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.

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.