Monday, September 27, 2021

13 years of marital bliss etc.

Dear Nick,

Today is the day, 13 years ago, when we stood up in front of so many loved ones and promised to love and I honestly can't remember what else (although I know for a fact that obey was not in there) forever and ever.

This was right after the exchange of rings or maybe between rings, and is possibly my favorite photo of the two of us.

I remember female family friends telling me to marry a man who made me laugh. (One mom told me to marry a nerd, because nerds make the best husbands.)

At the time, or those multiple times, I imagine I was like, uh, I really just want to marry someone cute who takes me out for nice dinners. But as it turns out, I married a nerd who makes me laugh, and I probably should've listened to way more advice from the moms in my life way earlier.

Anyway.

We asked an old family friend to marry us, which meant getting some kind of internet minister certificate. Which he got but then DC somehow made approval complicated.

And DC also wanted us to get tested for syphilis before they would grant us a marriage license.

Neither of us objected, and both our primary care doctors said they were happy to give a blood test, but then were like, an official form? To prove you don't have syphilis? Where does one find this form?

The DC getting married instructions said doctor's offices would have such form.

They had no idea. We had no idea. It was all proving more administratively complicated for our minister and us than it seemed it should be.

And time was ticking.

So in the week prior to the wedding, we got a marriage license in Alexandria, and headed to the office of a lawyer in Old Town who would marry us.

You drove, and as you parked you said, "Watch the door."

I was like, "Yes, yes..." Because let us be frank: you are a person who gives instructions like, all the time. 

I barely knew you and I knew that.

And then I opened the car door without paying attention and slammed it into the metal post that you were trying to get me to avoid. It made a big dent.

You came around to my side and yelled, "God fucking dammit! I told you to watch the door!"

So I said I'd pay for it, which didn't make an sense because all our finances were about to be joined and so if I was paying for it, you were paying for it. Which you pointed out. You were still mad.

At which point I started to cry and said I didn't think this was a very good way to head into a marriage.

I mean, really.

So you apologized for getting so angry and I apologized for ignoring your request and subsequently walloping your car really hard with an iron pole, and we headed into the lawyer's office.

And then some shockingly brief amount of time later, we were actually married.

It was so easy I was wondering why neither of us had ever done that before. (Ha! I'm kidding.)

But for me the day that matters is the day we spent with our loved ones surrounding us. Which was today, 13 years ago.

I look at the photos and I see the faces of people we dearly loved who are no longer with us. I see people we love and still have in our lives.

I am so grateful they were there with us.

So, I think we would both agree that 13 years is no small chunk of time.

This morning I said, "Happy anniversary! I'd marry you all over again!" 

As I was giving you a kiss, Jordan said, "Yeah. Some days I'm not so sure that's true."

What I did not understand before marriage was that staying married turns out to be a choice you make repeatedly. Some days you're in harmony and life flows and is easy and joyful. And some days are hard. Sometimes those days turn into weeks or even months or longer.

Marriage, it turns out, at least ours, is playing the long game. I never had a long game before.

Sometimes, in our marriage anyway, one might spend months of their first child's life awake and seething at night, dividing up the furniture. Sometimes one's husband might be mad at them for pretty much an entire year. 

Sometimes one might consider and perhaps even discuss not being married, and then decide together that in fact, the two of you would prefer to slog through whatever it might be together.

This turns out to be remarkably satisfying.

And sometimes one of you is having the hardest time ever, and the other is there to support you through it, no matter what.

I never had this kind of certainty. 

Happy anniversary, dear.

Today I'd marry you all over again.

I'd just be more careful about the car door.

Love,

Lisa

Friday, September 10, 2021

World Suicide Prevention Day 2021

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

If you know me, you likely already know my story. You know my dad died by suicide in 2006 after multiple attempts.

This was how I told people. Maybe you were one of the kind people holding their breath, praying, sending love, waiting for news.

Maybe you've seen this photo a million times.

I make a point of talking about mental illness and suicide like everyday topics.

I can't talk sportsball, but I can engage in a lively conversation about antidepressants.

(Is that depressing? I honestly don't know.)

Sometimes I think about how different my life would have been if, after my mom and I found my dad after his first attempt, we'd actually talked about it. What if, instead of telling us that we could never talk about it because it would hurt his career, Dad had sat down with us and discussed his struggles?

My sixth grade would've been a lot easier. My everything would've made more sense.

What if I'd grown up in a household where all feelings were considered valid? Where there was no shame?

When I think about the past, I think about the home atmosphere we work to create and maintain for our children.

In the Before times, my son taught anxiety-reducing techniques to other kids at school. I heard from a teacher that he said, "Do you want me to show you something I learned in therapy?" 

I was so proud when I heard this.

He talks about therapy like it's normal. Because to him it is. Because that's how we treat it. Like going to any other doctor. 

I would love to live in a world where we treat mental and physical ailments with the same degree of normalcy.

In Covid times, I know that these calming techniques, that mental health help, are that much more necessary.

My shrink and my acupuncturist told me they've never worked so hard as in these times. Everyone has been in crisis. I have friends who have never, ever manifested anxiety or depression who have struggled with one or both in this pandemic.

Not everyone is able to access help.

I think of how alone I felt in our family, despite/because of? the insistence that we were FINE, and as an adult, how alone I felt in my own depression, until I started talking and writing about it.

I think of how alone, truly, physically alone people have been in this pandemic. And how even the introverts among us need to not feel alone. We may get over-peopled, and we may need more time to recover from people, but we still need to be heard and understood and loved for who we are.

Everyone does.

Recently a dear friend who I haven't seen in person in decades reached out. A friend, though not a close one, had died by suicide. She was wondering what to say to the family. How to talk about it with kids.

She was gutted. And she wasn't close to the person.

She said that if I didn't feel like this was an OK thing to ask me, she understood. She just thought she'd ask, as she trusts me.

I told her that honestly, this is what makes suicide loss different. It's hard to ask about. People don't know what to say.

Even people who weren't close to my dad, or who hadn't seen him in years, decades even, told me they felt like they should've know. Maybe there was something they could have done.

Suicide wrecks the loved ones left behind. It crushes families. 

I told her the same thing I have told others: tell the family you are so sorry for their loss. Offer to be there for them--an ear, a meal, coffee, anything.

The fact that you are there for them, not avoiding because of Suicide (whispered, but also with a capital letter, so I guess whispered meaningfully), means a tremendous amount.

Because we as a society don't know what to do with those left behind.

But before we get to that point, we don't know what to do with those who are struggling. 

Mental health services are expensive. And they are stigmatized. 

Depression is often treated as a choice. Cheer up! Shake it off! Go out and get some fresh air! Watch a funny movie! Don't be so down!

(I haven't heard these things in a long time, but if anyone says them to you, you have my permission to offer them a refreshing cup of nut punch.)

I have a lot of feels about this, as you may know.

What I want everyone to know, to feel in their core, is that all their feelings are valid. Your life might not be as hard as someone else's. Your depression or anxiety or anything else you are struggling with might not make sense.

Mental illness doesn't make sense. Depression is a sneaky liar.

Anxiety? Anxiety is such a tricksy fucker. 

Now that I think about it, I have been told to calm down. I've been told that a lot. To stop worrying. Everything is fine.

But if it's not fine in your being, it is not fucking fine. 

I guess all this to say, if you are struggling, know you are not alone. You might feel alone, completely alone. You might feel like it wouldn't matter if you were no longer here. Like what you take from the world is more than what you give. Like it would be easier for those who love you to not have to worry about you.

Or all of those things. Or none of them, but other things.

I'm just throwing out my familiars here.

(Feel free to use these words with someone you're worrying about. Asking someone if they are considering suicide does not put the idea in their head. If it's an option for them, it's already there.)

If you need help, you deserve help. You deserve help in figuring out how to feel better. It doesn't have to be so hard. You don't have to do it alone.

Love and hugs,

Lisa

A brief list of resources, should you or a loved one need them

Call the suicide prevention lifeline: 800-273-8255

If you hate to talk on the phone (raises hand) and want to chat online: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/

Or text TALK to 741741

If you want more info, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) website has great resources. This page deals with risk factors and warning signs.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

And now you are 12

Dear Jordan,

Twelve years ago on my birthday, I thought I'd have a baby. 

Because that was my due date. And my birthday. So it was totally meant to be and I was going to have my baby on my birthday. 

Also, and this won't mean anything to you at the moment, I was absolutely not going to have an epidural if I could help it, and certainly not a C-section.

Ha.

And then all last week 12 years ago I waited and waited and waited.

Then 12 years ago on this very day, you were born! 

And you were perfect.

You had the most perfect round head and beautiful skin. You were honestly the cutest baby I had ever seen. Although to be fair, I never really thought babies were all that cute before you.

But you were also the cutest baby so many other people had ever seen. So it was true. Cutest ever. 

Things were really, really hard that summer. That year, in fact.

But the best thing was that we had a baby. We had you. 

And now you are 12! You're almost exactly my height.

I picked you up on Tuesday after seven weeks of camp, and you'd grown like two inches! You're already bigger than me. In 15 minutes you're going to be taller than me.

And not only had you grown physically, you'd grown emotionally.

You have a peacefulness about you. You seem at ease in your skin. You radiate happy.

We were so proud, so very proud, of how you spent that time away from home and embraced it. I know you were homesick. In your letters you'd say how much fun you were having, and that you'd like to come home after first session, and also, could we send your Magic cards?

In one letter you said, "Dear Mom and Dad, I miss all of you, and I miss Nana and India and Wanda most of all."

Daddy said, "We didn't even make the top three!"

We missed you and we were so grateful you could be out in the beautiful woods on the edge of a lake having an incredible summer. After being home, like physically stuck in the house, for so many months, this was such a blessing.

Driving to pick you up, I was so excited. When I arrived at camp and told them who I was there to pick up, they said my smile was huge, and I said, "I can't wait to see my boy!"

When we dropped you off, you were anxious, and you didn't want goodbye hugs or kisses. When I picked you up you were totally cool with me hugging you and hugging you and kissing you and hugging you some more. You were even fine with selfies.

Those seven weeks were so good for you. Being apart was so worth it, seeing how happy you are, and what a good emotional space you are in.

You worked really hard at camp acquiring new skills, and you got your name on the banner for arts and crafts champion. I know you are proud of this. We certainly are, too.

You and I have just been hanging out in Portland in between camp and family camp, and having such a nice time the two of us. We never get this kind of time. You're funny and creative and charming and just a pleasure to spend time with.

Today you got a brownie ice cream sundae and said it was totally better than birthday cake. You're just in such a delightfully positive frame of mind. You were even pleasant about me poking a swab up your nose for the pre-camp Covid test at the drive-through.

Growing up we were so excited to go to the A&W drive-in and to eat hamburgers and drink root beef floats in our car. I know it sounds weird that this was exciting.

And now here we are, driving up to Walgreens and parking at the pharmacy window and poking swabs in our noses, putting them carefully in a tube of noxious liquid, and sealing them in a hazmat bag, all as instructed by the pharmacists behind glass and wearing a mask.

I will tell you that even with my overactive imagination, I could never have imagined this.

Root beer floats would be more fun. Although not poked up our noses. 

Happy birthday, my sweetheart!

You are such a treasure. I love you more than I can express. I love you so big. More than star twinkles. More than sunshine.

Love love love,

Mama

Friday, August 13, 2021

Today I am 52

Today is my birthday.

Honestly, I'm shocked that it's already August. Of 2021. How is it now so soon?

Friday the 13th birthdays are my favorite. I love it when it falls this way.

India and I just did this fun photo shoot to commemorate it. 

I found this dress on a street corner. I don't know how it is where you live, but here you can put stuff out on the curb and people will take it. I've gotten so me very nice drinking glasses. We've given some nice furniture and kitchen ware.

My favorite find, however, is this fabulous dress. Well, it's between this and a small, very old cast iron pan that works like a dream. 

Anyway, when people compiment me on this dress I always say, "Thanks! I got it from the street!"

Nick is all, "YOU NEED TO STOP TELLING PEOPLE THAT."

But why? I enjoy that fact. It's like when someone likes your dress and you're all, "And it has pockets!"

I love compliments, I truly do. So this is not to deflect them. But I also love a bargain. If you tell me you got something amazing for like 70% off, I will always be impressed.

Which is not to say I wouldn't support you buying it at full price. If that makes any sense.

During the pandemic, I discovered the clothing of Jordan Piantedosi and it was like the clothes I'd been looking for all my life!

I ordered one and then another athleisure suit to lounge around in to brighten my mood. When I say this turned my life around, I mean it like this: there were months where I wore the same sweats for three days and nights straight, bathed, and then changed into the next set for the next several days.

I wasn't opposed to hygeine, but I wasn't seeking it out, either. Why did it matter, really?

And then I got these fun outfits and they made me feel better. India and I would go out and she'd instruct me to jump, twirl, pose. We giggled and giggled.

I would wear them out to walk Wanda and get random comments from neighbors, and some giggles, and that added to the joy. I was very low on joy.

Somewhere around there, my shrink and I also had a good fight with insurance to up my antidepressant and in the end we prevailed. And I don't know if that helped with joy, but it helped with the opposed of joy. Yoj?

I think this was last fall but it could've been winter or even spring. I don't know.

Last month in Maine friend Pam gave me some gummies to help with sleep. They were sturdy jelly rectangles, and you'd slice a quarter off of one as a starting dose.

I was staying at her house and I felt like they helped, and she said I could take them when I left.

So I took the packet and put it in my dopp kit with the rest of my traveling medicaments. When I took it out the following night, it turned out that in the heat of the car, they'd melted into a solid mass. It wasn't that they were inaccessible--just that you didn't know where one shape or flavor began or ended.

And this is exactly how I feel about pandemic time. 

It's one flexible, shimmery blob. Many things happened in there, some decent and some truly terrible, but I couldn't really tell you when, and I can't necessarily extricate them from other memories. Events have been conflated.

I don't know how much parsing them matters.

We have survived to this point and on the whole, I feel hopeful.

As many of you know, I look at my birthday as my own personal new year. I got my hair done yesterday to celebrate.

I think when my hair goes white I will leave it be, because that will suit my skin tone. The current ashiness of my blonde coupled with greys just flattens my skin tone. There's enough disappointment and flatness in life without adding my hair to it.

Anyway, today I asked India if we could do a birthday photo shoot. She's not always in the mood, but she is my favorite photographer. She has a great eye, and a fabulous sense of whimsy.


It was tremendously fun. India really gets into it and loves action shots that show the clothing. She'd currently like to be either a fashion designer or a supreme court justice, or maybe both. 

Whatever she does in life, I do hope she uses her powers for good. 

Since my last birthday I was diagnosed with Lyme disease (getting diagnosed and getting antibiotics was a struggle, I tell you). In the process they ruled out lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and a variety of other diseases. Thank goodness.

I have had two rounds of antibiotics, and I still have some joint pain but they don't really know why. So.

I've also gotten very into yoga, which honestly I wish I'd discovered before, and really it's my own damn fault for not, having grown up in India where opportunities abound.

But like all my other choices, I had to go about it the hard way, and perhaps just needed to find the right instructor at the right time.

You know I'm not a team player, as I've always had a horror of group activities. Also, yoga studios intimidated me. But this is different. These are friends, and we're pushing each other to be our best selves.

I've discovered yoga is one of very few activities that takes so much of my focus that all those annoying voices in my mind go silent. There's no making grocery lists or fretting about that one awkward thing I said, or whatever else my mind likes to tip toe through while I should be focusing.

It's super difficult and ultimately so relaxing.

Forgive me if my writing is awkward. 

These are muscles I've not used in so long. I think about writing and how much I miss it. But then I wonder what I would even say, when my creativity is at such a low ebb.

I need to just jump back on the wagon or bicycle or whatever that expression is. Get on the horse and lead it to water.

Can't make a sow's purse out of a rat's ass.

I love you all. Thank you for being on this life journey with me!

Love,

Lisa

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Twelve Mays

Twelve years ago today, my dad walked out the door of their house.

Twelve years ago tomorrow, we located him at the morgue.

Two weeks later, we brought him back to the house as a bag of ash.

I write this post every year. 

May has become easier than it was. Or anyway, today is.

This year I didn't realize it was May, or rather what May meant, until I did. Does that sound stupid? Yes. But I felt it in my body. I was having a hard time.

And then recently I realized: it's May. May is my month of loss.

May is the month my dad left and we don't know exactly which day he died. And maybe which exact day doesn't even matter but it still matters to me.

As such, I need to remember and honor these feelings and his loss.

Nobody else needs to remember this along with me, and yet my dear friends Vik and Jess always do. In the middle of the night, when I was up and reading in the quiet darkness I got a text that said, "*hugs*". This morning I awoke to an email with, "I love you". 

It's perfect.

These messages first go straight to my nose, where that weird prickle triggers tears. Then I feel them in my heart.

Or maybe they to to my heart and that tells my nose to prickle. I was never very sciency, although I don't know if that would explain it anyway.

And it's not like an inability to build a model solar house in high school determines your understanding of physiology for life.

You know, I almost wrote that that twelve years ago today my dad walked out of our lives, but honestly, as soon as my mom realized he was gone, our lives became all about locating him.

The question always was: Could we find him in time?

Six times he'd survived.

My brother told Nick that my dad did it for attention. 

My dad's psychiatrist told Nick that every attempt had been so severe, the fact that my dad was still alive made him, an atheist, want to believe in God.

Dad left us today, May 15, on a gorgeous day very much like this one. Humid, ripe with flowering life, full of promise. I suppose it was a day very much like me at the time, six moths pregnant, humid, ripe with flowering life, full of promise.

We found him on the 16th, at the morgue.

This is not new information to any of you who've known me for a while.

You know that my dad walked out and then we searched frantically for nearly two days, and then we knew.

I wished so badly in the days that followed that I weren't pregnant, so I could have a stiff drink or five, or knock myself out with Valium. 

I hated how present I was in my grief.

My life up to then had been so much about my dad. Monitoring and working around his moods, being fearful, being vigilant, searching frantically, begging and praying in the aftermath, cajoling him back to health.

Keeping the secrets, lying to friends, pretending we were fine.

When my dad was fun, he was so much fun. He was great to travel with. He loved London, so we stopped there every summer on the way back to visit grandparents. And he loved musicals, so he shared them with us from young ages. He took me to Evita when I was so small that he brought pillows to the theatre from me to sit on.

My dad was so bright, and he was so dark. I understand now that his mental illness shaped how I grew up. It determined where we lived, not just how we lived.

We left Egypt after two years, rather than four, because Dad was sick, though they didn't know what was wrong.

That was his first attempt.

And we kept the secret.

Dad should've been posted to another country after India, but we went back to the US, because Dad was sick.

That was his second attempt.

And we kept the secret.

His suicide attempts, living around them, working to keep him alive, defined me.

And what I see now was that my life after my dad died by suicide continued to be so much about him, about not having him, about how we lost him.

It continued to define me for so long.

The loss has become less painful, and no longer defines me, though I know it will always be a piece of me. But not the largest piece, not determining my day-to-day actions, or driving me by fear. 

But it's important.

Growing up with my dad has made me both more understanding of people's struggles and less tolerant of bullshit. 

I'm not willing to carry people the way I used to.

A friend of mine is coaching me with boundaries. Mine still aren't great, but I was raised with practically none, so I think I'm doing pretty well considering.

Anyway, it's been 12 years, and some of these anniversaries have been incredibly hard, and this year this one is easier. It's a spectacular day, and I'm about to take my dog for a walk.

And then friend is coming over to sit on our deck and catch up. Nick bought a bottle of Absinthe and he's going to make Absinthe cocktails.

I thuppothe it will make our hearts grow fonder.