When You’re A Depressed Person Who Is Now Mostly Well…

IMG_40081. You wonder if every laugh could be solely due to your meds.

2. People will joke about needing happy pills.

3. When you’re talking with a friend about how someone has been grumpy, they’ll say, “I think she forgot to take her meds today.”

4. You must be vigilant, because though thoughts of death will come, if they come too regularly, you need to get back to the psychiatrist.

5. Your meds might stop working. For no reason. Without warning. It happened to you in 2009. You stumbled into the doctor’s office, sobbing, dripping tears, and he said, “Oh yeah. That’s been known to happen. We like to call it the ‘Prozac Poop Out.'” He then switched and doubled your meds.

6. Your kids will ask you why you take two pills every day. You will tell them that it’s so you won’t get pregnant and leave it at that.

7. You will peel off the pill bottle label and crumple it into a tiny, sticky ball before recycling the orange container so that no one will have to find out, unintentionally, that you suffer.

8. You will wonder if the handyman fixing your shower knows that Sertraline is the generic form of Zoloft.

9. You will know if you’ve forgotten to take your meds because your hands and feet and neck will buzz with a strange electrical sensation.

10. You will wonder if the meds will stop working again. You think sometimes about the perverse pleasure of sinking back into your normal resting place, which is half-suicidial.

11. You’ll watch a documentary on the Golden Gate Bridge suicides fairly certain that each person, as they let go of the orange structure and began falling to their death, changed their mind before they hit the water.

12. You’ll be grateful. Forever grateful that you live with this disease now and not a hundred years ago, because the suffering would’ve been so dire.

13. Maybe if you tell the kids they’re your happy pills, they’ll just leave it alone.

14. You know they’re not your happy pills. They’re your stay-alive-pills, and isn’t that a miracle?

15. Clinical, pharmaceutical, therapeutic, whatever it takes, as long as it worms you through the dark to a tiny sliver of happy and optimistic, Swallow It. Every Single Day.

Visitations

I was paying for parking in downtown Oakland when I felt a dog sitting behind me. The owner had been walking by when the small old black dog stopped in its tracks and sat down a few feet from where I stood. His owner said, “Come on! Let’s go!” and pulled on the leash, but the dog wouldn’t budge.

Instead the dog stared at me until I crouched down and said hello in the way that only seems to come when I meet a dog. It’s an, I see you way. A, Hello, Really way. The dog sat perfectly still, looking straight into my eyes. The owner seemed rather amazed. I’m not sure why.

I said, “Old dogs do this to me sometimes. They know a dog lover when they see one.” And the man still seemed astounded. Maybe this dog was unfriendly to most people? Normally extraordinarily shy?

I said, “I think your dog wants you to know something about why he’s here for you.” Um, what? Let me assure you, I had NO IDEA why these words came out of my mouth. None. I looked down, fumbled through my purse for a business card and handed him one. I told him briefly about Bunker and, very quickly, tears came to his eyes. Ah. That’s why.

All this from that old black dog knowing something that we humans could never know, wouldn’t know how to see. Do I know what this something is? No. Do I know why those words came out of my mouth? No. Am I glad they did? Absolutely.

Recently, I met a beautiful golden retriever at the dog park. She was Solarseven-years-old but looked fifteen. Her hair was falling out in patches. Her legs weren’t in great shape, and she had advanced cataracts. She sat with me, leaned against me the way Bunker used to, for nearly thirty minutes. She looked me in my eyes, and past those smoky clouds in hers, I saw a knowing. I talked to her beautiful owner about Bunker and again, tears.

Rupert Sheldrake calls it the morphic field, a kind of animal telepathy. A sixth sense that animals use to communicate and understand. Can you imagine? A whole alternative way of perception?

Walking this morning, a dog out with his owner parked himself again. I just nodded, smiled, put my hand on my heart and thanked the heavens.

The Mule Deer’s Eye

This post is inspired by the poem, “One Place to Begin” by John Daniel.

“A mule deer holds you in her eyes.”  

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One place to begin is there—inside that blackness, so black it sparkles. That eye like a planet, like a whole ecosystem shielded by eyelashes so long they might as well be redwoods, four hundred feet tall, so tall even the birds get altitude sickness. Stand on that top branch and jump, swan dive and land without sound on the forest floor. Stay there. You’ll notice, if you sit still long enough, the animals will come.

The mule deer will arrive—lazily traipsing by, her hooves cracking dry branches, her mouth churning grass and leaves and the occasional accidental inchworm. There will be a bit of green foam at the corner of her mouth. You will watch her, and you won’t think, “Is this a quality way to be spending my time?” You won’t think about what your mom or dad or friends would say. You won’t care who just posted on Facebook that their book was bought or that their senior got into Yale. That will all seem immaterial, useless to you. Because it is. The mule deer knows this, and it takes a headlong swan dive into her black pool of an eye—it takes her holding you there in that place, for enough magical minutes—to put it all in perspective. Realign. Chiropracty for the soul.

Because in the end, it really doesn’t matter if you were the richest, bravest, smartest, most beautiful. It matters that at some point along the way, you recognized that this, this very moment, this journey, this breath in and out, is what sustains you. Not something you achieved in your past. Not letters after your name. Not your grand plans for the future. This. Here.

Forget where you thought you were going. Maybe that’s a good way to take a walk. Take a walk where the upcoming corner is just an upcoming corner, and whichever way the wind blows when you get there is the way you turn. It’s trusting that something bigger out there will lead you where you need to go, to the secret stairway flanked by enormous redwoods in the middle of Oakland, redwoods so tall and beautiful you might as well be standing in the middle of the mule deer’s eye.

Dog Medicine! Live in Minneapolis!

Tomorrow morning I’m flying to Minneapolis to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. I’ll be doing a reading at Kieran’s Irish Pub in Downtown Minneapolis on Friday at 5PM, my first ever public reading of Dog Medicine. It has taken me thirteen years to get here. In 2002, I went back to grad school and spent two years trying to write the story of Dog Medicine as a novel. I finished the book, but never sent it anywhere because something about it felt not-quite-right. I got another degree and wrote reams of short stories and poetry. I filled boxes with wild, explorative writing, but my heart kept pulling me back to Bunker, to our relationship, to our miraculous story. When I finally decided in 2010 that I needed to write our story as a memoir, what did I do? I stopped writing. I had a pre-schooler and a toddler and told myself I was simply too exhausted to write anymore. But, honestly, I wasn’t writing because I was terrified, wading knee deep in terrible shame. I would lie in bed at night thinking, “Am I really going to tell the whole world that I struggle with major depression and that when the depression first hit me, the love of a dog saved my life? Really, Julie?” IMG_3101Finally, when the misery of not writing was too much to endure, I started writing again, one short scene at a time. I had to tell my truth. That’s all I knew. Slowly, with a lot of trial and error and support from friends and mentors, I taught myself to write straight through the shame, open hearted, without judgement. About five years later, I have a book, an amazing publisher, and if you can’t tell, it feels like a miracle. Getting here has been a long walk out of fear and shame and judgement into open-hearted, honest, beautiful vulnerability. There are very few things I know for sure. The one thing I do know, without a doubt, is that my dog Bunker was instrumental in my healing. So I wrote from that place, and now we have Dog Medicine. This reading in Minneapolis is like a birth announcement. Nine months from now, we’ll have that baby in our hands. Can’t wait.

Listen to the Dog

The psychic said, “You’re the saddest person I’ve ever seen. You need to get away from that man.”

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This piece is inspired by one of the most riveting poems I’ve read in years, “The Madness Vase” by Andrea Gibson.

The psychiatrist said, “Can you tell me why you parents might be so concerned?”

The therapist said, “I don’t like your taste in men.”

The brother said, Redacted.

The thoughts said, “You are hideous. You are stupid. No one cares.”

The kitchen floor said, “Let go. Just let go. It’s too hard to continue.”

The doctor said, “Take Zoloft. Take Prozac. Double your dosage. CBT, twice a week.”

The tree said, “Sit down. Rest.”

The dog said, “Watch me. I’ll never leave you. Let’s go for a walk. It’ll be okay.”

The child said, “He hates me. Everyone hates me.”

The sorrow said, write the book.

The love said, write the book. 

I wrote the book.

 

My Book is Getting Published!

Dearest friends and readers, IMG_8437

My journey continues. In 2001 I decided to quit my high-tech job and pursue my passion: writing. With the support of my husband, I went back to school and got two masters degrees. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote a lot of crap. I wrote some decent stuff, but mostly crap. I wrote a novel and put it on a shelf. I thought, many times, I’m never going to be able to do this. I cried. A lot. But I kept writing.

Today something miraculous happened: my book was announced to the world. I signed a contract with the incredible Think Piece Publishing.

In 2006, after a lot of thrown-out drafts, I decided to start writing about the thing I was most scared to divulge: my struggle with mental illness. I have suffered, for decades now, with major depression. Most of the time I’m okay. But I have to be careful, because I can slip into a very dark place if I’m not vigilant. I need to take care of myself. I must be hyper-aware of my thoughts. I decided to write this most harrowing story of how I finally realized something was really wrong–and how I slowly, carefully got better with a lot of love and support from my family and, most importantly, this incredible dog.

I write about all the ugly, real, awful, miraculous and beautiful things in this book. And I write my truth, which is that a dog saved my life. My connection with this beautiful being who showed no judgement, just remarkable sensitivity to me and my struggle, that is what saved me.

No matter how this goes, I have one thing to share: tell your truth. No matter what it is. Kick the shit out of shame and tell your truth. It will help you heal and it might just help someone else as well.

If my book helps one person, I will be happy. Thank you so much to all of you beautiful people for all of your support. Thank you to Adam Wahlberg of Think Piece Publishing for believing in my story and taking a chance on me. Thank you to Lisa Grantham who connected us. This is just the beginning of a long, hard road, but I’m ready. Let’s do this. Dog Medicine is on its way. If Bunker were still with us he would be howling with bliss.

TPDM
With my current dog, Jackson.

Naming The Big “A”

There’s a mom from my daughter’s school who is a very nice person. Super nice. She’s a little too chipper and rosy-cheeked for my taste. (Unwarranted enthusiasm makes me nervous.) Whenever I see her, I do my best to smile and not crack a sarcastic joke.

The other day we were sitting next to each other waiting for our daughters’ dance class to end. She looked unusually troubled: bloodshot eyes, dark bags underneath. “How do you sleep?” she asked. I told her the truth, that I sleep like a boulder in a valley. Ten hours can feel like a blink. Then she said, “I have terrible insomnia right now. I haven’t slept in three days.” She was stumbling over her words, close to tears.

We discussed all of the possible suspects: caffeine, bright screens in bed, bad pillows, but it was pretty clear that the culprit was anxiety. Big, bad, mind-won’t-stop-racing anxiety.  It seemed a bit of a risk to say the “A” word to such a cheerful mama, but I decided to risk it. “It sounds like anxiety,” I said, as gently as possible. As soon as I said this, she looked at me with clear-as-day relief, as if she were thinking, Finally, someone said it.

“Yes,” she said. “I think you’re right.” Then she seemed to want reassurance. Was this something terrible?  Did this mean she was unstable or unwell? I had no judgement whatsoever. I long ago did away with any shame about my depression. I will tell anyone that I suffer from it.  I treat it like any chronic disease: one that needs careful monitoring and continuous treatment. Like diabetes, I tell people. Just something I deal with.

“Maybe you shouldn’t fight it,” I said. “Maybe you can just lie in bed at night and say, ‘I see you, mind. I see that you are racing. You’re thundering through lists of my little failures. You’re lining up my reasons to feel guilty, to feel terrified…and you won’t stop.’ Maybe if you acknowledge the anxiety and don’t judge it as good or bad or right or wrong, maybe it’ll let go and let you sleep a little.” I told her that I’ve known anxiety to steal many people’s sleep. It’s hideous, but always temporary if you take care of it. Go to the doctor. Get into therapy. For once, take care of yourself first.

She said, “Wow. You’re so full of wisdom.”

“Am I?” I said, pretty sure she was not being sarcastic.

I saw her at school drop-off the next morning. None of my advice worked. She didn’t sleep a wink. She wore an orange scarf and a dash of mascara in an effort to hide how wildly disheveled she truly was. She asked me, “Can you take my daughter after school today? I’m heading to the doctor.”

“Of course,” I said, feeling immediately aligned with her, this previously too-chipper mom who made me feel a wee bit grumpy. All of that was gone and I found myself hugely grateful for her candor and honesty. Because at some point we’re all going to fall apart a little. And why not? This is one of the only things I’m sure of. Falling apart, giving in, letting ourselves be anxious or exhausted or depressed, desperately in need of some rest and care, is the first step to getting through it.

So go ahead. Take all the time you need. I’ll take the kids. We’ll watch movies and play UNO. Because we’ve all had times like this.

Devotion for Dog Lovers

On the days when the rest has failed you, just stop. Try to meditate. Slow down your brain. Slow it all down. We’re all going too fast. Jackson

Close your eyes. Find a comfy spot to sit for ten, five, even two minutes. Go.

Breathe.

Now open your eyes. Focus on your dog: how his ears turn to you when you shift your weight on the couch. He’s aware, because he’s dedicated to you. Centuries of breeding and training and evolution have created this little being who wants to be yours. He wants to partner with you. No matter what.

In a big crowd of people, he’ll find you first and never stray far from your scent. He’ll sleep next to you nightly. He’ll let you roll him on his back and remove burrs from his nether-regions. He’ll ask only for your love, your patience, your presence, and your praise.

When you do praise him, he’ll respond with a full body wiggle, complete glee, mouth open, tail twirling, and a funny thing will happen:  you’ll feel it too. Just a smidge of that glee will bounce around the room and end up inside you. You might even chuckle from the way deep down place, uprooting some of the stuckness, displacing a smidge of the sorrow.

You’ll take a deep breath, deeper than you could before. That’s what I call Dog Medicine.

I take it daily and recommend it to all my friends. (Also available from the occasional cat.)

First Feminist Lesson

Today I gave my 10-year-old her first lesson in feminism.girl_power_ornament_round

She came home from school and asked to talk privately. Usually this means something difficult went down at school and she needs to talk it out.

She said she was in art and she was drawing a Picasso-style dog. She was working across from a boy we’ll call Joseph. She pulled back to look at how her drawing was coming and said, “Ugh, this is terrible.”

Joseph said, “What do you mean? You always think everything you do is so awesome.”

Rachel said, “What? What do you mean?”

Joseph said, “Yeah, you’re always like, ‘I’m so awesome,’ when you do something well. All the boys say so.”

Rachel said, “So? If I’m awesome at something, there’s nothing wrong with saying I’m awesome at it.”

He apparently gave her a look like this was extraordinarily distasteful and she left the conversation feeling really bad. She said she felt embarrassed.

After a good spell of listening, keeping my outrage in check, I said, “Rachel, for YEARS people have told girls that they can’t say they’re good at something. They can’t say they’re awesome. Let me ask you: Do the boys say they’re awesome at stuff? ”

“Yeah, like all the time,” she said.

“Do people tell them not to say it?”

“No.”

“There you go. There should be no difference for a girl who says she’s awesome. If you do something well, it’s okay to be proud. Don’t boast, but you already know not to boast. For ages girls have been told to say, ‘Oh, I’m no good at this’ or ‘You are so much better than me.’ You don’t have to do that. If you’re good at something, be proud of yourself. Own it. And don’t EVER let some stupid boy tell you you’re not allowed to say you’re a badass, talented person.” Her eyes widened when I said the word ass. “So the next time some kid tells you you shouldn’t say you’re awesome? Tell him to keep his lame opinion to himself.”

Her smirk turned into a smile.

First feminist lesson: done.

Today’s Daydream

I imagine we are in a small red house near a frozen pond. It’s winter. We’re snowed in, miles from anyone or anything, and that’s how we like it. redcottage

Inside are colorful rope rugs, wooden walls papered with flowers, a stone mantle around a fireplace that gives adequate heat. I’m not sure who’s there except me, my daughters, and all the dogs we’ve ever loved.

The dogs snore by the fire, legs kicking. I bake gooey cinnamon bread while the girls play outside, skating on the pond in their sneakers, slipping and falling, unhurt. Unhurtable.

I lick the sugar off my fingertips and stand at the kitchen window watching as my girls pretend they’re ballerinas, then Willie Mays sliding into home. They stop, stand up, point, hold their fingers over their mouths, “Shhhhhhhh.” I turn and see what they see: a five-point buck with a mound of snow on his nose.

There will always be more beauty, more mystery than we can ever imagine.