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?” Finally, 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.
Sometimes it’s okay to pretend you’re fine when you’re not.
Sometimes it’s okay to tell people that, actually, you feel so bad that you struggle to simply get out of bed in the morning.
Sometimes you’ll fight the awful feelings because they get at a deeper truth, that you’ve relapsed, maybe just a bit, and this idea terrifies you.
Sometimes breaking down in your gardening clothes wearing soil-laden gloves is just what you need to do.
Sometimes your husband will come to you and not know what to do or say as you weep, but he won’t leave or ignore your pain or pretend it isn’t happening.
Sometimes he’ll tell you, as gently as he can, that you need help.
Sometimes your therapist will have an opening two hours after you e-mail her and you’ll go to her couch and finally, gratefully, weep.
Sometimes she’ll confirm for you that, yes, you’re in a really, really bad place. You’re depressed again and it’s okay. It happens because you get too distanced from your own needs, and there have been one too many crises in your life lately.
Sometimes just hearing her confirm that your pain is real will help you begin feel better.
Sometimes you’ll feel like a superhero because you got one really annoying errand done.
Sometimes you’ll drive five kids to soccer practice and love listening to their sweet, loud, innocent conversation.
Sometimes your daughter will time a fart so perfectly that you’ll laugh so hard that you cry.
Sometimes you’ll go to bed feeling just a little bit hopeful because even if tomorrow morning’s waking is difficult, the day can actually turn out okay.
I’ve found a kindred spirit. His name is Adam Wahlberg, and he’s founder of Think Piece Publishing which strives to provide singular voices on social, health-related issues. This article in the MinnPost explains it best when it says, “Adam Wahlberg’s role is not just to publish but to advocate for people in trouble.”
Adam asked me to write a guest blog post, and I’ve done that here. Please check it out. It’s about how I found the courage to tell my story.
Five years ago I never would have told anyone that I suffer from depression. I feared judgement. I know better now. And I know that getting my voice out there about these issues is how I peel back the dark shadows. Adam and Jacob are doing the same thing, and I’m so happy to add my voice to the mix.
This is the message I send to people who are currently suffering: You are not alone. There is no judgement. Reach out. People will help you. People want to help you. You can feel better.
My parents saved my life. My dog was my continuing care, always first in line to respond when I began to fall back into depression. I write to thank all of them for stepping in when I was at my lowest, for their unwavering, unconditional love and support.
More work I adore from Think Piece Publishing:
This memoir by Janet Burroway, heroine to all students of writing. Her book Losing Tim is about her son’s military life and suicide. “Losing Tim is a memoir by a mother about a soldier son who killed himself. It’s not an easy read. But it’s a beautiful one. Burroway, a National Book Award nominee, welcomes readers to grieve along with her, while also providing a lens into how soldiers, and military contractors, like her son, are changed by their combat experiences.”
This documentary about Adam Levy, lead singer of the Honeydogs, whose son Daniel suffered from mental illness and committed suicide in 2012 at age 21. The conversations in the documentary are candid and moving. I am full of love for this remarkable father and beautiful young man gone too soon.
* Line from one of the best movies ever: Can you name it?
Big thanks to Lisa Grantham for connecting me and Adam. Thank you Lisa!