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.

Writing is My Unreliable Lover

Writing_BlogI am a fitful writer. I am happiest when I write, but I often don’t write for weeks, even months at a time. During those times, I can feel myself losing grip of my art, my light, my happiness. I doubt my work. Then life takes over, and I let it. I’ll reorganize the entire house, clean the windows, wipe the baseboards, visit the grocery and hardware stores, take the kids on an all-day outing. I pretend it’s fine; life is just busy. The truth is that life is busy. But it’s not fine. Not writing is like telling my lover it’s okay for him to leave for a month and not call or write. I tell him, “I can keep busy. It’s okay, I’ll be fine.”

No. I won’t.

Well-meaning friends have proposed that writing in fits and starts is just how I work. I have fruitful periods and barren periods. Sometimes the muse just isn’t there. Well, screw that. My testy muse is an unreliable bitch and I need to find a way to forge on without her.

This last week, for the first time in over a decade, I considered giving up writing. I have a full memoir manuscript begging me from the shelf to just finish her, revise her, connect a few more dots. It’s an incredible story of faith and love and magic. And I sat around this week and said out loud, tears rolling down my cheeks, “It’s a stupid idea. I don’t even know why I’m writing it.”

Of course, the little honest bird in my heart knew that this was ridiculous, just a toe-dip into despair to see how it felt to give up. It was a reaching down, a superficial effort to hit bottom so I could sit down at the god-blessed computer and write something.

I guess it worked, because here I am. But I’m exhausted. I’m wet and worn like a twisted rag. I feel the pull, right this very second, to drift to my bed and take a nap. But with each word I type, I’m pushing away the blank page, trying to stare down the dark place, fists raised for a fight.


“Wow! You going to be doing a lot of baking?” the cashier woman at Trader Joe’s said. I felt caught because as I shopped, along with the usuals, I just allowed myself to grab what looked good. I ended up with brownie mix, blondie bar mix, pumpkin bread mix, and white icing. I decided to be honest with her. “Baking makes me happy,” I said.

On the drive home, I fretted. Am I unhappy? Not really. I’m doing okay. Most moments are good moments. So what motivated me to buy all those sweets? “Food is not love,” someone said recently. I’d heard it before, but this time it clanged like a gong in my ears.

I bake because I love to, but as I pulled the car up to the house, I thought about how I also bake now for my daughters, ages 5 and 8. I want to treat them. I want them to come home from school and walk into a house filled with dogs and cats, markers and crayons, music, flowers and cookies that are still warm and gooey. I want them to take a bite (after finishing their healthy snack) and feel safe, feel release. It’s okay. It’s allowed here. It’s all allowed here. Your messy feelings about your friends, the mistake you made in front of the teacher, the fact that you didn’t wipe your bottom well enough and now you have a rash. I bake as a signal that my girls can let go. They’re safe in this house with me.

And I’ll tell them a few things about my day, that I made mistakes too, that my hard work felt arduous at times, but that because we’re home together, sitting around a table with milk and cookies, I feel great.

I look at my girls, my beautiful little beings and I feel such hope and such fear—because I could be doing this all wrong. The mom who has the no sugar policy in her house, who races in triathlons; she doesn’t think I’m teaching my kids good eating habits. Do I tell her that when her daughter comes to our house, she pries open the pantry without asking and pilfers it? Do I stop her? Do I tell?

Essays I want you to read…

…if you haven’t already. These are older essays, but worth reading again and savoring. Both authors have gone on to do stupendous things. 

I’m working on a short opinion piece about mothering daughters. It’s coming along. I’m also busy doing some major tweaks to the memoir structure. It feels akin to taking a truck engine apart, laying out all the pieces, and then reassembling them so that they’ll fit inside a Corvette.

Oh, and some good news. A story of mine got picked up by a pretty snazzy magazine. I’ll reveal which one later on in the fall. Until then, I’ll keep on plugging.

As if a miracle had come

A small excerpt from the memoir in progress:

Bunker followed me from room to room. When the house was empty, we lay on my gray bedroom carpet, his shedding puppy hair entwining with my damaged blonde mess. I touched the wet soft of his nose. He licked my finger, then rolled onto his back. When his eyes drooped, I watched his eyelashes flutter long after they closed. It was a love affair of survival. With him, I began to think I could venture out into the world again. I thought of the days I couldn’t rise from the couch or the time I sat clutching the knife in the basement. I thought of how warm the wind felt on my ankles the day I opened the car door on the highway. It terrified me that I ever felt that desperate. As if a miracle had come, the lid on that endless sorrow clamped shut with this dog by my side. Something about him—some wordless magic he brought—began to close that chapter of my life forever.