... said a little grateful prayer, and felt happy to have let it go. I felt at peace. For the first year, I remembered to celebrate his birthday, and let his date of death go by without a thought. And that felt completely right.

Part of it is probably that I spent that day hard at work with friends. May 3 this year found me in the Sherry kitchen, chopping vegetables, peeling shrimp, mixing, stirring, and otherwise helping prepare in advance a bounty of wonderful food to feed the musicians of the Birdfoot Festival, due in town later in May. I got to spend that day with Tom and Tracey Sherry and Tanya Battye, amazing, wonderful, and delightfully fun people to talk with and dance with and cook with. It was a busy and an upbeat day, and I didn't once remember to grieve amid the cheerful and aromatic bustle.

Part of it is probably the medication I'm on. I marvel to look back and see how much depression was keeping me down. I was doing all right. I was coping. I was making it through just fine. But I was crying every day with no real reason, and when I HAD a reason, it was just unbearable. Living, laughing, being myself... it was SO HARD. It's ridiculous how effortless it feels to be positive now, now that everything in my body isn't weighing my soul down with chemical sadness. It's not that I think of Dad less these days. But finally, FINALLY, I can think of him with more love than pain.

For a long time, if my father appeared in my dreams, I became intensely anxious. Even asleep, I knew that this time with him was tragically limited, and I felt like I had to make him see that we didn't have long, and that I must must MUST tell him I loved him. And somehow I never could. Either I couldn't reach him, or I couldn't make him understand, and the waking from every one of those dreams was to lose him painfully all over again.

In the last month, though, I've noticed that Daddy has been in my dreams a lot, but something in my mind is... just letting him be Daddy. He's there, in the background, a solid, warm, comforting presence, leaving me and everyone else to do our thing while he watches football, lying on his stomach in the den, or sitting in his LazyBoy, smoking a cigarette, glasses down his nose, reading a Tom Clancy book.

I dreamed the other day that he had to work late, so Mom, Brooke, and I were going to Momo's together for Easter, and we'd see him there Saturday night. He'd be in time for mass Sunday morning. He pulled into Momo's yard driving a dark green truck, hauling a trailer. I saw the truck through the sliding door in the TV room, and ran out to greet him. Not because I had to make this tiny sliver of time with him count for as much as I could, but because he was my father, and I loved him and was happy to see him.

And this time I made it to him. And I hugged him and rested in his arms. And I didn't feel anxious. And I didn't feel sad. I felt only an uncomplicated happiness, the same way I did when he was alive and I thought he'd always be there.  Because in some way, I know he always will. If I ever really need him, he will be in my dreams. And whatever happens to us after we die, I feel like nothing in this universe can be real and true if it isn't real and true that he will be there, waiting for me.

I'm crying now, of course. Because I'll never stop wishing I had him here on earth with me for real. I wish that he were here to read my book and tell me what he thinks.  He'd be a tough critic, I know. But I also know that, while part of that would be him pushing me as always to be exactly as amazing as he believes I can be, at least half of it would just be him trying not to be overwhelmed with pride in me. I have the courage to do the things I do because of him. And at last that realization brings me nothing but joy.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Climbing out of Shadow

I told myself I would write this post. That it would be good for me, and might be good for others. I told myself that the first day of the new year would be the perfect time. Because I want it to be more about looking forward than back, really. And because I wouldn't have time to do it on the last day of the old year, since I'd be traveling, then entertaining. So today, I need to finally get to writing. And I'm not at all sure now how to do it.

So I just will.

Many of my friends had an amazing year in 2014. There were pregnancies announced, babies born, goals met, blessings out right and blessings in disguise, and for all of these things, I am happy and grateful. For me, personally, the vast majority of 2014 was the worst year of my life. And I've had some bad years.

Don't get me wrong. There are many little moments in a day when I mentally take a step back and marvel at how fortunate I am. I have a secure job that pays me enough that I can fill my tank all the way up whenever I stop at a gas station. I know some truly outstanding human beings, and one of the few things that brings me to moments of true humility is that the most amazing people I've ever met love me and call me friend. I have a family, both immediate and extended, that loves me just as I am, unconditionally, enjoys my presence, respects my absence, and supports me no matter what. Everything I can do to give myself the best life possible, I have done and am doing, and I'm doing it well. I was voted most likely to succeed, and in everything I can affect and effect in my life, I'm definitely succeeding, by pretty much anyone's standards.

The problem is, I can't affect and effect everything. There are things I can't control. And this year, they all crawled out of their cracks and bit me in the ass.

I won't go into all of them. Some of them were truly minor. Some of them pale in comparison to others. Some of them were really significant, and each of those really deserves their own reflections. But there was one central and incredibly devastating theme to 2014 that I want to share. I'm not really sure why. I don't expect consolation or resolution at this stage of the game. I think... I think it's out of the Prayer of St. Francis. I seek, not so much to be consoled, as to console. I'm not alone, and I want other people to know that they aren't, either, and that even someone who seems completely together... isn't always.

So, here's the thing. I was told, early this year, that I have suffered premature ovarian failure. Somewhere in my mid-30s, I basically went through menopause. I will never have my own biological children. Never.

I know there are other options. I'm not really at a place where I'm ready to actively consider them. I'm still grieving. I'm still single, so I'm sorting through this mostly on my own (and dating was hard enough before this monkey wrench got thrown in). I'm still just trying to accept the... finality? Immutability? The idea that a road I was trying to find my way into, and really wanted to travel, is irrevocably closed to me? Something like that. I see the other paths, and I'm still just not able to choose among them yet, so I'm in a bit of a holding pattern while I continue to deal with the enormity of one lost dream.

And for me, this is an enormous loss. Perhaps the greatest one I will suffer. I may find truly joyful ways around it. Or I may feel pangs, twinges, or vast surges of regret for the rest of my life. I don't profess to know. All I know is that, this year has been truly horrible for me to live through, in spite of all my seeming success. I've been seeing a therapist, and that's helped to some extent. I've been praying, seeking understanding and guidance from my God, and that's helped to some extent. I've allowed myself to just be broken, and to admit that brokenness to my closest friends and family, and their compassion and love and sympathy and support have helped very much.

And, after thinking about it carefully, and discussing it with my therapist, I've started seeing a psychiatrist. I came to realize that I was suffering from more than sadness, more than grief. That, in spite of the good in my life, the challenges and the smaller lost hopes throughout the past few years had slowly eroded my morale chemically as well as spiritually. My psychiatrist agreed that I appear to be suffering from situational depression. No matter how many ways my mind and heart try to frame optimism and hope, my body, my feelings, just can't seem to keep up. So together we discussed how we could help them get back in the game.

For two months now I've been on Prozac. I've been super lucky that side effects have been minimal, and have all faded as I've stuck with the regimen. I was hesitant to make this decision for a long time. I'm not saying I think antidepressants are the only way to go, a cure all for everyone. Pills don't solve underlying problems. But sometimes even solving the problems won't help without them, and now I'm so glad I made this choice.

I had forgotten that it isn't normal to cry every day. For me, it was. I had forgotten what it was to feel uncomplicatedly happy for a friend with good news. I remember now. I'd forgotten what it was to really have hope that life would be joyful, and not only have hope for the future, but to feel joy in the present. It's AMAZING. And hopefully, like the depression, it can be self-perpetuating. I'm looking forward to having my own feelings back, but having them back to what was normal before I slid into this depression. I'm a little afraid that I'll slide back in once I'm off medication, but I feel like I can deal with that if it happens, and deal with it positively and constructively, not just survive it, and having that feeling about my life, no matter what happens in it, is a gift so amazing that I can't begin to convey it.

So maybe this just looks like another success story in the life of Laura. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. I've made some good choices for myself, but I still have a lot to work on. But maybe that's why I'm writing this. Maybe I just want to be honest about myself. I make a lot of things look easy and sunny, even when I struggle in my own shadows. I guess I just want to reach out to other people trudging along darker paths, many similar to my own, and say, we aren't alone. People who might look like they're living the life, might also be struggling, and just hiding it well.

For the most part, I'm going to keep hiding it. Not just for the sake of my own pride, but because I don't think most people are all that interested in hearing how much I feel like my life sucks in certain ways. And because I don't want people to worry about me when really I'm doing pretty well, all things considered. I've got help now. I was never suicidal. I have lots of options, all of them good, and I can see that better now. Not just know it, but really believe it.

But if being up front about my being barren and being on Prozac can help someone else facing similar problems feel less ashamed or less alone or less daunted by it all, then this was well worth writing. Because there but for the grace of modern medicine go I. And with psychiatric help, I'm thankful to feel like I'm really living my favorite part of my favorite prayer:

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Depression, On Suicide, On Not Being an Island

I've been trying for hours to write something that completely and meaningfully encompasses my thoughts on depression and suicide. And I just can't. Plenty of people have been talking about this in the day since we learned of Robin Williams' suicide, so I keep asking why I'm bothering. But... in the past twenty-four hours, I've learned new things about people I know well, and they mean more than the words of a stranger. I hope that, by adding to what's already being said, I'll add a voice closer to home. I'll add something that will make a difference, not to the general public, but to people I know and love.

Let me come right out and say, I have struggled with depression, and I have contemplated the relief it might be to die.

I may not really be able to fully understand chronic depression (mine is situational; it has had a specific trigger), but I know what it is to hold hell within my own soul, to have nowhere to turn within myself that's away from pain or loss or shame. I know what it is to have spent my last drop of hope that the future will be better, and to be unable to believe in my heart the cheering things my head insists are true. And I know what it is to feel perfectly okay with the idea of not waking up in the morning.

If I don't talk about these things openly, some of that is not so much fear of what people will think as being territorially possessive of my own experience. My business is my business. I am a reserved and private person. Still, I'm very lucky to have close friends that I can confide in when I need to. I can feel the balance in my mind shifting, and when it begins to tip too far, I have my safety nets. I know I can't do this alone all the time, but I also don't want to worry or upset people unnecessarily. So I haven't been very open about these things in the past.  If you genuinely feel you need me share more than this with you, we can talk.

The only thing more that I'll say about myself is that the trigger I mentioned is grief. And grief is a pretty common part of life. I'm actually going through a lot of it right now for personal reasons, which is probably why I can't find the distance I need to be more thorough without rambling. What I want you most to know, if you're worried for me now, is that, sometimes it scares me, thinking how I could fall down this rabbit hole, and because it scares me so much, I've done what I need to BEFORE things get bad to make sure I have help climbing out. I am not afraid to ask for help. I will always seek help, because no matter what pain I'm in, I never, EVER want to hurt you. I love you too much, and I owe you too much for the love and friendship you've given me.

But I have one last thing to say about other people.  One of the things that makes me feel most isolated and alone and hopeless is someone who absolutely doesn't understand. Who thinks it's a matter of will power or determination or positive thinking. People who think, since I'm smart and talented and successful, what's my excuse for not being happy? What was Robin Williams' excuse? Isn't it kind of our own fault? Shouldn't we just cheer up, look on the bright side? Count our blessings?

This is wrong. Utterly and completely wrong. As wrong as it is to think that hunger is the fault of a child born into poverty, or blindness is the fault of the person who brain was damaged by fever. I'm not talking about the everyday blues, or even the anxiety attacks I get sometimes when I'm stressed. This is a self-perpetuating chemical imbalance that leaves even someone with my cast-iron self-esteem open to the ugliest, snidest, most sadistic of my inner voices. If you have no experience with depression, consider yourself lucky or blessed, but not superior. I don't say this to judge you or to scold you. I honestly envy you. But please, PLEASE accept that you have formed an incorrect opinion on something you are fortunate enough to know nothing about.

You don't have to empathize or understand, but remember this when you hear about someone battling demons or losing that battle. There, but for the grace of God, and your love and friendship, go I.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Where Am I?

I was digging into some old documents and found the following rambling:

I started thinking, I don't know why, about how the ancient Egyptians preserved the heart but threw away the brain (after extracting it through the nose) because they thought the heart was the center of being, the residence of thought, feeling, self, the soul.

And I thought about how I feel my thoughts coming from my head, somewhere behind my eyes, and conveniently located near my mouth so that they can be informed and shared by/with the world around me.  But I wondered, is that just a culturally created perception behavior? Could I recenter that sense of self so that it felt like the focus of my being was in my chest cavity instead?  I tried, and I found that I could.

Then I wondered, should something as precious to me as my essential and unique personhood be located in such a conspicuous place?  Maybe I should hide it somewhere.  Somewhere seemingly innocuous and inconspicuous.  Like, not my little toe, but the one next to it, on my left foot.  Could I reach inside and refocus myself such that the core of my soul settled in a toe?  I tried, and I found that I could.

So now when I'm feeling shy of people around me, maybe I can try to be braver and more openly friendly with the thought that while I interact with them, they may think they know where the real me is at, but little do they suspect that I've hidden my true self in my appendix, or a bicuspid.

I think... that I think too much.


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Lenten Lillies

I repose my soul
In Lenten quiet
Englobed, expectant
Deep in dark earth
Innumerable hopes
Kept close in my heart
Cool, moist, still
Chill as young spring
Contained, reflecting
I wait, I want, I wait...
Slowly spreading roots
Fine as filigree
Nascent pathways
Outstretched fingers
Feeling through loam
Around, toward, into
Fresh reserves drawn in
To arms outstretched
Reaching upward
Pressing out against
All that closes in
All that holds me still
Breaking through the shell
Breath held until...
My soul bursts forth again
Into sunlight, new as morning,
Bright as dawn-bloomed lilies. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Some Dreams

Some dreams, the only thing worse
Than having them is the waking up
Sitting in golden sunlight amid
The rocks and rubble of broken slab
Looking out from the levee across
The river, gray and glinting and
Rustling in a warm, soft breeze
Looking up into his eyes, blue blue
Blue and deep and so close close
Catching my breath feeling his on
My cheek and his lips so close close
Close to mine and his warmth golden
Like the sun and soft like the breeze
In that moment of eternity before
That one first kiss, there's only
Ever only one first kiss and this
This was going to be ours until
I woke alone and cold in the dark.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Moon

Moon, pale gold like early summer
Whispering, "Autumn..." in my ear
Murmuring weariness in rain-laced wind
Drooping, half asleep, worn thin
Nights of watching, exhausted by
Just the sight of sun
Brilliant, always, as youth
As fire-glinting joy
Ebullience without end
Leaving only listlessness
Worn out ennui in its wake
Cover with cloud your dazzled eye
And dream... 
                    ...While I
Weave words among the summer grass
Tall and wet and rustling
Thoughts like fingers following
Field mice as they whisk away
Slipping from my hands like hope
slipping from my mind like truth
Slipping from my heart like youth
Quick, cup the falling leaves
To catch and hold elusive wisps
Spilling over the ragged edge
Leaking through the smallest crack
Quick, before it slips away
A pen, a page...
                ...Anything at hand
A parched and brittle reed
Snap the point to sharpness
Prick the vein
Write in blood upon the sky
Hopes that were and are no more
Unwritten, they'll have never been
Just dry corn jostled, trampled
Lost amid the harvest
Fallen onto stony ground
Scooped up by flocks of hungry stars
Bursting from the parting clouds
Words scattered, gobbled up
And gone, gone with the faded moon
That murmured autumn in the summer heat...

Put the pen down, dreamer
You cannot write on sky.