Thursday, September 10, 2020

World Suicide Prevention Day 2020

Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day.

My dad was struggling at my wedding. He was proud, and he was happy. But I could see it in his eyes and his smile. 

You know I use the same photos over and over. Some of them just resonate.

Also, 2009 was a hard cut-off. I won't ever have more.

Sometimes I obsess about the fact that I don't have a nice photo of my dad and me dancing at my wedding.

---

Prior to my physical last week, I had to answer a couple questions about mood. One of them asked about hopelessness. I chose the yes I feel hopeless every single day answer.

I knew this was a depression screening. I figured it would raise a flag. But it was accurate.

So when I saw the doctor I felt the need to explain my hopelessness. I told her that I chose ever day because currently, with Covid and our political situation, as far as I can tell, there is literally zero hope on the horizon. 

I don't think it's my chemical state; I think I'm appropriately medicated. I'm not in a personal pit of despair. I just think we're in a hopeless situation. The world right now is a hellscape.

Uh. Sorry if this is making you depressed. 

Boy howdy am I fun at a cocktail party.

I think. I can't really remember cocktail parties.

---

Anyway, it was our first meeting, I don't know that she was convinced. This was OK. I don't mind if in my file it says keep an eye on this one. 

I wasn't trying to convince her. I was just, I don't know, feeling like I was OK. Mentally. Not physically.

Because physically my elbows hurt all the time even though I have taken a break from yoga and try not to lift anything heavy and also I have nose rot AKA rosacea, on which I am currently putting private parts cream which is holding it at bay until I can see the dermatologist.

Jeez, this really isn't the post I thought I would write.

In any case.

---

The doctor asked about my support system. Who I have to talk to and to check in on me.

I have people. I reach out. I have a psychiatrist.

But I told her I was glad they ask those questions, and I know what they're trying to get at. 

I want everyone to be asked these questions. I want doctors on the lookout. When there's an opportunity for a health professional to help someone who may need it, I am so glad. 

---

At this point in my life, I know so many people who have lost loved ones to suicide. I know so many who have either contemplated or attempted suicide. 

We--those people--we are everywhere. And a lot of us are all sparkly on the outside, so you wouldn't actually know it unless you knew what to look for, or asked the right questions.

Sometimes even then you wouldn't know.

I don't know what one does about those situations.

---

So far, this year has been more about self-preservation than activism.

I remind myself that this is OK.

I'm actually one of the vulnerable people I worry about. Even though I think of myself as really, really strong. I mean, I am. Just not always.

We have to nurture or at least preserve ourselves so we have something to give to others. And also so we don't just walk around all batshit crazy.

---

I probably should've written a poignant post. The truth is, I think about my dad every day. I no longer carry the weight of the should-haves or the what-ifs, at least, not most of the time. I slide into them every once in a while, but it's become rare.

What I think about more is if he'd had the vocabulary to talk about his feelings.

Because part of the problem was that we weren't allowed. But perhaps a bigger problem was that I don't think he'd have been able to, even if we were permitted.

---

I'm raising my children to know that all feelings are OK.

Crying is good. We need to express our sadness. When bad or upsetting things happen, we all feel sad. Everyone does.

Anger is fine. We are allowed to be angry. Often or maybe always, anger is covering up fear. It's also OK to be afraid. Everyone is afraid sometimes.

I wasn't raised this way, and neither was Nick. But this is how we're trying to raise our kids.

---

And I believe that in these small or maybe actually very big, ways I am protecting my kids. 

Kids who are allowed to voice feelings and who feel heard are less likely to self-harm. I don't know if this is the same for adults, but I have to assume so.

I want them to feel safe in letting their feelings out, and to not feel aberrant for having them in the first place. And to know in their hearts that they can ask for help anytime. That help with your feelings and help with your brain are just as valid and just as normal as help with your body.

This, I think, is one of the best things we can do for prevention. We can teach people that all feelings are valid, and there is no shame in needing help with some of them.

---

That's highly simplified. I feel no shame in asking for help, and I know my feelings are valid. I also know that my brain just needs some chemical help. And I feel no shame in this either.

---

Maybe this meandered too much. I don't know.

It's a day of remembrance for me, and a day of looking forward, trying to make the future a better one.

Because while I'm absolutely certain that it's hopeless right now, I'm just as certain it won't always be.

Told you I was appropriately medicated.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Today I am 51

Today is my birthday.

(Also, Jordan's head is not actually twice as big as India's or mine.)

Friends have asked if I'm doing anything special.

I mean, not as such? I have a gynecological appointment.

Nick asked what I wanted for my birthday, and I said a cordless vacuum cleaner. And I was not kidding. 

So I asked friends on FB if any of them had a vacuum they loved. Let me tell you: people have strong feelings about their vacuums.

The consensus seemed to be Dyson or Miele, with numbers leaning to Dyson. But there are a lot of different models.

Really, I wanted one person to say, "This is exactly what you need." But it got narrowed down to like three, which is better than 27.

And then! Then Nick looked at Consumer Reports, because he is a man who researches stuff.

Whereas I tend to ask my friends and then be like, ooh, and they have a pink one!

For cordless stick vacuums, Consumer Reports rates a brand called Tineco (which I'd never heard of) as its top three. So there I was, looking back and forth between my saved FB recommendations and Consumer Reports, reading about vacuums.

Honestly, my dad must be laughing with delight about this. Thorough product research and vacuum cleaners were two of his favorite things.

Anyway, we still haven't gotten one.

My mom asked if I wanted cake, and I said we should probably have cake. And then she offered to make brownies, and as we're all rather indifferent to cake, I jumped on this idea.

But now India is insisting on cake. 

The truth is, I don't care. 

It's not that I feel sorry for myself and I don't think I'm depressed, but I don't feel a lot about this birthday. 

Or maybe I just don't feel much lately.

Spring was such an emotional wallop. I felt so much of everything, all the time. My children's anguish seeped into me, when I was already close to saturated. I felt like I was drowning.

The kids and I cried a great deal. Every day at least once per day I had at least one person in my lap sobbing.

I slept a lot. I felt guilty about all the sleeping. I felt guilty about everything. 

I was functioning at a fairly low level. 

Out of the blue, in May, I got a text from our friend Jordan, who invited us to come spend time on his farm in Michigan. 

I thought about it. I couldn't just pack up the kids and my mom and drive to Michigan...could I? I mean, why couldn't I?

We did it. And it turned our whole year around.

We had our own two bedroom house--the former caretaker's house. 

The kids ran around in the yard and played with the dogs and cats. They swam in the pond multiple times per day. I went for runs in the woods and jumped in the pond and jumped right out because cold!

Betty weeded for hours. She picked asparagus. We went to nearby beaches and swam and collected rocks and just generally enjoyed being outdoors without masks and without so many people.

We sat on Jordan's porch and read and reminisced about long ago days in Dhaka and Delhi, about dear friends and family.

It was perfect.

We returned to the hellishly oppressive heat and humidity of DC with emotional reserves.

I am a person who loves heat, whose favorite season is summer. But holy cow, this summer has been brutal. We spend all our time inside, except for the hour that I force my kids to go for a hot, complain-y walk in Rock Creek. 

We were wading (which my kids pronounce wadding, which to me means they learned it by reading) in the river but then this article came out reminding people that it is a) illegal; and b) a feces-filled waterway.

As someone who has had a variety of fecal-borne illnesses, I'm fairly cavalier about that but it is a disgusting thought. So now we make sure it hasn't rained for a number of days prior. Because that's when all the poop washes in.

Oh! I have a poop story! But maybe I will save it for not my birthday. That's probably better.

Anyway, it has been HOT. Relentlessly, cruelly hot.

The kind of hot where you leave the house and your glasses immediately fog up and your dog, who, despite six weeks of online training, typically pulls on her leash, just ambles resignedly, panting next to you.

When you return home, you rip off your mask and collapse limply on the nearest surface, moaning, "Water...water..."

Today, however, is dark and rainy. I would ordinarily be sad not to have sunshine for my birthday, but this is a welcome respite. And as my son said, it's perfect weather for having a low-key birthday.

I like to document what I look like on my birthday, and my kids came over to hug me and I suggested we take a photo. So as we were about to take the selfie above, I had an urge to run upstairs and put on makeup. (Full disclosure:  I'm wearing is lip gloss, but only because I couldn't find my lip balm earlier.)

So I was going to be like, wait, I'll be right back. And then I thought, no, this is real life right now. I can't remember the last time I wore makeup.

And! Most of this is my real, actual hair color! I honestly hadn't seen this much of my real hair since I was maybe 30. 

I kind of like it.

A few days ago I ran into a neighbor. We were talking about life in Covid, and the conversation eventually turned to hair. I've pinked my hair twice this year, and each time it's washed out after a couple months.

We were talking about salons, and she said for now she's just letting her grey grow out. I said I was thinking about putting the pink back into my hair. She asked if this was my real hair color.

I said, "At this point, it's mostly my real color. Only my bottom hair is bleached."

I paused, happy she couldn't see me grinning maniacally beneath my mask. I said, "I mean the bottom of my head hair."

I don't think she really noticed, and I stopped myself before being all, "Bottom hair! Hahahahaha!"

I like this neighbor. I don't want her to think I'm a complete weirdo.

Anyway, I don't have bottom hair, and if I did I wouldn't dye it pink. Particularly before a birthday gynecological checkup.

So there you have it. I am a complete weirdo. And it's my birthday.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

When time no longer matters, all that matters is time...So I put all the pieces together where they belonged.

 Dear Patti Jo,

Thank you for being my cousin, for being the loving, kind, beautifully gentle soul you are.

You've been such a gift.

I want to tell you now, while there is time.

I can't remember how we started talking about a visit and family reunion in 2018, but I will always be grateful that we did.

You opened your heart and your world to us. I was searching for peace with my dad, peace and understanding with our family's past, and comfort in my childhood memories of Duluth.

You gave those to me and more.

You've been a bridge to my dad in the world beyond. You've shared his messages and comforted both him and me. To you he has always been Uncle Mickey, which I always thought sounded funny as a kid.

With you and through you, I've started to understand our family.

I feel so connected to you, though we've not been back in each other's lives for all that long. I mean, you've been in my life since I was born, but I didn't really know you.

When I was a kid, you and Johnny and Stevie were teenagers, which in my eyes meant all grown up.

By the time I was old enough to have memories of visiting Duluth, you were all out of the house. We'd stay with your parents every summer, but I didn't know you so much as know about you.

We spent so much time with Auntie Jo and Uncle Howard. So many of my childhood memories take place with your parents.
Hanging out on Jo's houseboat, and eventually growing out of being small enough to sleep under the table. On the beach looking for agates and staring out at what I believed was your mom's island--the beach you took us back to that first summer.

Or just running around on their property, sitting on the rusted out tractor, admiring Jo's paintings, spray painting gravel in the driveway to look like gold nuggets.

And in your voice, your cadence, your accent, I hear your mom. You're uniquely yourself, but I also love the occasional flashes of Aunt Jo that shine through.
You are a memory keeper. And you happily opened your box of memories for me. That's my Lake Superior childhood painted on Aunt Jo's wall.

I know, through you, that I look like our great grandmother.
I now have a better understanding the generational trauma that pressed down on our parents, and with you have the goal of living and parenting differently, such that we might break patterns.

I treasure the fact that you know and love my kids. They each immediately felt close and safe and at ease with you.
An enchanted connection
You have a youthful twinkle in your eye, and endless creativity. You set up outside tables and chairs with goodies and art supplies.

You have an adventurous spirit, a house of treasures, of personal art, of interesting wonders.
Your sense of humor is the same as ours, and we revel in it.

I am overjoyed that my kids have been agate hunting, and that they know what snot agates are, and that they, too, have waded into the cold waters of Lake Superior, and dug in the rocks, and giggled in joy with the golden sun at their backs.

They've run towards the lift bridge to see it going up, to watch the amazing spectacle of a massive boat going underneath.

You've endured so much trauma and pain in this life, and still, you are kind, gentle, and seek the good in humanity. You're positive and good, and make it a point not to harm anyone or anything.

You save animals. You work, in ways small and large, to bring light and joy to others.

You introduced us to your kids and their kids, and now we have so much more family than I did a few years ago.
I love that you still have Aunt Jo's rolling pin. I don't know why it looms so large in my memory, except  maybe that it took me so many years to actually get from one side of the room to the other on it, and to proudly be allowed to add my name.

At some point, I needed so badly to make peace with my dad on the shores of Lake Superior. I needed to return to my Duluth family, though the people I grew up visiting were gone.

But connecting with you was, in a sense, like coming home. I have family there, stretching back generations and leaning forward into new generations. My kids are now part of this.
Watching you talk to my mom, hearing your exchange of stories, I understood that you had a whole relationship before I was ever in the picture. You remembered me as a baby being dangled in my mom's skirt.

My parents knew you and loved you long before I was born.
I remember when my dad and I visited your mom in Florida during what was to be her last winter. She made him red Jell-o with bananas in it, because she knew he loved it. I had no idea.

And it struck me then that she was his big sister. She knew a lot about him that I didn't, and she nurtured him as her baby brother. They were family.

My first thought when I read Jen's news was selfish. I love you so much. Betty loves you so much. We only recently got you back.

What a blessing and a privilege to have someone such as you in my life.

That love doesn't dissipate, but thinking about goodbye really hurts.

We were supposed to be together a week from today, heading into a third delightful family reunion weekend. Covid canceled our plans.

You're one of this world's kindest, most beautiful souls. I see who you are, and I love you for it. All of it.

I know you're in pain, and I wish I could ease it.

You've given me the gifts of your love, your friendship, family.

I love you now in this world, and I love you into the next, my dear cousin.

Love,

Lisa

Friday, May 15, 2020

Eleven year anniversary

Eleven years ago today, May 15, my dad disappeared.

It was a Friday, like today.

Other years the anniversary has fallen on other days. I do understand that's how the calendar works.

But this anniversary is Friday-Saturday. Just like it was when my dad left us.

Beautiful and sunny, lush and glorious, with the rich promise of summer, also like today in DC.

Too beautiful a day to die.

I have written this post annually. It's not even like there are new facts.

I like to use this photo of my brother and me standing as my dad plays piano in Bangladesh.

But I think about his death sometimes. Not all the time, like I used to. Just sometimes. And particularly today.

With all the news about intubation lately, I think about signing a paper in the ER saying we understood the risk of death when they switched the emergency tube inserted by the EMTs to a longer-term one that would keep him breathing in the ICU.

I think about the repeated terror of knowing Dad had slipped off with the intent to die, and of not being able to find him. I think about the times that either we or the police found him.

I think about begging and hoping and praying that he would live.

I think about holding his hand, watching him carefully while he was hooked up to machines that made sure he breathed, that monitored his vital signs, that did whatever else one does to keep a body alive.

And then I think about the last time, about knowing in my heart he was gone, but hoping and praying I was wrong.

I think about waking up to no news on Saturday. About Nick driving and me calling hospitals as he drove, because we needed to be doing something, not just sitting, waiting for a phone call.

I think about the sun streaming through the windshield, and how big and uncomfortable my belly was in my lap.

When Nick suggested we call the morgue, I made him talk. I think about listening to Nick, on speakerphone, persuade the man at the morgue to tell us whether or not they had my dad.

I remember not being able the breathe, and the kick in the gut feeling when he said yes, they did.

I remember wishing I could tuck my knees up and curl into a ball, and knowing that would be impossible even if we weren't in the car.

Typing this, I feel my breath quicken and my tears sting.

Everyone says time helps. You get so tired of hearing time helps when you are stuck in the moment, and the moment hurts so much, and you can't do anything to speed up time.

Yes, yes, time, time, I know, I know. Time. Thanks.

You get tired of people moving on before you have. You get bitter when people you love think you have grieved long enough.

But here, eleven years out, time has helped tremendously.

Now I can think more about good times and funny stories. I try to share with my kids stories that show my dad as a whole, real person.

One day I'll tell them the story of Nick and my dad bringing Nick's boat across the Chesapeake. The photo above is from their lucky safe arrival.

It's not that we had all dark times. We had a lot of fun, and uproariously funny, times. We just didn't have a lot of calm in between times.

I am like him in this regard. I work on this.

This year for the first time, Dad has started appearing in my dreams. Really it's been since Covid19 hit. I don't know what this is about, but he's alive and my dreams, while chaotic, are not tragic.

He's still a very complicated figure for me, but I take this as a sign that I've moved into a better place with all of it.

He left us on a Friday. They called the time of death on Saturday, but we don't actually know which day it was. So for me, it's a two-day anniversary.

I knew he was gone.

And still, when we called the morgue and they said yes, yes we have him, it was still somehow a huge shock.

Because it is one thing to know in your heart, and another thing to know for sure.

And here we are now, eleven years later.

My friend Vik just texted me *hugs*, the way he does every year on this date. And every year, I feel hugged and loved.

It's a spectacular, sunny day. I'm going to train my dog. My kids are doing their distance learning lessons, and then this afternoon we'll go on a walk. They'll run and fling themselves to the ground among the buttercups.

The azaleas are glorious. The dogwood are blooming. Roses are so fragrant you can smell them even through a mask.

It's a beautiful day for an anniversary.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Sit stay

Put on your jeans, they said. It'll keep you honest, they said.

Honestly, I need to be able to breathe when I sit down.

It's no mystery how this happened.

A few weeks ago I started eating a lot of bread. Like, a lot.

We all did.

I know many people are baking. We are not. We are supporting the local farmer's market bread stand. We have purchased a great deal of bread.

Seriously. I don't even want to tell you how much. We have been all, support the community!

Generally, in normal life day-to-day, I don't eat much bread or pasta or really any simple carbs except for like, chocolate or sugar injected directly into my veins.

But those would be balanced out with the amount of walking I did.

Now I eat bread and do a lot of bottom sitting.

Oh, and I train my dog. Every day.

We are all distance learning up close and personal. The kids, Wanda and I, all together and separately till death us do part.

Wanda failed the week two test, which was to walk next to me in a straight line for 15 steps and then sit on her butt of her own volition.

Wanda was like, I do not want to sit on my butt, thank you very much.

To which I was all, here, let me help you.

But by that point she should've been doing it with no help. Just, you know, me saying, "Sit!"

I tried Jedi mind tricks. One time we went for the sit and she looked like she was going to do a perfect sit. And then she continued until she was lying flat all comfortable on the warm pavement.

She is not a large dog but I am not a large human and I will tell you that when she doesn't want to get up it is not the easiest thing to get her up.

You have to submit videos a couple times a week and then one of the end of the week test so that Mark, the trainer, knows that you are ready to move on.

Wanda and I were stuck in week two for a few days into week three.

But now we've almost caught up, and she does some good sitting and staying. We even impressed people in the park the other day.

Today's our meeting for week four. We haven't yet done the week three test, which I hope to submit tonight.

One of the challenges, as I believe I mentioned, is getting a child to cooperate enough to video. And to focus on us rather than the adult humans clad head to toe in tie-dye performing skateboarding tricks.

When Mark said we needed to train around distractions, I cannot imagine he meant clowns on skateboards. My kids were certainly distracted.

So Wanda and I might actually do the exercise correctly but the video shows...the skateboarders, the very interesting crack in the sidewalk, and a close-up of my butt.

Honestly, I know, I do, that it's fucking tedious to stand there while I back up to five feet and then count to 50 Mississippi (which to spell I always have to do the M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I, but is fortunately not Massachusetts, which I find impossible to spell on my own).

But look at that good sit stay!

Anyway. I now have watched my butt walking away from the camera and bending over to do the two-handed presentation to get my dog to sit and honestly if I never watch a video of my butt again that would be just fine.

Oh! And as it turns out, when Nick does these videos for me, there is also a focus on my butt. But clearly this is a choice and not a height issue. I'm...flattered?

In sum:

I don't want to grow out of my real jeans. Not my spandex jeans that make me feel better.

So I am trying to rectify this.

More in-home workouts. Less bread and butter.

But honestly, who wants to eat salad when the world is going straight to hell?