Saturday, September 19, 2015

For Stacy, who was dazzling

Stacy was not mine to lose, nor mine to mourn, but I do.

I never met her in person, and the truth is, after she shut down her blog, Jurgen Nation, I pretty much  lost track of her.

And still, news of her death punched me in the gut. I know enough to realize that suicide always feels personal to me. But Stacy was someone who stuck with you. For a time, I felt like I knew her, and she was amazing.

When I started blogging, she was an established blogger, a breathtaking writer, and a gorgeous woman. And she was hilarious. I was nervous to comment on her blog. She got tons of comments. She spoke at BlogHer. She hung out, virtually and in person, with other famous bloggers.

She was a celebrity. Cool. Popular. Pretty. Witty.

And also real and raw. Damaged, and so frank about it. She offered herself up to all of us, emotionally naked.

I adored her. I admired her so. She inspired me.

We had a little correspondence. She was kind, so very kind.

And she had that little voice inside her head, the one my friend Michelle describes as saying, "Just quit."

Am I drawn to those with that voice? Those who struggle?

I think I am.

I think it's because these are people who burn brighter, who live and feel more intensely. Whose minds intrigue me. Whose emotions pull me.

She had a sparkle. She burned so brightly. And she was honest, painfully honest, about how she felt, about her traumas. About the urge to just quit.

And you could look at photos of her, and see how luminous she was. You could feel the brilliance in her writing, and think, how could someone that beautiful and amazing feel so bad?

But your own personal truth, as I know too well, eclipses everything.

As the years went by, I kept blogging, but was increasingly in my own world, as bloggers I knew and loved quit  blogging. The DC blogger happy hours petered out. And frankly, even before that, I stopped having much time to go to happy hour or even keep up with many blogs.

But every once in a while, I would do a search for Jurgen Nation. I'd come up with stunning photos that Stacy took. But not the beloved JN posts.

And then yesterday, I saw Heather's post on Facebook, expressing her sadness at losing Stacy.

She didn't say how, but in my experience, when there is no how, the how is self-inflicted.

So I went searching on the Internet.

I found that amalah, who I used to read the minute her posts came out, had written about her. I'd have known before, but as I said, I just read blogs more sporadically now.

And I came across this exquisite post. What an achingly beautiful goodbye.

The just quit voice prevailed. The darkness won.

And the rest of us have all lost.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Eight totally not valid excuses for not getting mental health help

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. As you know, this is an issue near and dear to my heart.

To celebrate (ha!) I'm going to offer up a brief list of not valid reasons to not get help.

Sometimes people will admit to being in a bad place. They will even admit that they could probably use some help. And yet, at the suggestion of professional help, they balk.

Here are some reasons that I have heard.

This is off the top of my head, and not comprehensive. Because people have lots and lots of excuses. (Of course, I've never been one of those people. Ever. Me?)
  1. My family doesn't do that/would be horrified.
  2. We're Irish.
  3. I already know what my issues are.
  4. I tried once but I was smarter than my therapist.
  5. Everyone knows that shrinks are all crazy.
  6. My friends are all the therapy I need.
  7. I just need X to happen (winter to end/to move to another state/to find a new job/to get married, etc.) and then I'll be happy. 
  8. I'm too busy.
If you think you need help, reach out. You need more than just venting to your friends, who are likely not trained professionals. And even if they are, they're too close to you. You need a not-friend trained professional.

And you need to be honest. If you are not fine--and if you're seeing them for help, you're not--say so. Say life is bleak. Say you hate everything, including yourself. Say whatever your truth is. Because whatever you are feeling is your truth.

If you are scared, and it can certainly be scary, ask someone to go with you and hold your hand. Truly.

Life does not have to be so hard. We don't have to struggle so much. I promise.

If you are in a mentally bad place, tell your primary care physician. Tell a friend who will help you find a therapist or doctor.

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Oh, honey! Just what I've always wanted!

OK, so you know how we went to Spain and it was the hottest hot on Spanish record of hotness ever and we had no AC and I sat around in my underwear drinking wine and swearing?

Yes. Well, we also went to the beach every day.

So this apartment had clearly been a beach rental for a long time. As such, the closet held an impressive accumulation of water guns, pool floaties, beach umbrellas, and the like.

Now, it has been years, and decades, even, since I baked in the sun. I regret my years of sunbathing in the tropics. I wear zinc sunscreen and long-sleeved UPF shirts and hats and such. I foist these items on my children.

So when I saw the silver beach mat, I thought, really? Does anyone still actually tan themselves with silver around them to amplify the rays? Yikes!

I opened it and it was clearly a Coca-cola giveaway. We'd been given a cute free hat at the grocery story with a Coca-cola band, so clearly they had a lot of promos. But still. This was surprising.

Then later we went down to the beach and I saw a couple people rolling out mats, and the back side of them was metallic.

Oh! They're to keep the sand out! So smart! We put the silver side down and put a towel on the other side! Yes!

Because that fine white Mediterranean sand gets in everywhere. We'd put our towels down and no amount of shaking could get it out. I am still finding grains of sand in bathing suits that I've washed and washed.

So the next day as I was accumulating stuff to head down to the beach, I added it to my armload.

Nick had gone down first to set up the umbrella.

The kids and I walked up to him and I dropped my bag and started opening my handy-dandy super-smart beach mat.

And Nick said, "What are you going to do with that?"

"Sit on it."

He smirked. "Sit on it."

"Yes, Nick. You put the silver side down so you're not getting the reflected rays. (Like I don't know anything.)"

"You don't think it's a car windshield shade?"

"A what?"

Yah. So he folded it open. And said, "See? This part that dips down is where your rear view mirror fits."


And then he fell on the sand and rolled around, he was laughing so hard.

And then guess what I got as a birthday present? Yes.
I hope he's still finding grains of sand in surprising places.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Happy birthday, Betty!

Today is my mama Betty's birthday.

What she wants for her birthday is computer help, and a nice brunch out on the weekend. So tonight we will have cake. Fruit tart because she likes it, and real cake for the kids, because without it, it's not a birthday. And candles. God yes, candles.

"Will we have ALL the candles, Mama?"

"I think we should just have a couple."

At this point, all of our birthdays are really about the kids. We grownups don't have quite so much interest.

My kids have no recollection of a life without Nana living in our house. Nana has always lived with us, and always been theirs. It has always been like this and always will be.
Jordan, who deems it supremely unfair that Nick and I get to sleep in the same bed, while the rest of them have to sleep alone, often tiptoes upstairs to sleep with his Nana. I'll often go into his room to kiss him one last time and his bed is empty. I find him sound asleep upstairs in Nana's room, whether she's there or not.

When the kids list our family members, Nana is always one of us. They still don't quite get that she's my mom, that she was a grown-up before I was born. That she had a whole big life without them.

This is beyond their grasp.

When you think of all the places she's been, and all she's lived through to arrive at her current location, on the third floor of our house smack dab in DC, it's extraordinary.

I mean, she started out in North Dakota, and was the only one of her siblings to go to college. She met my dad there, fell in love, and then married him on his Air Force base in Texas.
Note: I wore this dress for my wedding almost five decades later!
They moved to Minneapolis--not an unreasonable move for a girl from ND and a guy from Duluth--where he worked as a pharmacist and she designed children's clothing. They were, as far as I can tell from photos, approximately 12 years old when all of this took place.
The Peace Corps had just been created. They joined and went to Afghanistan, where they made dear and lifelong friends. The ones you've probably heard me talk about are Jordan's parents, Pat and Phil, and Maude's parents, Lou and Tom.

I hope my dad and Lou are hanging out somewhere, having adventures together.

After Peace Corps, my dad joined the precursor to USAID and went to Vietnam. There was a war going on, you know, so spouses couldn't go. So during those years, Betty lived in Bangkok.

And then my dad went to graduate school, and then they moved to India (and had me!), where they lived through a bit of another war. Then Bangladesh gained independence and we moved there (and had my brother!). Then Egypt. Then Virginia. Then India again.
I sometimes forget that she went, willingly, to places with cholera and typhoid and malaria and a host of other diseases that she most certainly didn't grow up with. The first time her mother, my beloved Gramma Lillian, visited us in Dacca, I had worms.
Betty and Pat jaunted off to Burma in the early 70s. When we lived in Bangladesh, she flew to India to buy a Christmas tree and citrus fruit, and came back with oranges and two kind of scraggly Christmas-ish trees that we tied together.

She once got stopped at airport security because she had her enormous garden shears with her. And she said, "Oh! I always carry them!" And they let her through. Wouldn't you?
This was decades before 9/11, let's remember.

My parents spent the 1990s in South America.
 And then in 2000, Dad retired, and they moved back to Virginia.

It was never any of our plan to have her living with us. In an ideal world, she and my dad would still be in Virginia, and my kids would have weekends in the country at their grandparents' house.

But life is unpredictable, and while it can devastate you, it can always surprise you in beautiful ways.

When I tell other Americans that my mom lives with us, they're often shocked. When I tell people from many other countries--and this somehow comes up regularly with cab drivers--they nod. This is how it is where they are from, they say; this is how it should be.
I don't know about shoulds. I just know about is.

This is how it is. And we are lucky.