This time of year, part deux

It’s Christmastime.

And my mood swing on wheels has arrived.

My family made it from Oklahoma to Maryland.

I don’t think I understood how leaving ahead of them, being away just shy of eight weeks, would thrash at my heart. But it did! And it hurt! And it made me cry under my hood on trains among strangers and listen to podcasts about other peoples’ depression while I wondered if mine had returned with a vengeance, readying to crush me.

I’m not sure it did, now that they are here. I’m not sure I hate Christmastime as much as I just said I hated Christmastime roughly five minutes ago.

I think I have to accept that this time of year is going to make me sad and happy, every year.

And I’ll probably be leaning on my family and friends to get through it.

Like – my friends Megan and Will, for instance. Did I mention I have built-in friends who live a mile away? No, I neglected to mention that. Too busy wallowing.

A week ago Saturday they yanked me out of my cocoon of sadness. I’d planned to stay in it and make vegetable soup and cry tears into the pot as a salt substitute. They forced me to go see a Christmas light display. And it was, dare I say, fun. And Megan and I determined Georgetown was not so kid friendly. And that the perma-disdain on some neighborhood faces is pronounced to the point of unintentional comedy.

So, there have been literal bright spots in an otherwise gloomy season.

Somehow my family’s mood swings make my own tolerable.

My mood swing on wheels has returned to me and my children are not so sure about this house.

Our old space wasn’t huge  at 1,300 square feet. But now we’re down to 900. For four people.


“There is none, buddy.”


He furrowed his brow and stomped around, flinging here and there a pair of keys.


It is in a shipping container on its way to our new house, I told him.

He picked up the keys and threw them into a metal Lincoln Log container. It emitted a tinny clang. Unsatisfied, he kicked it for good measure. A deep gong rang throughout the tiny house.

Laila was no more impressed. She’d been nonchalant about the move.

But after walking into the house and giving it a cursory glimpse, she sat down on one of the few pieces of furniture scattered around – a gray midcentury rescue chair.

“I don’t have any friends,” she said. “I’m scared to start school.”

“You’ll make friends, sweetie. And we’ll go with you and show you your new school. I know its scary but we will help you get through it.”

I pulled her onto my lap and gave her a squeeze. Her tummy hurt, she said, frowning.

Then Mark and the kids agreed the kitchen smelled bad.

Which was weird- because I can’t smell anything at all in there, but vaguely remember thinking the same thing upon move-in.

Laila perked up. She put on a string of performances that included a rap about a Tic Tac, followed by a competition of dueling animal impersonations, followed by a game of beauty salon.

“Laila, you’re really handling the move like champ, but if you want to be sad, it’s OK. Mommy will always listen.”

“We’ve just got to move on, Mommy, she said. “Everyone we left behind, they’re in my heart.”

This morning the kids noticed our new house lacks a fireplace.

“Santa won’t find it,” Eli said.

We made one out of cardboard and poster paint. (Thx for the poster paint grandma and grandpa!)

“Are you sure he can get in there?”

“Yes, Eli, he’s going to turn it into a real fireplace like magic,” Laila answered, turning to me.

“Mommy,” Laila said, dropping her paint brush. “I feel sick. I’m gonna throw up: Can I throw up?”

“Sure – and you don’t need my permission.”

pitter … patter … hurl

This time of year will never be perfect. Maybe the problem is not this time of year at all, but what we expect it to be.


This time of year

It’s that time of year.


And it’s not for everyone! In fact, I’m writing this for people who don’t love Christmas.

I kinda do. And I kinda don’t.

And this year it’s more like – don’t.

I recently wrote about depression and anxiety. Then, I buttoned it up, information-wise.

I’ve been avoiding the topic, secretly wondering if my depression and anxiety have managed to return like magic with jazz hands. I haven’t felt like admitting that. Nor have I felt like writing a word, because depression saps me of creative energy while simultaneously and confoundingly energizing the negative voice that spurns every word I write, every move I make. And I know the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and those were adverbs, right? And I know I could do without it being dark by 5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time! Just like I know depression and anxiety, above all else, make no fucking sense.

I quit journalism and moved to the Washington, DC ahead of my family, who was still back in Oklahoma City until just a few days ago, wrapping our lives up. Well, they’re all on the way to the DC area now, to start, yet again, anew. And it’s exciting. And my job is so cool, and I get to be a professional activist and my co-workers are just incredibly capable and kind.

So why t.f. am I sad?

And am I sad? Or am I depressed? I can’t tell the difference this time of year.

There’s so much change afoot. When I’m not working, when my mind is unoccupied, often on my lonesome commute, waves of sadness knock me over. Is this a natural reaction to stress?

Is it normal to always stand against a pillar and exercise situational awareness because you think you’re going to be pushed onto the metro tracks? Is it normal to wonder each day which white dude is gonna bust out an AK out of his trench on and mow us all down? Ummmm……

To make myself feel better I’ve been listening to a new podcast called the Hilarious World of Depression. There, depression is called Clinny D, a phrase I will immediately adopt, with credit to the podcast.

The podcast entails comedians and other artists talking about depression. All of these funny, successful people are suuuuuper fucking sad.

I don’t remember the part in my life where I picked up Clinny D in Oklahoma City and told it to come along in my luggage to Washington, DC. I thought I left that all behind.


Not to live in the past, but I’ve totally been living in the past. Because without my children here to keep me busy, my mind is unoccupied and wild, and it wanders, sometimes traveling to its dark little nooks. If ruminating were an Olympic sport I’d have eclipsed Michael Phelps long, long ago!

After Eli was born, we were in the NICU for 30 days, including on Christmas.

My mind has wandered back  there in these last few days, revisiting extreme isolation and sadness. And I still remember taking breaks from the hospital to run errands, affronted by mother after mother with healthy baby after healthy baby after healthy baby ensconced in car seats perched on shopping carts.

I’d think of those healthy babies and lucky mothers while looking at my empty bassonet.

Would my son make it there, to the bassonet?

Or would he die an infant?

I didn’t know.

This time of year is when the phone rang and we learned Eli had a deadly illness.

This time of year I was in the NICU sitting next to my son in the incubator when the dumb fuck nurse loud-talked with the dumber-fuck lab tech and I overheard them say my baby had CF and his sweat test results were off the charts.

The lab tech sounded excited about how obvious my son’s CF was, and I still remember the sound of his scientifically satisfied chortle.

This time of year that nurse left the room and told me that, yep, Eli had CF, and then she didn’t call in a doctor.

A candy striper walked in and asked if she could take my son’s picture and I burst into tears, and I will never forget what she said next.

“Being here is traumatic, and they forget that.”

Yes they sure AF do.

She sprinted out the door and got a doctor to explain to me what the hell was going on.

God bless hospital volunteers.

Then m mind wandered to the present. I thought about other families in the NICU this time of year, how they must feel forgotten and sad and robbed of the life they thought they’d have, how their babies may never make it out of there.

I called my sister and informed her of my NICU flashbacks and empathy binges and she instantly diagnosed me with PTSD. She has no clinical background, but I fully accept this diagnosis.

This time of year I’d love to talk to my own mother about this. This time of year I feel her absence more than other times of year. This time of year I think of that time we had Christmas in August, because we all knew she was about to die.

What kept me afloat this week, because I’ve been too doomy gloomy to shop or partake in Christmas cheer / commercialism was to plot a little plot to stop my head from returning to the past.

My extended family donated the money we would have spent on each other to give seven foster children a Christmas morning. And, with what’s left over, I’m going to send hot meals to Ronald McDonald family rooms – the living room-style break rooms for families within children’s hospitals – in Oklahoma City and Washington, DC.

Not in December, but starting in February, when those in the hospital become even more invisible to the rest of us, who will have moved on to weight loss schemes and spring break plans.

This time of year I think back to my breaks in that hospital family room, to the little gifts and meals that made our hospital stay better. I went to write in that family room. I could breathe in there.

The other silver lining of this time of year is that we decided when Eli was hospitalized on Christmas to make every Christmas day like the end of “A Christmas Story,” and go get Chinese food.

I think I’m gonna re-up the effort to find a professional to sort it all out. And another one to keep tabs on my medication. Because, oops, I did that thing again where I pretended I could just take a pill and then sadness-or-is-it-depression-and-anxiety would go away and leave me alone forever. It didn’t

GUH. This time of year.

4 ways illness makes you thankful

I am in an airport and I’ve fully turned into my mother. I am wearing pennyloafers. Mine happen to be silver. But still. Penny loafers. Is it 1994? I ate fries for breakfast. And a burger. I’m calling it brunch. Another Gayle move. It happened to be Smashburger and not a kamikaze mission into Mickey D’s. But still. I’m thinking a lot about my mom this week.

She died in 2010 of esophageal cancer. I read a post by a young man with CF yesterday about the ways having an illness makes you thankful. And I found myself thinking about the same thing. Here are 4 ways I’m feeling really thankful right here right now at the intersection of life and illness.

1. Eyes wide open to the present

Because there have been times I’ve experienced an overwhelming darkness, I appreciate the light a lot more. (Thanks, Wellbutrin!) Depression is like a screen that blots happiness from your brain. Anxiety is its shitty BFF, loading worry onto a conveyer belt twisting around your brain and heart. This is how I know I’m feeling all the feels but they aren’t pulling my strings. On Oct. 30 I left my family back in OKC and moved to Maryland ahead of the tribe to start a new job in a new field. I definitely got hit with waves of lonliness and sadness 10 days in as the excitement wore off (So I cried on the phone to my sister, WHATEVER).  But once I stopped being pathetic, because I let it all out and realized I had control of my emotional state, not the other way around, I forced myself out of the house to hang out with my pals in the area and meet new people. I also know myself well enough to know that if I don’ expel stress with exercise, I’m in trouble. I worked up the nerve to join an exercise bootcamp run by a former Marine. I have no name in that group other than “New Recruit.” And we had a lot of laughs and now all the muscle fibers in my thighs are torn apart from squats. THE END

2. Even with loss, you can think back to the good times

You have to train yourself to think this way or bitterness will consume you, but losing my mom forced me to look at what I had and what she continues to give me, not what I lost. Yes, I roll sans mother. I got her for a full 30 years. And after her diagnosis, we had a year and a half together. And her penny loafers are still making me smile. And her french fry obsession is still making me smile. And her propensity for being just a little bad – impulse silver penny loafer purchase here, french fries for breakfast there, is making me smile.

Gayle, kickin’ it from the great beyond since 2010. She’s got your back 24/7.

3. Low, low standards

My standards for happiness are really low! I swear to you low standards really are the key to happiness. When something as heavy as disease is in the picture – Eli’s cystic fibrosis – what does it take to make us happy? Not much! Are we breathing? Roger that. Then we accomplished something big today. Am I wearing pants? BONUS. Mascara? Damn I look good. I mean DAMN. Are my kids fed and dressed and only five minutes late for school today? Oh my gawd we are on fire. The highlight of my day – maybe the month, maybe the year – is going to be surprising them at the airport in St. Louis, where I’m meeting my tribe and our extended family. We haven’t told them I’ll be there. In fact, I’ve been playing it up that I won’t be. MWAHAHAHAHA

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset Standards so low this flower made my day[/caption]

4. I don’t have time to overschedule the hell out of us

My son’s care is time consuming. So, poinsetta sale, kindly eff off.

WTF Just Happened? The week in review


It’s Monday, Sept. 11. Just getting caught up? Here is the news you can use:

WTF is happening in the world

Irma. Lord, Irma.

It’s Sept. 11 again. Here’s a column about that grim morning’s first victim more than a decade and a half ago.

WTF is happening on this blog

I’m still writing about my mental health. It is something I’ve been weighing since I started this blog five days after Eli was born, nearly five years ago, because stuff was happening that I did’t understand, to him, to us.

I hate mom blogs. They’re so predatory. Parents with ill children who blog about their children are probably the worst of the worst.

BTW, look at my adorable click bait!

My point is, it felt increasingly gross and insincere writing about our lives and especially my son, when I was experiencing an illness also. One I pretended wasn’t there.

Now that I’ve acknowledged my ongoing mental health battles and upkeep, I find myself in the midst of some kind of creative surge. I’m rolling with it. My heart is open to it.

I’m finding inspo here, there and everywhere, from conversations with friends old and new to rather canned places like my ‘inspiration quote of the day’ setting in Google Allo.

Which I kind of take issue with. Because about 90 percent of the quotes are from men.

But one did speak to me.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”-Mahatma Gandhi.

I’d heard it before.

But I thought about it in light of my new openness about mental health here.

I’d like to live in a world where people aren’t ashamed of mental illness.

In that world, individuals wouldn’t turn to alcohol and drugs and addiction over admitting mental illness.

There is a wide spectrum of ruin that results because of shame, up to the destruction of families and suicide. The damage addiction inflicts can last generations.

To change that we – this generation – need to start talking about mental health. A lot. Within our own families and to our own friends and in the world at large. The stigma needs to die, and we need to kill it. Stigma, I cut you.

And while I’m on this bender, I’m going to add that I’d like to live in a world where the lives of the sick aren’t turned to ruin by the rigged system that both saves and  destroys them.

We can do better by the sick. They deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, too. Their stories matter. Are real. Are happening. I’m going to try to tell those stories more often.

So there’s that.

I am trying meditation as a way to deal with my new best friend anxiety.

Wow is it hard to find 10 interrupted minutes.

Laila read to Charley the dog, and you couldn’t have punched the smile off of my face.

Eli painted the county lock up. About ten times.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-TALK (8255).

If you have questions about mental illness, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness help line: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or

The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET.

This is now

I finished reading “Little House in the Big Woods” to Laila.

“This is now.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote those lovely, simple words. and I thought them to myself today whilst lazing around on the couch with Laila, Eli and Mark, chatting, watching the tele and having a cozy nap.

“This is now…now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

Breathe. It sounds so simple.

I’m trying my hand at meditation.

This is unlike me. I don’t have patience for such woo woo things, things like stopping and breathing.

I began to see a therapist this week. I arrived 20 minutes late.

It stressed me out. Which is the opposite of the point of therapy.

I noted that unlike seven years ago, when I tried a few sessions out for the first time,I did not feel shame walking through the door, which was not in a giant academic hospital satellite, emblazoned with the announcement ‘Depression Center ‘- sheesh why not just put it in neon? – but in a one-room office embedded deep in an 80s office building maze.

I wasn’t sure where to begin my navel gazing, so I sat down on a cushy white love seat embroidered with a white sateen brocade – not my style- and told her about my medication switching that I suspected ran afoul, and caused my panic attack.

Nothing had upset me the day of the panic attack, during which I could not stop crying or seemingly breathe. My son starting at a new school could be ma trigga, I said. He has an illness. Growing up is getting sicker, and even as we focus on the happiness and beauty and joy Eli (and of course buddy Laila ) bring our way, and that living with illness close at hand  snaps into sharp focus, milestones are bittersweet. I told her I burst out sobbing to a school administrator a week or two before the panic attack, airing a fear that other kids would tell him he would die. Would make fun of him if he coughed. If I tried to put him in a hospital mask during the winter which I had at his last school, where no one batted an eyelash, because most kids there were there because they had health needs, often much more serious than Eli’s.

I told her I tried to shove depression and anxiety into a secret closet, where I fed it a pill through a slot each day and otherwise ignored it, even as seven years back it tried to kill me. I told her that shoving it into a dark locked closet wasn’t working out so hot for me. I told her about my heart palpitations amd insomnia and hands gone numb and dizzy spells. I reported that those all went away with Wellbutrin, though my chest has felt occasionally tight heading into Week 4 and I suspected SSRI withdrawl after seven years on Zoloft, the last three at 100 mg a day, had been behind my panic attack.

She told me that was a high dose.

Really? I asked. Because when my doctor doubled it three years ago when I told him my depression symptoms were returning he’d said it was a low dose, that he had patients in it for decades, some of them at 300 mg, which made me think NBD. Until I quit cold turkey, at his advice, while starting Wellbutrin, and experienced what I imagined was like a low-boil speed freak out that lasted a week. Except for those moments when it went high boil.

She took notes and told me she is a solution-oriented type of therapist. I told her good, because I’m a solution-oriented type of girl. She told me three times a day I should find time to take ten deep breaths, and showed me how to do this, from the belly.

I told her this is how we were trained to breathe in choir, but it had been a long time since I had the time to sing. Three times a day? When? Before I get out of bed, that should be No. 1, she told me.  That worked. I’ve been deep breathing before work in my car, after I park and steal time to put on makeup and listen to the radio. I’ve also already been taking deep breaths at night when my children hold me hostage while they go to sleep.

1,2,3, badda bing badda boom.

I told her I have refused to afford myself any intellectual curiosity whatsoever regarding my depression and anxiety, which I pretended not to have, until a few weeks ago, when my husband sent me an email with a single line in the body, a link to a PBS documentary on the depression epidemic, which I watched.

I felt both enlightened and disappointed, because while the documentary illuminated the subject and especially the stigma, those they picked to feature could not have been more damn gloomy, which depressed me. I mean those motherfuckers were gloomy. DoomyMcFugginGloomy.

I told her the next link YouTube suggested was a TedTalk featuring the psychologist and author Andrew Solomon called “Depression, the secret we share.”

I hadn’t heard of him, but his book “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression,” which he spoke of, sounded fascinating.

I decided to give his book a chance, even though he started the talk with a super depressing and dramatic reading of an Emily Dickinson poem.

He lulled me back with the follow-up point that spoke to me: “Half of art is suffering.”

I’d put it at about 85 percent, Mr. Solomon.

The therapist gave me a few more YouTubes to check out. Another author to try, one specifically who addresses stigma around mental health.

I decided a few weeks ago to give this breathing business she had suggested a try.

Yes, I am already top of your class of one,therapist. Haha!

I downloaded the app Headspace, and tonight completed my first 10-minute unguided breathing.

Thus far, I gathered that while you shouldn’t try to suppress wandering thoughts, you should ‘touch them like a feather to fine crystal,’ which is a visual deserving of all the mockery.

I settled in nevertheless and attempted to deep breathe in my room whilst lying down, my children shrieking outside my door, playing games with dutiful Mark.

A sampling of my wandering thoughts included: Is this app voice Moss from the IT crowd? I love Moss from IT crowd. Seriously is this him? *reenacts IT Crowd Moss-isms in head* Christmas shopping – should I get it underway? Oh, here comes the memory of our trip to The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, considered by Mark a hellscape, but it did allow me to start Christmas shopping in early August. Monarch butterfly eggs- are they in my garden and should I go looking for them with the kids? Does meditation have some overarching point? I’m a whore for goals, so what’s my goal here? Should I stop setting goals. Yes, I probably should. Oh shit, I better focus on my breath.

You get the picture. In between those thoughts, tickled with my feather to fine crystal (or not, but acknowledged), I did think about breath, of my cozy blanket, the screeching children, the cacophonous cicadas, my breath. There may have been microseconds of a fairly clear mind in there. Maybe.

Just breathing is harder than it sounds.

I’m a goal whore. Look how much breathing and nothing else I’ve done!

SSR BYE: Hello energy 

Energy, it’s been awhile. I’d toootally forgotten what you look like.

I’ve finally adjusted to Wellbutrin after an initial 14 days of extreme ups and downs.

The vain me is relieved that a non-weight gaining stimulant appears to jive with my brain chemistry.

I’m way less hungry, which is different, because one of my nicknames is Snacks.

I usually gain five pounds after even looking at a damn piece of chocolate cake. Thus, I’ve been a serial MyFitnessPal user for years. I quit during my mini-meltdown /med transition phase these last few weeks. Now I’m back at it and get this – making sure I eat enough. WHO AM I?

I weaned totally off of the 25 mg of Zoloft I’d been taking to kill the Wellbutrin edge. The obnoxious SSRI withdrawl brain zaps are much less extreme and infrequent, almost gone. I’m not taking BuSpar, the anti -nxiety drug my doctor gave me, either, because the tight feeling I had in my chest disappeared. Since I have a new friend called energy, I began my exercise regimen this week after almost a month of not doing jack squat. I even, like, baked. I baked muffins for my kids. Then I baked a frittata. WHO AM I?

It’s alarming how good I feel. Not manic or invincible. Not robotic or snappish. I am calm and yet still able to feel a range of feels without any one getting out of hand. Yes, I felt annoyed at my children for moving like slugs when we were already late for school this morning. I deposited them, hussled a scoop, pulled an assist and scribbled a ‘splainer online on account of a disaster that is pulling resources from this region of the land and thus increasing the workload of those who write about what’s going on. And I felt glad to do it, because it’s nice to be even a little useful in the middle of a national disaster.  I felt gratitude that a friend gave Laila school dresses and that we got to chat for a few moments after school. I felt sad a few moments ago when I did a little meditative breathing exercise with Eli, who told me it feels bad for him to breathe. We kept breathing. He held my hand here in the dark. And he drifted off to sleep.  I felt so happy that I am his mommy, and with Mark and a very capable team of doctors who care for him, we will together get to the bottom of what hurts his lungs, and help him feel better. It is an honor, little one, to care for you.

And after I plunk these words out on my mobile whilst lying in the dark next to Eli, I’ll have to go pack some lunches, and de-gross the kitchen. A few weeks I’d have given up and gone to sleep, because a few weeks ago I was so tired I could hardly function. By evening? Fughettaboutit. Done. My body sent me some alarming signals and I finally listened. I decided to start tending to my mind in the way I tend to the needs of others. I don’t feel crushed by life today. Tired? Check. But I am also invigorated by the prospect of tomorrow.

Good night.

WTF Just Happened? The week in review


It’s Monday, Aug. 28. Just getting caught up? Here is the news you can use:

WTF is happening in the world

I went into hibernation mode this weekend. I missed a lot, like:

Hurricane Harvey unleashes on Houston

Catastrophic flooding is expected through Wednesday

Surreal drone footage

When disaster strikes, con artists move in

Don’t get scammed in the wake of this disaster. (Consumerist)

Tons of people are helping in Houston, including lots of Oklahomans, who are kinda good at disaster response

People are crying out for help on social media

A reporter stopped reporting to help save a man

WTF is happening on this blog

I started writing about my own mental health.

Here is my mental manifesto.
I landed in the ER with a panic attack.

BTW switching meds is no joke.

I’m feeling much better after two weeks on Wellbutrin that followed six years on Zoloft and a whole lot of running.

I’m nobody’s guru, but I’m going to keep writing about my own experiences.

I have heard from lots of readers who have had similar experiences. A few said they felt a lot more ‘normal’ now that I owned up to my depression and anxiety history!

And I say – let’s keep making mental health conversations normal. Let’s defeat the stigma.

It’s literally killing us.

If you are hyaving thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-TALK (8255).

If you have questions about mental illness, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness help line: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or

The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET.


Old Boy on Netflix. Woooooah.

I’ve been working hard to avoid ‘Game of Thrones’ spoilers. They are. Literally. Everywhere. I’ve watched the first ep of the new season. It’s tough as I watch this one solo. Mark is not a fan!



Laila started a book club! We are half way through ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ with only a few days left to finish by our Sept. 1 deadline! aieee!

All was well, I was pumping out Little House memes, right up until the point Pa sang a racist song. WTF? Didn’t remember that from childhood.

I sent an SOS to the private FB group and got some good feedback. I’ll write later this week about how our club is handling old, offensive terms!

My lovely friend dropped off a copy of ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeanette Walls! I’m re-reading it as my book club got ambitious and selected two titles!


Last week I had to take a moment and get my mental health in order. I got so many positive notes, calls, messages, texts and reassurances that I am not alone. It really shored up my battered heart. Thanks, everyone.

One of my other lovely wonderful friends suggested the guided meditation app Headspace.
(For iPhone and Android)


Thus far I truly enjoy it, having tried out the three and six minute meditations. The pleasant British voice is a bonus. I was immediately suckered into the subscription service.

I’d Googled guided meditations but the YouTube meditation voices are too much. LIKE TOO MUCH. Like Laila and I couldn’t stop laughing at one and that was not super meditative.

I used to think meditation was just a buncha woo woo, but finding even a few minutes to breathe and take stock of my thoughts and feelings has become a vital part of my existence.

I don’t remember when I started meditation, but it was some point around the time my children began holding me hostage at bedtime until they fell asleep.

That’s when I breathe in and breathe out, and focus on my breath.

It also helped me view the hostage-taking as benefit, not an annoyance. I’m a sucker for bonus cuddles.

Everything has changed but only one thing is different:

I stood in the living room last night.

My husband came home.

And as he tends to do, he walked into the house, looked around, and sighed.

And for the first time in as long as I can remember I didn’t infer disdain from that sigh. I didn’t take it as an affront that screamed what I already knew: You, Juliana, are a terrible person. A disappointing failure.

I saw it for what it was. A sigh from an exasperated working dad who will stay up late to put the house together again to get it to the point of “good enough” so that we can start the day at “good enough,” nothing less.

Only a few days into the past I would the sigh was a sign he hated me and I’d failed somehow, I saw Mark for what he was. Tired as hell. He stayed up late. Then he got up early and got Eli on his breathing mask and put him on his shaking Vest and worked a full day at a school where 12 and 13 year-olds dream. They dream of becoming citizens. They dream of lives in which they don’t have to work three jobs like their parents. Where they have parents. One girl admitted she dreamed of going to jail where she would have a family. They sell Xanax bars. Join gangs. Smoke weed. They get caught in bathrooms doing sex things that 12 year olds shouldn’t even really know about. Or at least I didn’t at 12. They write dark, brilliant poetry born of suffering. Or Dickensian stories that aren’t fiction. They give themselves monikers like “The Black Unicorn.” They have quirky Guatemalan names like Dulce, literally, Candy. Once a gaggle of 12-year-old girls punched him silly. He was breaking up their fight. They are hope. They are suffering. They are what the world really looks like. And he sees it every day. And he saves these children sometimes. From parents. From each other. From the world. Once a little fellow from China took the wrong bus. Everyone at the school left for the day but Mark, to help the child’s mother track him down. She didn’t speak English. Police picked that boy up wandering on a bad side of town. And they brought him back to the mother, who hugged Mark.  Another girl wanted to kill herself. Her classmates bullied her. He got her schedule changed so she could escape her tormentors. He saw her suffering. He acknowledged it. He fixed it. He’s seen suffering much worse, unspeakable suffering, and he quietly helps to set it right.

I’d sigh too if I were him.

I made tacos. I sat at the dinner table with my family.

And for the first time in as long as I can remember I didn’t want to get up and go lie down, go write something, go read something, just get away, just keep moving.

I just sat. And I ate. And I listened.

I apologized.

“I have an announcement to make to the family,” I said. “I want to say that I’m sorry. Mommy’s been having a hard time. I’m sick. My heart needed a bandaid. I yelled too much and I said hurtful things I didn’t mean. Mommy has depression and anxiety, and it’s not anyone’s fault. I’m trying to get better,” I told my kids and my husband.

Laila leaned into me and smiled and held my hand.

“If you have any questions you can ask me now or any time,” I said.

Eli was nonplussed; he put on a robot costume I made out of a cardboard box and old vest tubes, and I laughed.

Mark said thanks, too.


And then Eli refused to sit still at dinner. A week ago I would have yelled to get him in line, instantly exasperated, but tonight I got up, walked over, leaned in, and in a calm but appropriately authoritative mom means business voice told him that he should sit down and eat his food. He was making bad choices about manners, and if I had to ask again he would need to go upstairs to his room to think about that. And he…just…did what I said.

I listened. Laila has started a gang, as it turned out. It’s called the Cool Kids Club. And we talked about the guidelines of this club. She didn’t want big kids in it. Big kids are mean and take over. So we practiced what to say if one demanded a membership. “I’m sorry, but this club is 8 and under. If you want to form a sister club for 9 and up you are free to do so.” And we discussed who could be let in the club, because I worried she was going to exclude other children, which we talked about. She said you could get in if you could dribble a ball. Or if you were really little, you only had to roll a ball. That sounded pretty solid to me.

I wasn’t annoyed, angry or exasperated by any of this. I have been annoyed, angry and exasperated and tired, so tired, for so long.  Last night, I just wasn’t. And tonight, I’m not either.

The only thing that changed in this equation is me.

I acknowledged I have illnesses with names. Depression and anxiety. I acknowledged my treatment “plan” wasn’t working. I had a rollercoaster ride

getting on a new schedule of medication that addressed both the returning depression and the newer anxiety. I even had a panic attack.

I’m just 12 days in to acknowledging these illnesses as actual diseases that are a part of me but not everything. Today I took a 150 mg Wellbutrin. I took 25 mg of Zoloft. I had one BuSpar for anxiety. I meditated before work with a new app I downloaded called Headspace. And they guy has a pleasant British accent, not a dopey, unintentionally comic New Ager voice.

And all the sudden, I have peace. And energy. I’m not used to having either of those things. Only in this new, strange state have I gained enough fledgling perspective to acknowledge how far I’d slipped, without even noticing, really. An ugly inner voice had begun to call the shots. It told me I was worthless. I obligingly looked for evidence everywhere, and everywhere, I found it. Even when it didn’t exist, I found it.

That things are better doesn’t mean I’m cured.

My children unfurled an entire ball of yarn as I wrote this. I’m late doing Eli’s care an by an hour because I wrote this. Eli just dumped out a jewelry box full of Laila’s penny’s as I wrote this. “Daddy’s not making the popcorn! MOMMY!” Eli has just screamed as I wrote this. Mark is doing the dishes and annoyed because I haven’t because I’m writing this. “MOMMY THE POPCORN,” Laila screamed I wrote this. The popcorn is now being made. Eli needs out of his shaking vest to go potty. And then he will need back in.


It’s not like things are perfect but the difference is I have the vitality to get through it.

I’d like to be the Leslie Knope of my own mental illness.



SSR BYE: breaking up is hard to do

Dear me where was I…

I went to the ER the other with what turned out to be a panic attack. I next visited my doctor’s office as I didn’t just want to take whatever the ER had prescribed without talking over a plan first.

At our family doc, who I adore btw he is the sweetest man ever, I described how my emotional range spanned 0-100. And by that I mean I was either a zero or a 100, crying or screaming, zero stops in between, which I found humiliating. And somebody please send my husband a bottle of gin. My chest was still tight, I told doc. I still felt like I couldn’t  breathe a deep breath.

He put me back on 25 mg of Zoloft i.e. sertraline to take this edge off of the 150 mg of Wellbutrin, which will take a few weeks to kick in. And then I got BuSpar, an as-needed or up to thrice-daily anxiety medicine.

And I lost six pounds in a week.

“Maybe I’ll finally get the bikini bod if my dreams, I told my doc. “Inhabited by the dragon lady, though!”

And I thought about what had just transpired, from the weeping to the screaming. 

Is that what I’m like under all the pills? Is that the real me??? I asked doc. Dear God that’s depressing!

He told me no. 

It was either the meds coming in or those going out that made my emotions go haywire. 

I felt relieved. Because I don’t want to release the cracken . ever .again. 

I tried the new-new medicine schedule. I couldn’t sleep, and today, my chest is still tight.

It occurred to me that I may have taken two Wellbutrin by mistake yesterday. I remember holding the pill bottle in my hand, thinking “Why does this feel like dejavu?”

Like, was that a panic attack or Wellbutrin rager ala speed freak out? I’ve heard good things about Wellbutrin. It is non-addictive. Energizing.  No one told me I’d have a speed freak out. And come to think of it I had a lot of coffee yesterday since that had become my habit, slogging through with the help of caffeine. Will I freak out on a wellbutrin and caffeine? Is that spelled out anywhere? I hadn’t thought to ask even after being told the drug was a stimulant. I want to give it a month. I need to get a pillbox. I’m old and forgetful. 

On Zoloft I spent six sedated years fighting weight gain and feeling feelings between 0 and 100, not often on one extreme or the other, but sometimes, yeah, of course. When sorrow visited I let it in and then I let it out, because sorrow is a manageable guest, and I’ve had to learn to live with it right next to joy.  Eli started school and I felt so much happiness and then immediate sorrow because he does have an illness that means every year older is another year sicker. Right in the palm of my hand, sorrow and joy, all the time. But beauty is more beautiful next to sorrow. Happiness happier. Joy more full when sorrow is always so close. And I felt by and large normal for so long right up until my hands started going numb. And an invisible vice squeezed my heart, which even in a compressed state started skipping beats. And I became dizzy at random. And I couldn’t sleep. And I have too much to do to deal with extra fatigue. And I remembered how I could slide so easily into darkness, just over the way. Sorrow was pulling me there, beckoned by darkness. Following sorrow would be easy and familiar. Joy needed a little kick to turn me around. Just a boost of Wellbutrin for good ol Joy. But then we were zooming all over the valley, moving too fast, up the mountain and down.

That can’t  be my only alternative. 

I still need to find a therapist. I know I may.

Please someone send Mark a bottle of gin. 

The end

SSR Bye: A panic attack

Through cold sweats and the brain zaps I was pretty sure I had the whole dropping my nearly six-year run with Zoloft for Wellbutrin thing handled. I had a goofy grin on my face all day yesterday, happy to be out amongst the people, my favorite place to be. Sure, an invisible vice squeezed my heart, and it became difficult to take a deep breath, but I had work to do. Work I enjoyed. I just needed to push through until deadline. So that’s what I did. Look at all the lovely things I documented whilst barely able to breathe yet smiling because I love science and people and the outdoors.

And 24 hours later I sat staring at what has to be the ugliest curtain ever made in the history of curtain-making. Did the designer take a photograph of a pile of puke, upload said photo, move the cursor just so, draw out the color hex and exclaim, “Yep, that’s the one. Right there, the beige with the pallor of death. Mark it.” And I was crying. And I couldn’t stop crying. I’d dropped Eli off to school late again. Late because his cough disappeared and then made a tiny resurgence, and I felt it was more important for him to rest than for us to drag him out of bed at 5 or 5:30 to start his physio/breathing treatments. Not until 10 a.m. did we get to school. And I didn’t feel right at all. The dull ache from yesterday was worse. My natural breathing pattern seemed shallow. I had to think about it and force my chest to move to get the oxygen. And I wondered if I should really go to work like this. And I started to cry. And I pulled into a parking lot, unable to stop crying. And my chest got tighter and it felt harder to breathe, which distressed me and I cried even more and harder. I felt humiliated even as I was alone, worried that someone would see this hysterical woman I did not recognize. I started texting my sisters. They thought I should call my doctor at least or go to the ER. Because I’m one week in to switching from 100 mg per day of sertraline ie Zoloft (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors ie SSRI) to 150 mg of buproprion ie Wellbutrin. I’d started off the week weepy, then seemed to improve. But then I turned into a dragon lady who has slammed so many doors in the last few days it’s a wonder we have all of our fingers. I called my doctor’s office and got irritating ‘on hold’ music. I drove to the ER.

So I’m sitting there in this godawful  blue vinyl chair trying to stifle my weeping and a sympathetic nurse took note of the things I’d just experienced. The main thing was “Do you want to harm yourself or others.” No, I answered.


Moments later in walked a doctor.  I spoke through tears. It was embarrassing. I couldn’t stop. Is there anything else going on, he asked. My son has an illness, I said. What illness, he asked. Cystic fibrosis, I said.

And he tried to comfort me and say that they’re getting people to live to 60 these days.

Things are getting better. But a lot of people die young or require lung transplants in their 20s. The median age of death is 29. Most die between 22 and 39. The median age of survival, 42. And none of that defines Eli.

Even so I can’t help but feel my little boy’s cough is going to morph into a worse infection and lead to a hospitalization that leads to a blood infection, a superbug, a hospital mistake that leads to a coma that leads to death. That may not be rational. But I live with this worst-case scenario and many others on low boil in the back of my brain.  I didn’t feel like explaining that to the doctor, nor did I really understand what set me off. I’d dropped him off at school. I was late for work. His school is lovely. I’d make up the time.I don’t want any tests, I told him. I’d had every kind of test run last week.EKG, Thyroid. Iron. On and on. Everything was normal. On paper.

I heard again from my friend Pam, who I spoke with on the phone in the ER right after learning that Eli had CF. She told me the plain and simple truth then, things like,  “You’re going to fight with stupid people.” She wrote to me on Monday kind words about my mental health story.

We  are fixers and we can’t fix this.

She encouraged me to find a therapist and never stop talking.

Whatever this just was interrupted that plan.

The discharge paperwork said “panic attack.”

I got home and called my dad again, tearfully confessing the most terrible thing I had said. Eli had been screaming at me, again and again over his shaking vest. “I don’t want to do my Vest! I don’t want to do my vest! Why do I have to do my vest!”

I have all kinds of inconsistent strategies for his anger. We throw pillows at each other. We play ‘crazy baby,’ a game during which I pretend to have found an adorable baby only to have him look at me with insane crazy eyes. I don’t know why this never gets old, but it never gets old. I let Eli beat the shit out of me while I strapped him in once, right in front of my sister, niece and nephew.  I’m fairly sure she was horrified, but I didn’t have the energy to respond in that moment. I give him choices of snacks and TV shows. I run and find a lollipop. I run and find a juice box.

“Why do I have to do my vest?”

“Because it’s keeping you alive!”

The voice that seemed to come from some other person, not me, because I would never say such a thing to my sweet baby boy.

And he went so quiet, I told my dad. And it broke my heart. And these past few weeks he keeps telling me he’s worried about dying, and I think that’s my fault.

But I have to call my physician now, I said. And a therapist, like I had planned to do, before I had a panic attack.