53: times that I’ve written about depression here on this blog, which is even older than my diagnosis.
4: months since I quit my last job.
6: concrete tools I have at my disposal to manage depression, all of which I’ve been throwing at it for months (years?) trying to be a fully functioning human being on more days than not.
25: percent of the time I feel like it’s working.
4: years I’ve lived in Pittsburgh without a local physician or therapist working to manage my depression.
3: primary care providers I’ve had appointments with who found no reason for my overwhelming lack of energy, excessive sleep, and rapid weight gain.
12: hours I slept last night, for no apparent reason.
1: jobs I told myself I had to, absolutely had to, complete today. No matter what, I promised myself I’d finally get an appointment with a local psychiatrist.
26: minutes spent on hold with the first attempt.
17: offices called after my first attempt failed, in search of psychiatrist accepting new patients without primary care provider referral.
8: days until my appointment.
The struggle is constant. The losses seem to mount higher than the triumphs. I told my sister this morning, I feel like I’m sitting on horse, smacking away with a riding crop and kicking my heels yelling, “giddy up! giddy up!” and my body is just looking at me with big, woeful eyes, munching grass, going nowhere.
It feels like the darkness is actively working against me, telling lies and making empty promises, whatever it has to do to convince me to just lay down, just stay put a little bit longer.
But I can’t give up. I have two kids who need me and one man who deserves to have me keep fighting.
“Who lives in the same house their whole lives? It seems crazy to think of anyone doing that now,” my sister said.
She and I were laying in our grandparents’ bed, reminiscing about how long they must have had said bed and everything else in the little two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in which they’d raised two kids.
“It reminds you how much more content we could all be, doesn’t it? How we probably all do have enough?”
The little square house on the corner lot had always been enough for my grandma. She hadn’t actually lived in it her entire life–she’d grown up on a farm half a dozen miles away–but she’d been here our entire lives and all of our dad’s.
The one bathroom across the hall from her bedroom had been enough to share with two kids–even when they were one teenaged boy and one teenaged girl.
The tiny kitchen with no dishwasher had been enough for her family of four plus her own little sister to share hundreds of meals in.
The dining room table that was probably too big for the dining room had been enough to fit three generations around when spouses and grandkids were added to the mix.
And for decades the small living room was enough to host as many as four generations at Christmas. My sister and I marveled at the miracle of space and physics that allowed all those bodies and gifts to fit into that single room; another option was never even considered.
Last night that room seemed too small and without enough seating for a handful of us. The magic, I guess, left with her. Maybe it’s all the swearing; I’m pretty sure this house has heard more cuss words in the last week that I’ve been staying here than it did in the entire fifty plus previous years.
My Grammy and I couldn’t be more different. She was slender and tan and poised. I am… not. She was practical, level headed, and content. I am restless, idealistic, and probably a touch irresponsible if I’m being honest.
I often worried I wasn’t enough for Grammy.
Not Catholic enough. Not motherly enough. Not wifely or pious or selfless enough. It’s not that she told me I was lacking, but her example set a standard I could never seem to live up to.
Well, there was that one time she told me. Jared and I had separated and she emailed to tell me I needed to go back to church, among other things. I responded with a missive about all of the ways she’d let me down, thereby letting myself completely off the hook for having to take any of her advice. She sent back one more reply: she told me she loved me and was sorry if she hadn’t always made that clear.
That was nine years ago.
We never talked about that exchange. Jared and I got back together; I never found my way back to church; we went home for Christmases and summers and I stopped in to visit her when we were in town. I called her occasionally, but not near as often as I used to, and we didn’t talk for as long or in as much depth as we had back when we were both good Catholic women. I was a disappointment.
I hated that. It ate at me and I resented that she couldn’t appreciate how much happier I was having forged my own way as a woman on my own terms. I resented that she didn’t love me as much as her other grandchildren. I resented that I wasn’t enough for her.
When my Papa died two years ago, my grief was easy. Our relationship was uncomplicated and I was simply heartbroken. I knew then, though, that a messier grief was coming. I knew that someday soon Grammy would follow her husband of 63 years and I would have to face all the things we didn’t say to each other.
I knew for over two years. I did nothing to change it, except make a few more phone calls.
There was enough time to make things right; I just didn’t use it.
I’m struggling to cope with that. I’m looking for proof that I am – I was – wrong.
She said my name and gave me one last hug in hospice. She made an extraordinary effort to come have one last dinner with me last month, despite the physical discomfort the two-hour drive caused her. She told me over and over again how great it was that my kids called to thank her for birthday and Easter cards, which she always made sure arrived on time.
She came to my book signing a few years ago and told me she was proud of me. She bought so many copies, and I found out later she sent one to my little sister when she was going through horrible crap in her own personal life. (By the way, a self-help book your big sister wrote is not an awesome gift to receive when your world is falling apart.) When Lindsey told me that I felt some of my own regret lift a little – one because I was not the only one to get well-intentioned if not particularly helpful advice from our grandma, and two because… damn, she’d thought I’d written something worth sharing.
I found a ceramic baby shoe marked with my name, birthday, and birth weight on her desk. She’d sat and wrote bills and organized events with this reminder of me beside her.
In closets and cupboards, on walls and in albums, I’ve come across hundreds and hundreds of pictures of me. Baby pictures, school pictures, pictures of me doing absolutely nothing more interesting than sitting in a chair and watching the world around me. Just as many pictures of me as of my sister and brother and cousins. And I know it’s stupid and petty and childish to even think about these things now as proof – to even be looking for proof – but I have to. I need it to be enough.
A remarkable thing happens when someone is dying, if you’re lucky. Family gathers together, to be with you and each other, and they begin to tell stories. And as the hours and days pass, the stories go further back and deeper beneath the surface. Sitting beside my grandmother’s bed at the hospice house the last week before she died, I learned something new from these stories: she worried about being enough.
We, her children and grandchildren, were shocked. Shocked to learn she worried, shocked to learn she doubted herself, shocked to imagine she didn’t know with absolute certainty how much she’d meant and given to everyone around her.
“It’s OK,” we’d whisper as the days went by and her breathing labored on. “You’ve done enough.”
I hope she knows now.
I hope she knows now what I could never seem to tell her: that she gave me a sense of home and belonging and security in a childhood where those things were often lacking. That I tried desperately in my early years of parenting to be just like her. That she and Papa are the example that my husband and I aspire to. That it is her example I’m following every time I volunteer to join a committee or show up to a fundraiser.
That I’m sorry.
That I loved her, always.
I hope she knows now, and that it’s enough. It has to be.
My heart sank. I’d already noticed the similarities and was trying to squash a rising anxiety when my husband glibly compared me to Vincent Van Gogh.
We were elbow-to-elbow in a line of strangers at the Art Institute of Chicago, sliding past a wall upon which hand sketches and black-and-white photographs illustrated the timeline of Van Gogh’s life. Each date on the wall denoted a change of address or career. On the surface, Van Gogh’s Bedrooms was about the painter’s three nearly identical paintings of his bedroom in a house in Arles, Frances, but the wall at the entrance made clear the real thesis of the Special Exhibition: this was a story about the endless wanderings of a lost man.
Van Gogh’s earliest moves were as a baby, completely unremarkable in any other life but fated to become part of a perpetual pattern as the child grew up and moved to boarding schools before becoming a man who moved in search of work. The work was consistently unsteady and unsatisfying. First an art dealer, then a minister, and later a teacher, Van Gogh finally settled on calling himself an artist when he was 27 and his brother offered–or maybe agreed–to support him financially.
“He was like you, Honey!”
I don’t remember all the homes I lived in as a child, but I know there were at least a dozen. I’ve moved my own children to and from four houses and one RV in the last five years.
And of course there are the jobs; the many, many jobs that I’ve started and loved and hated and quit. I’ve worked in radio and advertising and telemarketing and network marketing and recruiting sales and website making and travel writing and parent blogging. I’ve sold everything from dismemberment insurance to massage packages. I’ve worked full-time and part-time and freelance and contract.
At the end of March, on Van Gogh’s birthday actually, I ended my last job, in part so that I can focus on calling myself an artist. A writer, really. My husband offered–or maybe agreed–to support us all financially in the meantime. The guilt of that decision has been weighing on me since we began considering it a few months back.
At the same time my job satisfaction deteriorated, Jared’s career flourished. It seemed the more I complained, the more money he made. Or maybe his success intensified my restlessness, envy swelling as I watched his confidence grow. My financial irrelevance was obvious, and I struggled to find another handhold of validation.
For his part, Jared thought it was “dumb” that I would keep doing something that didn’t make me happy when I didn’t have to. “Seriously Britt, I’ll just work a Saturday,” he’d say in his efforts to reassure me that, as a family, we’d be fine. Of course this just drove home the point that what I was doing didn’t matter.
It also drove home how much we’d come to depend on Jared, and that scared the hell out of me. What if something happened to him? I found myself obsessing over his health and safety. I spent hours researching things like insurance and investments online. What if? What if? What if?
What if this one person I had become so dependent on somehow failed me?
I was furious for getting myself into this situation. I was ashamed to even be thinking about taking advantage of it, leaning into it, solidifying my own vulnerability and worthlessness.
My brothers and I have said hundreds of times that we were raised by a single mom. Ironically, my mother has been married to someone for all of my and most of her adult life. She has been many things, but single was rarely one of them. And yet so absolute was her self reliance that in our collective ethos she remains a single mother. The story of her scrubbing motel toilets on her knees when she was 9-months pregnant with my brother is not one of shame but rather of pride and honor.
Thirty years after that motel job, her daughter is becoming a stay-at-home mom with no stay-at-home kids. A kept woman. An artist with a patron.
I don’t know how to wrap my arms around this privilege without also embracing my guilt in having it.
My hope is that in accepting my privilege I can find a way to use it for more than my own good. I have no idea yet what that might look like, and that uncertainty threatens to drive me crazy at times.
I don’t use that word lightly. This is something else Mr. Van Gogh and I share: a fragile center.
His life was dotted with breakdowns and hospital stays, and it was ended by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In recent decades there’s been speculation about whether he really shot himself or if perhaps there was some kind of accident, but all the historians can agree on the real cause of death.
“Van Gogh lost his life to mental illness in 1890,” the wall said.
He was 37.
I am 36.
“He was like you!” my husband said.
“Yeah, I know,” I hung my head.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, instantly sensing his mistake and the heaviness of what he’d merely said aloud.
“No, you’re right, I was thinking the same thing. Moved all the time, can’t hold a job, a little crazy.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said again.
An hour later we emerged from the Special Exhibition weary, awed, and slightly depressed. It was impossible not to look at Van Gogh’s artistic brilliance through the filter of his own lack of fulfillment. He found a patron, but he never found a home or a love. He died without knowing he’d found his purpose.
Van Gogh at once personifies my deepest fear and greatest hope. Hindsight reveals his positive impact on mankind, but his personal journey ended in disappointment. He left a legacy, but was unhappy.
My latest transition to unemployment is immediately fueled by my search for individual happiness, but one of my most closest held beliefs is that ultimate happiness is linked to our ability to positively affect others. Our pursuit of happiness is our path to purpose. This artist’s sad demise and posthumous accomplishments might suggest otherwise. But isn’t it the tracks left by his constant searching that has touched the lives of millions in the last century?
Poor Vincent couldn’t know that it was always going to be about the search, the struggle.
I’ve tried to let this be a comfort, a reminder that the journey is the reward and all that nonsense. Selfishly, I hope to achieve what Van Gogh could not: a glimmer of resolution before I go.
A long, long time ago, I can still remember when we used to get real nerdy on the Internet and do these things called memes – and back then they weren’t pictures with words on them.
Someone posted this on Facebook today and I was scrolling through and remembering fondly many of these adventures big and small, so I thought I’d meet my write every day quota and share it here.
(X ) Shot a gun – surprisingly, yes! I hate guns. Hate. When I was a kid, I lived with a man who used to clean his gun in the living room and talk about how easily he could kill someone from far away “and no one would know who it was.” Hate. But when I was on my RV trip, I decided that I was done being afraid of guns. I had been having these nightmares where I was being chased and I found a gun but it wouldn’t fire; I had no idea what to do with it or how to save myself. I found a gun range, got a lesson, and ironically learned I’m naturally a pretty good shot.
Despite how happy I look in this picture, I don’t intend to ever handle a gun again.
( ) Gone on a blind date – God willing, I won’t ever have a reason or opportunity to check this one off my list.
(X) Skipped school - AND got busted for it. Technically I was skipping band practice before school, but it was still a VERY big deal. I was in fourth or fifth grade, and I never skipped school again.
(X) Watched someone die - more than once. It’s an honor to be there with someone when they die; it is also horribly painful to watch someone you love leave.
(X) Visited Canada - but not since I was a kid! I want to take the kids to Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec before Devin graduates.
( ) Visited Hawaii – I want to do this SO BAD. Someday.
( ) Visited Alaska - this is horrible, but I don’t really care if I ever go or not.
( ) Visited Cuba – I would love to, maybe someday when the visas aren’t outrageously expensive.
(X ) Visited Europe – it has been a very long time, however. I want to go to Paris with Jared and take Emma to Greece. I don’t know where Devin and I would like to go together.
( ) Visited South America - not yet!
(X) Visited Las Vegas – is this really even worth being on a list? I’ve been to Vegas a lot of times and it’s fun, but nothing life changing.
(X) Visited Central America - twice! Both times to Costa Rica. In fact, I just got back from there yesterday.
( ) Visited Asia - oh how I want to see Thailand!
( ) Visited Africa - I’d love to go on a safari someday with Emma.
(X) Visited Florida - and liked it so much we moved there!
(X ) Seen the Grand Canyon in person - Devin and I want to go back and hike to the bottom and back out.
(X ) Flown in a plane - big ones and little ones. I definitely prefer the big ones.
( ) Served on a jury - I haven’t even been asked.
(X) Been lost - like, in life? In town? In my comforter? Yes to all of them.
(X ) Traveled to the opposite side of the country - Opposite of what? I’ve been to both coasts, so I guess that’s a yes.
(X) Visited Washington, DC – on the 4th of July, no less! It was magical and wonderful and made me proud to be American.
(X) Swam in the Ocean – two of them, and I’m #teamAtlantic all the way.
() Played cops and robbers - not that I can recall…
() Played cowboys and Indians - also, no. Where’s the question about playing office and school?
() Recently colored with crayons - I prefer colored pencils if I’m going old school.
(X ) Sang karaoke – obviously.
() Sang a solo or duet in church - not that I remember, but we did sing this one song at our Christmas pageant every year that made my mom cry. Something about all of us kids looking forward to the day we die and go meet Jesus. DARK.
() Paid for a meal with coins only - not that I can remember, which surprises me.
(X) Made prank phone calls - my stepsisters spent many summer nights going through the phone book and calling teen lines, pretending to be someone’s boyfriend’s new girlfriend. I don’t know why we thought that was so fun.
(X) Laughed until some beverage came out of your nose - sure, but to be honest at this point in my life I’m more likely to laugh until I pee.
(X) Caught a snowflake on your tongue - sure.
(X) Had children - twice. Lucky me. For real. The first time was so, so hard and so, so scary. The second time was magical.
(X) Had a pet - hamsters, birds, fish, dogs, cats, and now a guinea pig.
(X ) Been skinny-dipping - senior year camping trip. Funny story: my husband was there, too, but not with me.
(X) Been fishing - I hope everyone has done this! I can’t imagine growing up and not going fishing. Fishing to me will always remind me of my Papa, just like it will always remind my kids of theirs.
(X) Been boating - for us, that was part of fishing!
(X) Been downhill skiing - and fallen on my butt doing it.
(X) Been water skiing - and got so much water up my nose learning!
( ) Driven a motorcycle - no, but I’ve ridden on one!
( ) Been bungee jumping - I almost did it this last trip to Costa Rica, but I didn’t feel right doing it without my family there. I didn’t feel right about taking a physical risk like that without them knowing or being there.
(X ) Gone to a drive- in movie – heck yes! I don’t think I ever made out at one though…
(X) Done something that could have killed you - childbirth. (It’s true, they make you sign papers saying you know that can happen!) Drinking and driving. Riding with a drunk driver. It makes me sick to think of the chances I took when I was young and stupid.
(X) Rode an elephant – actually, yes – and there was a picture of it in the newspaper. I think my grandma or my dad has the picture somewhere.
( ) Rode a camel - no. And what’s the thinking on this now? Is it OK or animal cruelty?
(X) Eaten just cookies or cake for dinner or ice cream - pfft. Amateur stuff. Talk to me when you’ve eaten a pan of brownies for breakfast.
(X) Been on TV – mostly recently on the news for my work as coordinator of my local Chamber of Commerce.
( ) Stolen any traffic signs - no. But I know where a bunch of them were stashed in a small Iowa town back in the 90s…
() Donated blood - I’ve never been able to.
(X) Gotten a piercing - ears, tongue, and belly button.
(X) Gotten a Tattoo - shoulder and hip, but I’ve been craving another one for ages! I just don’t know WHERE.
(X) Gone off road 4 wheeling – yes. I grew up in Iowa.
(X) Ever owned your dream car – that white Beretta with the sunroof sure felt like my dream car when I was 16.
(X) Been Married - for almost 16 years!
( ) Been Divorced - oooh, but so close.
(X) Fell in love - I was two years old the first time. I”m a big fan of love.
( ) Paid for a stranger’s meal - I don’t think so. This would be neat to do someday.
() Driven over 100 mph - no. I am way too scared to do something like that.
(X) Been scuba diving/snorkeling - snorkeling, and I’m not really a big fan. Yes, the fish are cool, but I constantly worry about water getting in my mouth or nose and I hate the taste of salt water.
(X) Written a published book/story/poem/article - yes, no, yes, and yes. The first time was when I was a junior in high school and it was a poem about getting my heart broken. So original!
(X) Eaten snails - so good!
(X) Rode in a Hot Air Balloon - yes; but not, ironically, when I attended the International Hot Air Balloon Festival.
(X) Rode in a helicopter - to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. With Emma. It was pretty cool.
(X) Met a celebrity - yes, but not once compares to the time Prince sweat on me.
I love seeing lists like this because they remind me of all the amazing things I’ve been able to do. But it freaks me out a little too: I’m only 36 years old, and I don’t want my best adventures to be behind me! I hope there are unexpected surprises and cool opportunities still in store. But no matter what, i can already say I’ve had a really, really great life.
Wil Wheaton (or Whil Wheaton, as I say it in my head every. single. time.) has been showing up a lot in my Facebook feed recently for telling The Huffington Post to fuck off. They wanted to republish a post he wrote, but they didn’t want to pay him, because The Huffington Post doesn’t pay for content. Wil said no way and proceeded to discuss on his own blog and Twitter why it is messed up for a corporation to get uber rich without paying the people who created the content that made it uber rich.
My Facebook feed is filled with writers; they were ecstatic about this most recent celebrity defense of their worth.
Oddly enough, Wil and HuffPo had their conversation a few months ago, but it’s enjoying a second life right now via Facebook.
I’m living it up in Costa Rica with sunshine and volcanoes and pico de gallo everywhere, and I can’t stop thinking about Wil Wheaton and his damn list. And my list.
And how I am so fucking done with not feeling like a fully functioning human being. “When was the last time I felt completely energized and healthy?” I wonder, and I suspect it was shortly after my daughter was born. She turns 11 next month.
So I am resolved to articulate my own list and then to follow through with it.
Using that R word scares the crap out of me because I have been very bad at maintaining any sense of resolve for a while. But doing anything less than that, I think, would guarantee my failure at this point. And I am just so tired of failing at this.
Without further ado, My Wil Wheaton List*:
*or, the things I am committing to do in order to reset myself:
1. Go to the doctor.
For a long time now I have accepted the fact that I need about ten hours of sleep a night, and that after sleeping ten hours I will still dread pulling myself out of bed. I decided it was just one more physical anomaly I was forced to live with and resent. Hating the way my body works has become so commonplace for me that it’s taken me over a year to consider that maybe there is something someone can do to help me.
With Wil Wheaton rolling around in my head, I finally googled sleeping too much. Anything over nine is probably a sign of some other shit going on with the body – like depression. In fact, one article suggested that this can often be a sign of low-level depression that isn’t yet manifesting itself emotionally.
Of course. Of fucking course depression is a likely player, and of course I have been attempting to deal with it myself because, hey! I’m already medicated! I do not want to deal with this anymore, thanks!
It could also not be depression. It could instead be something that will also explain why I seem to be inflating like a raft at a pool party. I can’t buy new clothes fast enough to keep up with my expanding ass. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so damn expensive and uncomfortable.
Bottom line is I am not healthy, and I am not in a position to make myself healthy all on my own. So, off to the doctor I go.
2. Eat better.
Those two words make me irrationally angry. I’m angry at all of the thin and healthy looking people I see at the tables beside me eating pancakes with syrup. I’m angry at my friends who say they aren’t willing to sacrifice good food and instead will just exercise more – and that actually works.
But mostly I’m angry at myself and my stupid, stupid body. Because I have not and never will be a person who can eat whatever she wants without suffering physical consequences.
And while we’re in this self loathing shame cycle, I’ll also admit that I’m angry at myself for being angry and whining about the unfairness of not being able to live off sugar in all its glorious forms. I know there are so many worse things and that this tiny inconvenience is nothing to whine about, and yet here I sit pissed off at the injustice of it all. And I know that self hatred is NOT A GOOD THING and I would never tolerate it in my daughter or my girlfriends.
Also I have PMS so this tornado of woe gets spinning really easily right now. My apologies.
I need to stop eating junk. I need to stop eating sugar. I might need to stop eating carbohydrates in general, but right now I can at the minimum commit to eating only real food.
This is a tricky one for me. Every single day I tell myself that I’m going to go for a walk, and every single day I find a reason not to.
I woke up late and have to dive right into work. I’m too tired. I’ll get sweaty and have to change clothes. I shouldn’t even have to walk and should just be focusing on an active lifestyle!
Sometimes I have a conversation with myself about joining a gym or signing up for a class. I love classes! I would be much more likely to go if I had committed to a class! I should be focusing on finding fitness that I enjoy! Right, except you’re really going to spend $100+ a month when you can’t even make yourself go for a walk once a day? Do that first, and then we’ll talk about upgrading you to a class. Besides, it’s a total waste of money to pay for a gym when there are so many free options available – like going for a walk!
My brain is so weird. (More on that in a second.)
I do have an Apple watch that has an activity montior, and I have completed the Magic Circle of Achievement exactly four times in the month of February – and six times in January. The threshold for said Magic Circle of Achievement is pretty low, so that’s where I’m putting my focus right now: complete the circle every day.
4. Write more.
Writing and I have had a very emo relationship for the past year. Blah. I’m over it.
Writing is something I have to do. It is imperative for my mental and emotional health.
My brain is very active. Very. Writing is how I prevent active from crossing over into insanity. It’s how I understand myself: by taking the time to pull out jumble and stretch each thread out line by line so that they resemble something that makes rational sense to me. I’ve been fooling myself into thinking that having thoughts are the same as processing them, and that has not been working out so well for me.
I feel like I’ve lost touch with my brain and my intuition. I realize it’s because writing is how I communicate with myself.
So whether it’s blogging, writing in a journal, or working on my next book, I will be writing every day. It will be on the very short list of things that cannot be pushed off, regardless of what other people’s lists for me might look like.
I am keeping this list intentionally short. I have a tendency to want to make big dramatic changes all at once and then giving up completely when I can’t succeed at everything.
And really? Who I am and what I need is not that complicated.
I just want to feel like a fully functioning human being. I want to feel like my body is a vessel and a tool rather than an angry master to which I’m a slave.