The bad place.

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I’ve been in the bad place again. 


The bad place feels like accusation. Lack of permission to exist. Wanting to not exist. 

It feels like self loathing.

Itchy skin.

Tears that won’t stop.

It feels like irrational fear about saying or doing the wrong thing, so much that there is no Rae anymore, only a duffel bag full of fear. A Rae-shaped duffel bag full of fear. 

It feels frozen. Clingy. Desperate. Frantic. Oh anxiety, you old, one-eyed cat.

Coming out of the bad place feels like a bird slowly coming down, down, down and lighting on a branch.

It is driving through tiny alleyways and noticing signs. Reading, writing down words that resonate in a journal. Seeing that the chairs in the optometrist shop are wearing socks. Immediate delight over a sign with the misspelling, “Marry Christmas.” Walking through aisles of yarn or enameled plates. Deciding that now is definitely not the time to try any Christmas shopping. (What are you crazy?)

It is breathing through waves of fear and pain that radiate out of the sternum.

It is reminding myself, “I am allowed to exist.” At stoplights. In bed. While looking for chocolate chips at the bake shop. Anywhere the panic comes. “God sees me. I’m not alone.”

Eating salad. Also sushi.

Looking at the sky.

Thinking about tomorrow and immediately panicking, so stopping that right away. Today is enough to think about. Driving home. The mountains will be cold. Is my coat good enough? Maybe not, it is actually a hoodie, not a coat, why did I say coat? 

The bird tucks its head under its wing for a wee nap. 

Tomorrow will come and I will be here. I am allowed to exist.

***

PS: Mom, don’t worry, I’m okay.

***

PPS: I’ve been sharing a bit of Advent content (not every day because that’s not really my strength set) for Patrons at Patreon. Come check it out if you are interested. xoxo

PPPS: Have you checked out the Shekina Meditation Podcast yet? You should.

Today.

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I am okay. I will be okay. Thanks to anyone who checked on me and thanks to those who didn’t, because I sense that you know I am okay.

I wrote and read the love letter poem because a great amount of the suffering that comes with depression is the fear and experience of judgment. I get it all the time, in little and big ways. Why can’t I just be normal? Why is someone like me, apparently accomplished in many ways, still like an injured bird? 

I also have a tribe of loving people around me who understand, either from their own experiences or just from being awesome and caring and understanding. I wish that for everyone. I wish people who suffer from mental illness to feel validated and cherished.

And today is always new and fresh. While it is called today, I will not harden my heart, but strive to enter the rest of God, as it says in the book of Hebrews. 

Rest. Ah… how I would love to have a restful mind. I don’t, so my rest looks like reading, writing, painting, riding a motorbike through jungly growth, and sitting with fireflies. 

“While it is still called today.” The day is always called today. It is another way of saying, It is never too late.

I am out from under the heaviest of this, and today I give thanks for breezes, for birds, for Isaac hugs in the morning, for Chinua my beloved, for music and fun and breath of new days ahead. For good hard work and the gentle touch of God, who loves, who loves, who loves.

A love letter to the mentally ill.

Possibly it's obvious to those of you who have been reading for a while. I've had a tricky time with the anxiety gremlin lately. The cat has been sitting on my chest. I have trouble breathing at the strangest of times. 

And then there has been suicide in the news, and the two have me thinking about shame and stigma and what it feels like to have a mind you can't trust. How hard it is to understand. I have been ashamed of my mind, how it exposes me, how I break down in public places. So I wrote a poem and then I read it, and here it is. 

And I want to take a moment thank my friend Leaf, who has been speaking truth to me lately, and my family and community, who are kind and understanding. Let's be there for each other. 

Tiny ways.

Photo credit: Kenya Ford

Photo credit: Kenya Ford

Last night I went for a drive and all the edges of the clouds were edged with light. 

“Pull me up there,” I whispered.

Are you tired of escape poetry from me?

Listen, I’ve been running forever. Even when I run in place, right there in my kitchen thinking I should really get away but these children surely need to eat so here is the chopping block, here is the kale. Make it healthy, make it full of love.

Even when it’s just a corner of my soul retreating with my imagination, hand in hand. 

Trees, my soul whispers, leaves. The rustling light of leaves.

And my imagination concocts a new kind of Anne of Green Gables, one who actually gets power from trees, because trees and water buffalo and tiny tailor birds tell me that it is okay to be alive.

I am grateful for the books of my childhood. 

Wise people in the world create beauty out of violence, come out scathed but intact, and I have never experienced true violence, I have nothing to run from, really, except for the parts that feel like they will flake off if I can’t protect them sometimes.

I am better at staying when I run.

Here’s what it is: all the world of people is a code I don’t understand. Getting it wrong feels like stepping off a cliff, my heart in my throat. Twist of the ankle. Even after all this time, nearly forty years, I still don’t understand. I can tell myself and tell myself and tell myself. I write notes and notebooks and learn and memorize and I plunge myself in again and again. I ask questions. I study faces. I learn what is right and wrong and then I say something and it is the wrong thing again and maybe if I was different I would shrug the misteps off, but that is not me and I cry and cry until it feels like my eyes will explode. And then I get up and go into the world again. 

I am so tired. 

Yesterday, feeling my worst, I went to the pharmacy to get some allergy medicine for Kai. It was the kind of day when I felt exposed and afraid of people's eyes, like I didn’t want to be seen at all, I wanted to be invisible. But kids need medicine sometimes, so there I was in the shop. And in front of me were two older Karen men, in town from their village which was probably nearly two hours away. They were short, wearing tribal clothes, tasseled bags at their sides. They looked like they might be brothers, with the same lines in their faces. They stood and discussed all their options, with a leisurely sense of time, and as they did, they reached out to one another again and again, with an arm slung around the back, or gently touching the shoulder, or a hand on the back of the other’s neck. It was purely unconscious, little gestures of affection in the sterile pharmacy, figuring out medication and vitamins, one man translating the pharmacist's Thai words into Karen for the other.

I was so sad, but even then I couldn’t help seeing it. Tiny ways of being there for one another.

My little community has been having some rough days as we try to figure deep things out, and that means more situations where we all feel like we are out of our depth. And in the midst of it, my friends have been kind to me and to each other in generous ways. Leaf, made of light, bringing hope with her words, reaching out, speaking kindness, touching my arm or my elbow or my knee. Ro holding my hand, resting her head on my shoulder. Winnie with her endless kindness, checking in, buying iced coffee, pouring out love. Miri sending me verses and a picture she drew. Brendan with a bowl of food, offering to drop Solo off at his Science club. Josh with jokes and little nudges of humor that say, “You are my friend.” Neil and his rumbles and hums and murmurs of support. Olga with care for my daughter, showing up for hugs and a brief talk on the bench outside my house. All of our Pai community, with smiles on the motorbike, nods, music and help. And Chinua, my own, beloved Chinua, the Superstar Husband whom I have memorized, with arms and voice and lips that all say home. Chinua playing piano, Chinua giving me a hug, Chinua bridging gaps again and again.

I see all these things, these unconscious ways that we reach out to each other, speak love of God with one another. I name them, write them down, and the world feels livable again. Maybe I don't have to disappear.

There are light edged clouds, and there is rice in the bowl. Stones in the jar, in my hand. Imagination and the books of my childhood. My kids and other peoples’ kids swirling around like a stream of silliness and love. Poetry. All is not hopeless. The world is confusing and hard sometimes, and it circles around in new and surprising depths of hurt or pain, but it is edged in light.

A list of sorts: (Or stopping to tie your shoe.)

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* This is what the kids want to listen to in the car (when we take turns choosing).

Kai- Daftpunk

Kenya-Arcade Fire

Leafy- Fleetwood Mac

Solo- Coldplay

Isaac- Imagine Dragons

* We have hot humid days, and then storms that break the heat. It is lovely and unpredictable. The landscape is becoming green again, and sometimes the sky is spectacular and blue, clouds flung everywhere.

* Our house is filled with tiny biting ants. They get in our clothes and in our beds. We’ve never had so many of this variety before. Under the earth, there are migrations of ants moving back and forth without checking with us at all. There are much fewer of us. Many more of them. 

* Leafy has begun weaving. He made a loom and wove a very nice piece of cloth. It took him a whole day and he didn’t seem to get tired of it. He did have a headache by the end of the day though. He has recently built a boat out of old milk jugs, and he is waiting for me to edit his first book. He is also one of the kindest people I have ever met. There are no words to describe the tenderness I feel toward this kid of mine. 

* Speaking of tenderness, I feel it toward people for the strangest reasons. The other day I was riding my motorbike to the afternoon market and at a red light, the woman on the back of the bike in front of me caught my attention. She was small and looked very young from behind, but after I saw what she was wearing and noticed the loose skin on her arms, I realized she was older. She was wearing a gauzy shirt, and through it I could see that only one of the clasps of her bra was done up, and she clung tightly to the bike, not quite comfortable on it, and I was overwhelmed with softness in my heart toward her. This is why the world is overwhelming to me at times. All of these people, they all have their own stories, and hands and feet and sometimes they can’t quite get their bras done up and they go around all day without knowing it, and it kills me. 

* People trip, or make mistakes, or choke on their water, or slip on the stairs. They say stupid things, and they are unsure of themselves, and they lose their keys or use the wrong words. Or maybe they don’t know what avocados are, and no matter how many times I try to explain, they look at me blankly. (This happened in the market today.)

* Sometimes Solo can’t sleep because he starts thinking about what he was before he was here and what he will be eventually and the concept is so huge that he cries and can’t stop his mind from spiraling outward, farther and farther, into things he can’t understand. I do it too, I think, but more often when I see someone stop to tie their shoelace, or walk into a post. 

* The anxiety beast has been dogging my steps for a while, and I’m pulling out every trick in the book to try to make it back off. The morning pages I’ve been writing! Julia Cameron would be so proud. But today started out a bit rough, and by the middle I was in tears. So I came home and cried for a while longer, then I had a nap, then got up and drank a couple of tiny cups of green tea and made myself carrot juice and began listening to the Best of Ludovico Einaudi on Spotify while I sorted out the Homeschool charts. And that is not the behavior of someone who hates herself, so I feel proud of myself today, despite the fact that my emotions are not within my control. (If I had to list off the number of times someone has stared at me because I am crying in public, the list would go on forever.)

* I am in love with boiled peanuts. I eat them as often as seems decent.

* I love light, wind, colors. I love clean things. I love fruit. I love people. I love my community.

* I started to go for a drive today but it was so hot that the heat came rushing at me from the pavement and I knew it was time to go home and get out of the sun.

* In our house when we start off talking about the coming school year, we inevitably end up in discussions about whether optimism and enthusiasm is dangerous and self-deceptive, or whether optimism helps with getting things done. I have kids on the pro and against sides of this debate. I have to laugh because it is our fault (mine and Chinua’s) that every conversation goes so, so deep, because they are our kids and came out like us, but with their frontal lobes still undeveloped until they reach the age of 22. (As my brother reminds me.) Parenting teens is lovely and I am exhausted by it. Both things can be true. In January I will have three teenagers, which boggles the mind a little.

* Isaac does math problems for fun and they grow increasingly complex. Yesterday he told me he loves plain numbers the best. 30, 10,000, 100, 1 million. Numbers like that. Plain numbers. Before he knew the words for even and odd, he called them numbers without middles and numbers with middles. You know, if you separate four fingers there is no finger in the middle, but if you separate five fingers, there is a number in the middle. I don’t think any of our kids has loved numbers as much as he does.

* He also beatboxes nearly constantly, especially when he is happy, and when he is mad he says, “I hate this day!” The other day I heard him say, “I love this day!” and I was so, so happy to hear it. I told him that he didn’t need to be shy about beatboxing in front of friends, and he told me, “Shy is part of life.”

* I noticed a friend talking to a man in our town who is mentally ill. He is outside all the time, and he collects food and trash and carries it around with him, all day long. My friend gave him something for his collection and then told him, “Drink water, drink lots and lots of water.” It was a tender moment and it made me love her more. 

* I was weeding out the old zinnias the other day. They are the easiest flowers to grow because they self seed, so you just pull out the old ones when they are brown and dying, and babies are already there to grow up afterward. Anyway, when I am working with the zinnias I always think of this poem that is in one of our school poetry books. (All the small poems and fourteen more, by Valerie Worth.) Such a simple poem, but it resonates with me:

Zinnias

Zinnias, stout and stiff,
Stand no nonsense: their colors
Stare, their leaves
Grow straight out, their petals
Jut like clipped cardboard,
Round, in neat flat rings.

Even cut and bunched,
Arranged to please us
In the house, in water, they
Will hardly wilt—I know
Someone like zinnias; I wish
I were like zinnias.

         ***

I think that is the problem with anxiety. I know what I should be. I know what I should be able to handle, and sometimes I can, but then there are times when the fear response comes and the drums of doom start up and I can’t stop crying, even in the airport, even in the noodle shop, even on the train. I messed it up, I think. They’re coming for me. 

It’s what I live with, even though God always loves me, and I won’t hate myself anymore. But how, oh how I wish I was like zinnias.