The Not Blue Stabilizers

Doctor Who

I’m still here. My family and I have just been overwhelmed and struggling with a lot of difficult life events.  I paid my regularly scheduled visit to my psychiatrist today.  I brought a list.  I choked up and cried as I went through my list.  

As I blew my nose and tried not to mouth-breathe too much, my psychiatrist let me know that, just like the Force, my mood needed balance. (She didn’t say the thing about the Force, but if she had, I’d love her more than I already do.)  I’ve already been having trouble keeping it together, and she reminded me that my list was likely to get worse before it gets better. 

Tonight I began a low dose of a mood stabilizer. I had been hoping that they would be blue pills so I could say that they’re the blue stabilizers.  Alas, they are not blue. As I lay my woozy body down for sleep, I hope that my desire for medical geekiness will be the only thing that doesn’t work out. 

America Needs You to Stop

Image via Huffington Post

  There have already been dozens of op-eds, articles, and blog posts about gun control in the wake of yet another mass shooting in Oregon, (and now another in Arizona!  There was another school shooting between when I began this post and now.  What the actual fuck, people?!) but I decided I needed to pile on anyway.  Once upon a time, people changed minds with well-written essays or impassioned speeches.  Anyone who is completely against new gun control regulations will not be a fan of this post.  While I don’t expect to change any hearts and minds, I hope that you will at least listen to what I have to say.

You don’t need a gun.

Correction: unless you’re an on duty police officer or military personnel, living completely off the grid and need to hunt and gather your food, or are training for the Winter Olympics biathlon, you don’t need a gun.  You may want a gun, but you don’t need a gun.  This is not to be mistaken with the idea that you shouldn’t be allowed to have a gun.  But so far, I haven’t heard a single persuasive argument as to why someone needs to have a gun.  For example:

“I like to go hunting.”
Everyone needs a hobby, I guess.  And truth be told, I don’t have a problem with someone hunting and eating what they’ve hunted.  I mean, Bambi is delicious!
“And I need a high powered rifle to hunt with.  It will allow me to get a cleaner shot so it will die quickly and not suffer.”
Nope.  You lost me.  You want a high powered rifle.  Plenty of people were able to hunt just fine before high powered rifles.  Hell, if you want to be an impressive marksman, go back to bow hunting.  And as far as not wanting your kill to suffer, that’s really sweet.  But if you’re so concerned about the welfare of the animal and its suffering, I suggest maybe not hunting.  

“I need to protect myself/my family.”
I really and truly do have sympathy for that idea.  Nothing is scarier than being attacked while defenseless.  Whenever I hear a strange sound in the house, my thumb hovers over the “send” button for 911.  Sometimes I might take a large kitchen knife with me.  In my mind at those times, I think I’m going to be like fucking Jack Ryan or Katniss and defend myself like I know what I’m fucking doing.  Here’s the thing, though.  None of us are Jack Ryan or Katniss Everdeen.  The likelihood of someone successfully defending themselves with gun in a home invasion is low, while the possibility of someone in the home being injured is high.  How often do we read stories about children accidentally killing their sibling or friend because they were messing around with a gun?  What about some asshole kid in Tennessee who murdered an 8 year old little girl the other day because she wouldn’t let him play with her puppy.  How about the girl in Arizona who accidentally killed her shooting instructor, even though she had learned proper gun safety?  The father who killed his own son because he believed him to be a home invader? Then there’s the fact that a gun in the home significantly increases the likelihood of a woman to die because of domestic violence. I will grant that there are a handful of stories where a resident was able to fight off their attacker with a gun, but that isn’t the norm, and it still doesn’t make having a gun in the home a good idea.  People survive parachute accidents.  That doesn’t mean we should all start jumping out of planes without chutes.

“I like to go shooting at the shooting range.”
Blink. Blink.  How liking to go shooting is more important than people’s lives is beyond me, but okay, I’ll play along.  Rent the goddamn things at the range like a club at putt putt.  And yes, I’ve been shooting…with a gun my ex-boyfriend was able to buy on the Internet.

“2nd Amendment rights!  Constitution!  Founding Fathers!  Liberty from a tyrannical government!  Hitler!
Let’s make one thing very clear: if you have always lived in this country, (with some obvious exceptions) you don’t know from tyranny.  And do you honestly think our government is going to come after you?  1) We liberals who aren’t pacifists aren’t usually fans of war anyway.  2) It’s highly doubtful that our military would follow orders from President Obama or a liberal Congress or any other liberal in power to war against its own citizens.  The portion of our military that isn’t Republican and telling our  liberal government to go fuck themselves would likely object to such action.  3) Let’s assume they do come for you, (for… reasons?) I seriously doubt the small arsenal you possess will do much against a tank or five.  But seriously, they’re. not. coming. for. you.  And the whole Hitler reason is bollocks.  And as a wise person once said to me, “If you invoke Hitler in an argument, you automatically lose. Those are the rules.”

The fact of the matter is, if your desire to have a gun is more important than the lives of hundreds upon hundreds of victims, then you’re a bad person.  Full stop.  If you’re arguing against or preventing gun control because you don’t want to make it more difficult for you to get a gun, then you have some seriously fucked up priorities.  Stop using bullshit arguments in order to keep your precious metal penises.  

Stop using Chicago as a reason to not regulate guns.  That’s like saying, Passing laws against driving drunk hasn’t stopped everyone from doing so, so we might as well not do anything.  It’s an excuse, nothing more, and you know it.  One must be true: either banning handguns in other countries has worked to drastically diminish this sort of gun violence or our country has a disproportionate number of the world’s murderous people.  Otherwise, I look forward to ceasing attempts to ban abortion and the decriminalization of  marijuana.

Stop saying that we just need better gun education and safety.  If that were true, there wouldn’t be accidents all the time.  My cousin wouldn’t have accidentally shot himself in the torso and then fought for his life. The fact is, people are stupid.  We just are.  We make mistakes.  We think we’re invicible, (I’m looking at you, 16-22 year olds.)  Then again, sex education has totally eliminated unplanned pregnancy and STIs. Wait…

Stop saying that we need to fix mental health care.  It may be true that mental health plays a part in the reason people go on these shooting rampages, but deflecting to mental health as the only reason is insulting to those of us who live quietly with mental health issues every day.  But thank you for continuing to propagate the stigma of mental illness.  Also, many times, the first indication that someone is seriously mentally disturbed is after people have been murdered.  And even if there are indications, that doesn’t mean they have been adjudicated to be mentally ill and dangerous, as in the case of the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech massacre.  

Stop saying that only good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.  If that were true, Chris Mintz didn’t get the memo.  Nor did Aleksander Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone, (who, I am happy to say, is recovering from being stabbed last night.)  Not to mention, the late Colonel Bill Badger, who tackled the gunman in Tucson, AZ during Gabby Giffords’ campaign stop.  These heroes, and countless others, subdued these attackers without guns.
Then there are the would-be heroes who create problems, accidents, or get themselves killed.  Armed civilians have yet to stop a mass shooting. 

 Furthermore, escalation by putting guards with guns on school campuses will only open the schools up to accidents, (or “accidents”) and scare the shit out of the teachers and students.  It’s a place of learning, not a war zone.  I sure as fuck don’t want armed guards patrolling my girl’s schools.  And yes, I know about the meme from school shootings past, that suggests we should be like Israel and have guards at schools with semi-automatic weapons.  Well okay, but then I think we should have the car bombs and suicide bombers to go with them, then.

Finally, stop saying, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and that if they don’t have guns, they’ll just use a knife or a baseball bat, etc.  Fuck off; guns kill people.  And as we’ve seen over the past two decades, they cause a lot of damage.  Plus, it’s not like you have some magical plan to make people change.  So we need to make it as hard as possible for anyone to get ahold of such devastating weapons.  Weapons which have the potential to be far more devastating than a knife or baseball bat, and you know  it, so cut it out.  

I’m too weary to write a real conclusion.  It’s beyond me why people are fighting tooth and nail to hold onto this culture of death. Even if you’re just having target practice, they are still deadly weapons.  A friend pointed out that we put people through more paces to get a driver’s license.  Why are we not taking more care with guns?  Fewer deadly weapons leads to fewer deaths.  It’s just common sense.  

I know this post has probably read more like a jumble of words I just threw at the screen. I’m angry. I’m exhausted. I’m incredulous. I’m a little hopeless. I need this to stop. America needs this to stop. 

Some work and some play

IMG_1231.JPG
Image source

Over the weekend my friends and I agreed that we all have had the same dream at one time or another. They all involved some form of needing to return to high school or college because we had not actually graduated. In my dreams, it’s usually because I need to take a math class or an English class taught by one of my former English teachers. The only thing she and I had in common was contempt for one another. My best friend, Beth, and I would sometimes skip class and go shopping instead. I have great memories of trying on prom dresses at Bloomingdales, hiking up the skirts and pretending to run down the beach, imitating an Elizabeth Hurley commercial that was out at the time. I’m sure the clerks loved us.

Anyway….

Since homework began for Rachael about a month ago, it has felt like I actually am back in school. Rachael generally doesn’t have difficulty with understanding the work. Although, when she does, I can’t help but feel like this is actually the pop quiz my teachers warned me about. I am relieved to find that Rachael doesn’t receive an inordinate amount of homework, like in the horror stories we all hear. Still, the small amount of work she does receive has caused a big change in how we spend the precious few hours between coming home from school and bedtime. The addition of an after-school Spanish class once a week has stolen more time and, seemingly, more energy from my little 6 year old. (Thankfully, she loves the Spanish class.) It seems, now, we are spending afternoons completing homework within the sludge of exhaustion, (both she and I.) Words on the pages of the books she reads become jumbled and blurry because of tired tears.
IMG_0619.JPG

Mike and I have wondered what we can do to make everything easier on her. I let her take breaks when the frustrated screams burst out of her. I do my best to maintain patience and, what Mike calls, an “NPR voice”. Last week we had Rachael go to bed earlier and had her take some quiet resting time in her room. But this morning, I had a realization: Rachael isn’t getting enough play time during the week. Recess is a paltry 20 minutes and she only gets choice time on Fridays. She has PE, but we non-athletes know that PE is A) not free, imaginative play, and B) pretty stressful when you’re being forced to do things you don’t have the ability to do, (I’m looking at you, Presidential Fitness testing!) She no longer has time to play with friends after school. So she’s left with whatever she can squeeze in between homework, dinner, and bed.

IMG_1232.JPG
Image source
Is it any wonder that she has become a little red-headed ball of cranky melancholy during the week? Not only is she not getting time to just be Rachael and have fun, she’s not getting a chance to have much of a cognitive dump during her waking hours. Free play allows kids to tap into different brain centers and let the others take a break. It gives them a chance to work out problems they encounter at school. Free play builds the bonds of friendship and teaches kids how to be empathetic. Most importantly, I think, is that it doesn’t require anything of them. They don’t necessarily have to be “good” boys and girls. They don’t have to be quiet, still, and focused. Rather than following instructions, they make the rules of their imaginary world or choice of play. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by all the information with which they are inundated, (as Rachael has expressed to me) they have a chance to exert control in their world.

So I think, this week, my homework will be to protect the sacredness of playtime. Now is the time that precedent and expectations are set. Rachael needs to know that, while education and hard work are important, so too are fun, creativity, and a chance to just be. The last thing I want to do is inadvertently communicate to her that this will be the rest of her life- work, stress, and no free time, with no time for things like reading for pleasure, playing games, and self-care. Perhaps if we all begin valuing play time a little more, it will infiltrate the “real world” and press a reset button for our priorities. Learning this has been infinitely more valuable than knowing the cosine of an angle or how to do a pull up while eeeeeeeeeeeverybody watches you. Seriously, Schwarzenegger, what the fuck?

IMG_1229.JPG

When it comes to mental illness, your words matter

Several nights ago, Mike and I were watching Who Do You Think You Are? We have gotten into the show because Mike’s been working on tracing and establishing our roots. The episode featured Gwyneth Paltrow tracing both sides of her family. What grabbed me in particular was the story surrounding her great grandmother, and what led to her neglecting her children. (The untimely deaths of her mother, brother, and 3 year old daughter. The death of her daughter was followed three weeks later by the birth of her next child.) I was disheartened by Gwyneth’s initial responses to this information. She laughs upon learning that her great grandmother was a hoarder. She goes on to refer to her great grandmother as “crazy” and “ambivalent” toward her children.

IMG_1002.JPG

What Gwyneth said troubled me in a couple of ways. The first involves how I identify with her great grandmother as a mom. I constantly struggle with the guilt and shame of not always being there for my girls because of my pain, fatigue, and irritability. Fibromyalgia causes pain that can prevent me from getting on the floor to play. The fatigue from the fibro and depression leaves me unable to keep my eyes open to read a book and slow to respond when they call out for breakfast from downstairs. The irritability from my fatigue and depression sends me seeking refuge from the noise and literal tugging from two different directions. If I don’t get away, I may lose my shit over something insignificant again.
The thing is, I want to be there for my girls all the time. I want to be a lucid, fully present super mom. Unfortunately, I can’t. The body is unable and, quite frankly, the spirit isn’t always willing. I wonder how much of that was present in Gwyneth’s great grandmother. I wonder if she ever looked at her kids and wished she had the strength to bathe them or clean up all the piles of newspaper. I wonder how often she wished her children and the world would just go away so she could have some peace in her mind and soul. I wonder if I will be misunderstood, if my mothering will be viewed through a lenses of neglect, ambivalence, and “crazy”.

IMG_1003.JPG
Image source

The next thing that troubled me was the language that Gwyneth used. The word “crazy” is used so casually in our world, without a thought to its implications and destructiveness. But for those who live with mental illnesses, the language and attitudes of others could literally be the difference between life and death. I’m sure you can imagine how hearing words like “crazy”, “unbalanced”, “weak-minded”, or “insane” coming from someone you trust would put a full stop on revealing to them the darkest, most vulnerable parts of yourself to ask for help. When people feel like they aren’t safe in turning to anyone for help, it could ultimately lead to a downward spiral of self-destruction that only stops when they can’t go any lower and/or they are tired of the spinning.

How do we fix it?
The stigma of mental illness must be wiped out! The stigma of mental illness is born out of misinformation and ignorance. This leads to fear. And what do people do when they’re afraid? They shut it down. They trivialize the thing they’re afraid of and push it away with words like crazy and “get over it” attitudes. During my freshman year of college, I admitted to a guy I was with how depressed I was feeling. His response? He basically told me to buck up, suck it up, and get over it. Just be happy.

Here’s what people need to understand. Mental illness is just that: an illness. The only difference between it and a broken leg is its location. You would never tell someone that they’re crazy and to walk off a broken leg. No one tells someone with cancer to just get over it. And just like with cancer, some people are lucky and make it through alive. Others are not so lucky.
Some people, like Robin Willams, lose their fight with mental illness and take their own lives. We must be careful in our attitudes toward suicide. Of course, suicide is never the best option, and it should never be made out to be as such. Many people, including me, believe it is a choice. But what is so often misunderstood is the kind of choice it is. It is not lucid. It is made under an incredible amount of duress. It is never made lightly. It is not made with a mind that is whole and well. And when you’re to the point of making that choice, you feel as if there really isn’t a choice at all.

We must not be glib with our words and attitudes toward suicide, especially if you have never experienced depression yourself or been close to someone who has. Saying that it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem or that someone is a coward for contemplating or committing suicide will just hurt those who are already hurting and send them deeper into the darkness.

With the death of Robin Williams, depression and suicide are at the height of consciousness. Please, let us take this opportunity to be more understanding of others. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Learn what causes depression, (Hint: it’s not a lack of faith or joy) what perpetuates it, and how to best help someone when, and even before, they ask for help. Realize that your words carry weight; an off-handed remark or pointed conversation can cause irreparable damage. Do not presume to know how someone is feeling or know their story simply because you experienced depression. And if you do hurt someone, make amends.

To those who live with depression: know that you are not alone in the world! We are many, we who suffer in silence for fear of being vulnerable, misunderstood, ridiculed, judged, rejected, and silenced.

If you are brave enough to share your story, share it! For all you know, you could be the faint light in the crushing darkness that saves someone’s life.
IMG_0384.JPG
Thinkstock images

If you would like to share your story here, please let me know. If you wish to remain anonymous, I will protect your identity.

Resolved: 2014 will be what it will be

I somehow managed to have energy today after the long car ride home from North Carolina yesterday. While we were down, Mike and I were able to visit one of my favorite restaurants, Print Works Bistro. I fell in love with it for the first time over coffee-crusted lamb chops with blackberry compote, ratatouille, and cream-filled beignets with chocolate sauce. Basically, food porn. Sunday night, however, was disappointing. I ordered duck confit cassoulet for my entree. The cassoulet was fantastic! The white beans were creamy; the sausage was slightly smoky with a touch of crust seared on slice; perfectly seasoned sauce binding together the beans, sausage, and soft, but firm, carrots. But the duck leg? Overcooked. It was like chewing on shards of meat that stabbed the insides of my throat as I swallowed them. So disappointing! And I had so looked forward or it after having some of Mike’s last year.
20131231-152734.jpg
I feel bad that Daffy had to die for this meal.

I got what I deserved for dessert. I ordered layer cake. WHAT was I thinking? Usually, I avoid cake in restaurants because it’s almost never good. This was no exception. Even though it was called chocolate caramel layer cake, there was barely any caramel in it. Just a touch at the skinny end. And it managed to be dry. This is why I don’t try new things, people!
I say all of this to say: I have my new culinary projects laid out before me.

A new year is ahead. Blog posts, statuses, and tweets abound with resolutions for the coming year. Some come across as seriously as things everyone needs to pretend they’re giving up for Lent. I stopped making resolutions a long time ago. To me, resolution can be defined as the naming of something at which you will fail and then become highly disappointed or depressed over in the coming year. While I don’t have resolutions to make, I do have hopes. To me, having hopes about certain things allows me to be flexible and not endure self-punishment if it doesn’t happen. I have learned in the past year that life often gets in the way of very specific plans. Things are already a little bit nebulous for me; why not settle in and not allow it to always be a negative thing?

I hope to be healthier.
Gee. Soooooo original, Julie. Here’s the thing: I know myself. I know that after having two kids, medication that has made me gain a lot of weight, and that fibromyalgia doesn’t allow me to exercise the way I used to, I’m going to have a hard time with my weight. I know that while I sometimes eat healthily, I’m not great about it, especially when I’m not able to cook or crap is laying around the house for me to shove in my face. I also know that with all the factors working against me for losing weight, if I set a specific number goal, I will fail. I will fail and cry into my extra serving of baconated ice cream chocolate triple cheesy burger with sugared French fries dipped in whipped cream….with a diet coke…that none of it matters, no matter how hard I try, so what’s the point in trying? So, rather than set myself up for failure like that, I figure I will purge the house of the things I know I will binge on. I hope to get back into some gentle exercise, like walking and light weights.

I hope to be more patient.
I have a hard time not going from 0 to Bitchy McScreamymonster at times. Lately, those times have been pretty often. Exhaustion + kids losing their minds = losing temper. I’m also wondering if my medication isn’t working nearly as well as it used to. I remember when I first started taking it. I called it patience in capsule form. But none of those are good enough reasons to not treat others with the kindness and respect they deserve, especially my kids and husband.

I hope my fibromyalgia gets better.
I know that this is a chronic condition, one that I am likely to live with for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t hope that it will get easier. I know that in order for that to happen, I will need to become more proactive in my own care. I will need to do more research, especially with regard to homeopathic and natural remedies. I will need to ask more questions and be more persistent, even to the point of changing doctors if I need to. It will also means putting on my big girl panties and doing what I’m supposed to do, e.g. getting more sleep, eating less processed food.

I hope to be more hopeful.
Mike hates it when I talk about our Hokies. Of course I’m a fan, as they are my alma mater. But I tend not to be too hopeful when it comes to them winning, say, the bowl game they’re currently playing against UCLA. I call it realistic. Mike calls it negative. This negativity tends to translate to other things in my life. I assume things will be horrible or go poorly. I have a hard time not dwelling on what went wrong, rather than moving on and focusing on what I can control. Some of this comes from my depression and anxiety and some of it is learned behavior. It’s always easier to tear down than it is to build up, but it leaves you with way more useless rubble. And I’m tired of useless rubble.

What do you hope for in this coming year?