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Stone Hearted Queries

December 16th, 2009

Please allow me a moment to take you with me to see where I have been and in a way how it is that I am here in quite the way I am.

Journal Entry: April 30th, 2006-

What have I sacrificed and why have I done it?

Every day I sacrifice healing in trade for coping.  If I can just put off the tears for a few more minutes then I know I can make the bed, feed the children and laugh.  Ha ha, I am laughing, see.  If I sacrifice the coping, the day to day then I am trading for pain and sadness.  I am opening the door to such grief and heartache.  What if it doesn’y stop?  What if i drown in it all?  What if I work through everything only to discover what I fear the most is true?  What if it really is my fault?

My sacrifices are selfish although they appear to be about other people a lot of the time.  I watch my sister’s kids so she can heal.  I take my kids for a walk even though it hurts because I know they’ll have fun.   It goes on but ultimately I do it all to avoid the darkness.

The sacrifice of birthing was not my own.  It was no choice to be made by weary  minds and souls.  Birthing happens; the sacrifice comes with the pieces you give freely along the way.  I gave more than was asked, had even more taken and in the end I don’t know who was supposed to be benefiting.  So I crawl now on battered bones with heavy heart, knowing my sacrifice was unwanted.  My sacrifice was for naught and only brought terror and pain, ugliness and black.  It was my fault and I have to live with that, my family has to live with that because of me.  I am so guilty.  I am so guilty.

Returning to today…

In April of 2006 I was still deep in the caverns of guilt ridden, self-examination and sacrifice with the determination to find a resolution to my suffering.  My baby was 1 day shy of 4 months old.  I was 6 days past my 29th birthday.  Today my daughter is a mere 15 terrifying days away from turning 4.  I am 4 months and 8 days short of turning 33.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart
Oh when way it suffice?
-William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

Has my heart turned to stone yet during these past years?  Have my sacrifices become more genuine or are they mostly imagined and martyr-ly?  I don’t know if there is a valid way for me to tell.  I think it is likely one of those things where 10 people in a room would all give you varying answers.  I  need to turn to my stony heart for answers and for that I need a sharpened pick ax and a strong swing.

I am finding myself.  I could easily end that sentence right there but I had intended to go on.  I am finding myself with so many questions these days.  I can answer some with a quick trip to Google or a phone call.  I can hide under the covers and cry until I determine the reply to another query.  And there are still millions that make my heart race or my eyes glaze over from either panic at maybe never knowing or trying so hard to find the answer that I get stuck deep in my cerrebellum.

Sacrifice?  Happiness?  A time to make new memories?  Write more or less?  Does cleaning under the bed really matter?  How do I love better and be loved better?  Can I be whole?  Is my racing heart just a glistening rock with channels worn through it for blood flow?  What is it that makes Trader Joe’s Peppermint Jo-Jo’s so hard to put down?

How will I ever make it through another one of my baby girl’s birthday’s when I am struggling so much with just talking to her about the act of being 4?  What cruel power planned December to go: Hannukah, Christmas Eve with the in-laws, Christmas, drive for 2 1/2 hours for 3 days of Christmas with separate parents out of state, week of mandatory furlough (yeah no pay!), New Year’s Eve/Wee Girl’s Birthday/Trauma Flashback Day?  For real?  This makes sense?  Was I really cruel to the serfs in my fiefdom?

As we approach the end of 2009 I hope it comes with an end to the types of sacrifice that turn beating hearts to solid stones.  Maybe we can all be lucky enough to be left with the sacrifices that warm you with a sense of completion and an eagerness for more.  Zora Neale Thurston writes in Their Eyes Were Watching God that there are years that ask questions and there are years that give answers.  I am hoping beyond hope that 2010 is a year that comes with some answers or at least more multiple choice questions.  When in doubt you can always pick “C.”

10… 9… 8… Counting Down to Heartache and Holidays

December 9th, 2009

The countdown at casa de Miriam is on in full force.  We have the paper strips cut and ready for glitter glue, stamps and taping into chains to hang and confuse visitors.  There is the Hanukkah chain.  December 11.  The Christmas chain.  December 25.  Wee Girl’s 4th Birthday!!! December 31.  New Year’s Eve.  December 31.

There is no chain to count the heart wrenching marking of days that began sometime in the last few weeks and surprised me with its “still crazy after all these years” presence.  My daughter’s birthday is, oddly enough, also the anniversary  of her birth and thusly of what is one of the worst days of my life in spite of the amazing ten fingered, ten toed little beauty that came with it.  New Year’s Eve 2005 marked the beginning of years of a new sort of distress that my brain wasn’t used to regardless of the years of training in mental dysfunction I had.  Post-partum depression and a fresh batch of PTSD.   I hid it mostly, for the first year but by her first birthday I was shocked to wake up in a sweat.  Not long after that I was waking up very differently and without my little girl beside me.

I have worked so blessed hard to get better from this, let alone the mental and physical scars from days gone by.  But each year as December rolls in my chest tightens and breathing gets that much harder to manage.  The spirit of celebration is masked by fatigue, flashbacks and restlessness.  Fear and anticipation of The Day’s arrival choke me and leave me feeling split in two with a cleaver, as though anybody could see the wretched ache inside me.  Anybody could prey on it.

Yet this is my precious little one’s birthday and I should be struggling with pink streamers, glittery balloons and foolish party hats- not symptom control.  I know though that I need a second by second plan for that day from the moment I wake up to when I take an extra sleeping pill to fall asleep.  Without a round the clock plan there is too much room for emotional disaster.  4 years after my baby was taken from me so easily while I cried out until I was helped to calm down by a syringe and an anesthesiologist who turned blurry in seconds- and I am still stuck.  The distance is still there in little places throughout the year but on what should be her day and her day alone I am still having to distance myself from the moments, the day, from HER.

I would like to say that I will return this topic and release more.  Not just for myself but because somewhere inside me I know I must not be the only one.  And I DO believe that I am not the only with anniversaries of pain and mental paper chains to count down.  However, I am still not through the paper links.  There are still rings for children to argue over ripping before the arrival of that day of days.  The day when the whole world celebrates a fresh start, my daughter is showered with “my haven’t you growns” and I pray for a knock out pill that will keep me standing but get me through the day without feeling the sharp sting of tears or pulling of scars.  So I can’t really say that I’ll get back to this soon because I don’t want the pressure and I don’t want to rope myself into failure right now.  When the time is right I will share more and as always I welcome (very nearly plead with) you to share with me, on site or via email.

My daughter is nearly 4 years old.  Not a baby anymore and oh so bright and beautiful.  She is my love and my light and I hate and fear that one day she will read my words.  I never want her to blame herself for my swollen eyed, frantic Decembers and stumbling Happy Birthdays.  I never want her to feel the depth of my depths and feel like she dug the pits herself.

I hope that she will teach me to love December 31st for what it is- her birthday and New Year’s Eve.  I hope that one year I stop calling it the anniversary of her birth and my mental countdown will disappear.  I will only hope to be able to stay awake long enough to watch the ball drop with her and the rest of my family beside me.  She was born on a day of worldwide celebration.  There will always be a party on her birthday (god save me on her 21st!) even if I can’t throw it.  Her bounce, her giggle and her clarity of vision has fueled my breaths, my heartbeats and my kisses for 4 difficult years that I would never trade.

Give Me A Head Of Hair

December 6th, 2009

In junior high a cool kid appeared as a transfer.  She was amazing and had been living in Canada.  She was originally from New England like me but wow, Canada.  She played hockey on the boy’s team and she liked awesome stuff that I liked and awesome stuff that I wanted to like.  And she helped me figure out how to convince my mother to let me get a giant streak of magenta dyed into my hair by a very odd man in a very odd hair salon in “the city.”  I rocked.  Just like that I rocked and was awesome and felt it.  It was like the cool just came out with every breath but mostly with each toss of my ash blonde and MAGENTA hair.  That silly streak opened me up and helped the inside heal when all my secret ways of trying had failed.  I am forever grateful to my cool girl friend that showed me how easy it could be to just be.  And that you can play on the same side as the boys sometimes.

In the years between then and now I have had red, auburn, blonde-blonde, just highlighted, streaks, caramel, brown, cherry coke, bad decision black, natural and most recently- my happy fun hair.  I have mentioned my happy fun hair before which will only go to prove my long winded point.  Last spring I realized I was getting too old for my brain and maybe even for my body and went on a spree of random actions.  I got an iPod with bejillion accessories.  I got a ton of new clothes after losing 25 pounds.  And I got a great hair cut followed by 6 appointments to get the right hair color.  It was a deep, deep, rich red with undertones of cherry and mahogany.  At the crown I had medium sized chunky highlights in a golden blonde tone that I could make disappear with a trick of the brush.  It doesn’t sound right but it kicked ass.

This was before the economic dive of the country and the cutbacks at my husband’s non-profit job.  I spent a lot of money on vanity and fear of aging.

But when I walked around, when I picked my son up from pre-school- I stood so tall.  I was taking back my youth on the outside and it was jumpstarting the process on the inside.  I stood out and got to feel like the suburban subversive I believe myself to be.  My hair was a symbol of the old lady me being banished so that I could reconnect to the version of me that is, well, happy fun me.

I got the color redone once and then there was the 10% pay cut, the mandatory furloughs, the loss of retirement benefits etc.  So it faded.  I didn’t have a good enough reason to commit that much money to something as foolish as my hair.  How vain can a person be to spend several hundred dollars (I have a lot of very absorbent hair) on a dye job when their kids need sandals or later on- winter boots?  Then again I was feeling better so my symbol of happy fun me seemed less vital as long as I could sustain the pep on my own- which I could.  For a while.

So now it is much too long and I have mismatched colors throughout.  I have discovered that in my attempt to reconnect to my youth I hid the massive growth of grey hair around my temples and forehead.  The grey, along with the 3 inch roots contrasting against the faded red and blonde, make it look dirty or filled with dandruff of epidemic proportion much of the time.  This is clearly not the look I am searching for.

My foolish hair has become a symbol of enormous proportions again now that I am facing a depression.  Happy fun me (maybe that deserves proper noun status by now?) needs a boost to come out and I think a shock of red hair catching the sun will do it.  I am fixating.  I am embarrassed and feel older and like everyone assumes I am 10 years beyond my calendar years.  That isn’t the compliment it used to be.  It is common in my town to be 42 and have a 5 and almost 4 year-old but I am 32.

When I got my hair done last Spring I took a step away from the boring person who was walking around in a psychiatric contemplative state.  I connected to a new, more vibrant, more vital and present me.  Now that I know I can get to that person and that I have become distant from her, I am desperate to get back there.  The last thing I need in my world right now is distance- let alone from myself.

There is no way to make this happen.  I don’t have a ball to go to where I can hope to have a fairy godmother appear.  From what little I know of guardian angels, they don’t drop cash or Aveda gift cards from on high.  I probably shouldn’t skip eating or medication and even if I did… it would be a while and it might make me nutso beyond the fix of a good colorist.  But you know what- to spill some openness- I have lost 47 pounds in the last year and I am very grateful for that.  I have been better but am now worse.  Right now is hard and me with my happy fun hair and 50 pounds lighter might make the next few months less scary and more bearable.  I might enjoy them.  I would feel pretty and 32 and like I could play hockey on the boy’s team even though I don’t really skate.

Yet again- I want, I want, I want.  It feels so petty and selfish but it is consuming at times.  How did I become the woman who spends this much time concentrating on her hair?  I didn’t even own a blow dryer until I was married.  This happened because I am like so many struggling people, trying really hard to find quick fixes for my problems, my life, my anything.   Kicker is this one, this silly color combination from fancy-schmancy-here-is-your-tea-Aveda, really does bring me up from my down.  And… it works a lot faster than any antidepressant I know.

What color hair do you have?  Do you like it?  Would you change it?  What color or cut or pattern of stripes and dots do you think could make you feel the whiz, pow, pop of life in a new way?

Heads or Tails

November 25th, 2009

I am plodding my way through the muck these days, trying to get to the other side- the side I left just a few weeks ago.  Or has it been long enough to measure in months?  When did it turn so that I can’t even remember when it began?  At least I am trying to make some changes though.  There are big changes that I loathe, small ones that sting but should be easy, ones that pass by in a flash but make a big impact.  If only they would come together better and more quickly.

I know last week I promised to smile this week.  Whatever image you have of me in your head- take it and make it smile… now.  Okay I am currently smiling. 1… 2… 3… and done.  That is about as much I can muster for now but know that I have smiled and laughed and plan to keep trying.  I just can’t seem to translate it into my writing.  Sorry folks, I did try.

One of the harder parts of life now may be remembering how little control I have over the rest of the world.  Man, isn’t that awful.  Why am I not in charge of things?   I could totally handle the rotation of the planets around the sun or the shift changes at the drugstore.  So there is no doubt that I am perfectly able to be the boss of everyone around me.  If I could just make them dance when the music plays and tell them who is out when the music stops my life would be so much better.  Or is that a silly game people play when things don’t go right and they feel helpless?

I am getting tired of the flip of the coin feeling that is becoming my life.  Heads- you win.  Tails- you lose.  Call it in the air but call it right and think hard about what you are playing for because you may or may not want to win.

Currently I am sitting on a four-poster, Ethan Allen canopy bed that I got slightly used but free from an online moms group and that is awesome.  I also found a bug crawling up the sheet trying to get to my pillow and scheming to then eat me.  Not awesome.

A lovely woman from my son’s school who I thought was sort of my friend begrudgingly has been inviting me places and took a moment out of a conversation to tell me she considers me a close friend.  Yeah me!  Another friend who I adore is consumed by a very demanding job and other responsibilities so despite the fact that I feel like we have buckets in common and could talk endlessly, I must be content with a few hours on a Sunday afternoon every three or four weeks.  Boo.

I have found that I newly enjoy the jewelry making that I left behind several years ago when my second child was big enough to think the beads would make good teethers.  However that craft was one I learned as part of the beginning of a near-clinical breakdown.  I spent $1000.00 on beads.  If you didn’t know- that is a boat load of beads.  But I went on to become pretty good at it and incorporated it into my business years later, making back a chunk of the money.  I love, love, love the new-kid-fun of the jewelry- even in the middle of a depression.  Hazzah to me and my craftiness!  But I am also tempted by the glitter of the sun in the bead store window and have to re-learn to pass it by and also try not to think of the beading as the prelude to intensive therapy.  Not so much with the hearty hazzah.

50% of the time (situations) it seems like all is well and I should kick back and try to let my shoulders drop.  The other 50% I am flailing, getting the raw end of the stick or losing out on something.  So how the hell am I to know if I should be depressed or thrilled?  Maybe I should be constantly riding along the median strip, never crossing into one lane or the other?  Isn’t that the opposite of living?  But depression as it gets deeper is no way to live either so I have to physically and mentally force myself to TRY to get better even when complacency is so much easier.

What matters is not the easy or the hard but the right.  Today I hate the right but I need it and want it in spite if that and so I am doing what I need to do as best as I know how.  I will hydrate, I will try to sleep just enough, I will eat appropriately, take the right medicines.  I will try not to seclude myself from the world even when it is not fun.  I will do all those things people tell you to do.

Here is the secret though: I know that some of you understand what I mean by saying that deep down- 50% of the time I want to be the boss and 50% of the time I am pleading for someone else to be the one to call it in the air.  It always comes down to heads or tail and I am just hoping that I’m not dealing with a trick coin.

I Promise to Smile… Next Week

November 19th, 2009

There are way too many things that I want to say and can’t. Not just right now, on this site but out in the everyday world. I am finding my own conversations stifling themselves before I even catch on to it. Before I hear what I am saying I find that I have started a sentence one way with an intended end in mind only to have finished it with a safe piece of vagary or banal nothingness.

It is almost like I am building structurally unsound fires frantically in the dark while people watch me expectantly. In that act – forgetting that, sometimes, the fire catches anyway. You may have walked away, and it might burn the forest to bits. Or you might be pleased with how warm you get and the supremacy of your marshmallow toasting skills. Then again you could be enjoying the glow only to watch your poorly balanced kindling nests and sticks collapse and burn out in seconds leaving angry red coals too small to do anything with but hot enough to hurt.Do you know what I mean or have I simply “burned the playhouse down?” (to quote They Might Be Giants)

With reflection on my past writings I am concerned that I am taking the easy way out via the long way around.

It feels as though I have been very vain and foolish and maybe even wasting the valuable time of people I know and people I don’t. Doesn’t that sound awfully gruesome?  I suddenly sound so despondent and teenage-angst-ridden. Sullen. Do I intend to say that it really isn’t as awful as it sounds or do I want to yell out that it actually is, paint my room black and write really bad, angry poetry?

This is not the end of days and tomorrow will not be  either. However, that doesn’t preclude tomorrow from sucking as much as today does or worse.

Words to Face the Day

November 11th, 2009
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasy,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay.
No angel visitant, no opening skies,
But take the dimness of my soul away!
-George Croly 1854

This section of a famous hymn came to me from a series of notes from my grandfather, the Reverend Jay Han Won during a very dark time in January of 2006.** One thought provoking, inspiring or sometimes silly piece of writing was meant to be read each day for a two week stretch.  That was for Tuesday, what I believe to have been day 6.  For some reason I have yet to decipher- under the author’s name and year he wrote in brackets “Join the crowd!”  I would probably have to go back to all the other notes and the accompanying letter to find some clue for this nota bene and even then I might strike out.

My grandfather was a very wise, funny and curious man with a rich and far-reaching history that I won’t go into.  He was also a clergyman so a lot of his writings to me were inclusive of references to god or contained biblical passages.  They were not always met with open arms and sometimes they were met with flat out bitterness.  However I decided some years ago that there are many, many worse things in the world than having someone love you so much on Earth that they hope to hang out with you when you are dead.  I could have done with less force but he (and therefore I) came from a long line of missionaries so what can you expect?

After my period of shall we say “great distress,” I packed his letters and notes from this time with a bunch of stuff that I figured was better sent to the pits of the basement or at least a deep cardboard box.  Shortly after he died almost two years ago I went looking for his writings in hopes of finding a little piece of him to hold.  I searched through the various quotes, poems, scriptures and limericks that he had sent and the one above was the one that caught my throat.  It had held such meaning for me at the time and could be applied to so many other difficult periods in my life.  I tucked it carefully, being sure not to bend or crease the paper (in spite of my grandfather’s penchant for folding anything pliable into miniscule sizes) and tucked it into my date book.

It got passed into the next date book without much thought at the end of the next year because I was feeling differently.  The dimness was not so dim.  My ache for my grandfather was the same so still I kept the page close. Eventually the road-weary paper with the lighthouse in the corner and the ubiquitous free-gift-for-donation declaration “From the desk of the Reverend Jay Han Won” made its way to a small journal given to me by a friend meant to spur on my writing.

These last few weeks, after many weeks of feeling vastly improved, I have been sinking and starting to question my successes.  Questioning my wellness is my late night game, saved for after the kids have gone to bed and my husband has fallen asleep so that I know he cannot answer my concerns.  I don’t want confirmation.

The Croly selection has a home again.  I am not looking for an “angel visitant,” I want rest for my mind and warmth for my heart.  I want the “dimness of my soul” to be taken from me if even for a moment.  (I need a moment to make a plan of action and reassure everyone who is reading this and deciding I am in deepest despair and hopelessness that I am merely dim in the soul- an odd sort of optimism but let us go with it) Like the verse from the hymn- I am only looking at the part not the whole hymn- I am not looking for a grand moment of mind-bending clarity and healing.  I don’t require a massive sign from god or a fissure in the Earth that swallows my enemies.  Don’t bother “rending” any clay on my behalf.  I want better than now, better than this, better than sadness and questioning of wellness. I want, I want, I want is no great thing to say but it is true that I want things like anybody else.  I try to face melancholy with small requests but most of all I want so desperately to feel confident in my movement, my brain and my heart.  And I think I would like a hefty dose of giggling and a trip to the salon to get my makes-me-happy-fun-hair-color restored.  A gal has to be honest, right?

My grandfather once told me that I should not waste my time praising him and extolling his virtues as a wise man.  In that directive he was proving his wisdom and foolishness simultaneously.  Too much praise is a waste and a wise person will likely know their strength regardless.  But he was foolish to tell his granddaughter that she should not extol his virtues when she so obviously was seeking them in herself.

In addition to his many years as a minister, he was a navy chaplain in World War II so I suppose this is a fitting time to be writing in reference to him.  He counseled and consoled the hearts of so many and he did so in a way that went beyond religion.  We had our religious disagreements but in my time of need he saw an opening and found a way to fill a hole.  He knew that there would be many a dark day and that each one would need to be faced with new courage and new heart.  And so he carefully prepared me that selection of pages, carefully labeled, carefully selected and carefully balanced with the serious, soulful and silly.  It needed no explanation or instruction.  I never read ahead.

On that 6th day, that Tuesday in 2006 I read George Croly’s words as bestowed upon me by my grandfather.  That day and many days since then it has truly felt that a long gone, Irish writer and preacher that I know little to nothing about- George Croly and the great and Reverend Jay Han Won were in cahoots.  Working together to form the right words to soften the glare of morning sun, ease the pain of tentative steps, temper the words that overflow and pull from within the ones that don’t, and to bring a delicate, distant light to the dark of night, the dark of day and the ‘dimness of my soul.”

To George Croly- 1780-1860.

More so to my wise and witty grandfather- I know your name– 1919- 2008.

I am counting on you both to make sure those words stays with me long after the handwriting I can recognize a mile away fades, the paper falls prey to age and I hope- long after the light pours in to push away the dimness for good.

** I am using the Korean name he sometimes used as he was born in Seoul, lived there for 18 years and much family history is attached to the name and 125 year family presence in Korea. He is however American and his English name is much less intriguing. However, my modicum of anonymity and privacy of relatives prevails.

Canceling Times Three

November 4th, 2009

It turns out I am that patient.  The super irritating, crazy (okay relative term) one who calls her doctor and leaves a billion messages after hours when a four or five sentence message would do.  I just left my doctor THREE messages in a row.  I have to cancel my appointment for tomorrow because my daughter has spiked a fever and new symptoms only a week after recovering from piggy flu.  I had three appointments scheduled for tomorrow because it is the day my mother-in-law takes my daughter all day so I have the entire time my son is at school to get things done.  Now I have to keep my little one home and try to get her seen by her pediatrician.

After being sick (still am… stupid bronchitis) for the last few weeks tomorrow’s appointments have a particularly high importance.  Really- none of them should be missed but I had to pick one to be covered by my husband, one to take the kids with me to and one to skip.  Sadly, therapy, even after missing two weeks already, was the one that got kicked to the curb.  Awesome.  No really, after being cooped up and then tearing around trying to straighten out the kinks in our life leftover from having a sick household, I really wanted to miss the chance to talk to someone by myself who will listen to me and only me and will nod and agree and tell me that things really will be better.  Things really are better.  Who needs that?

So I called my doctor (who I adore) and tried to leave a normal message but ended up sounding like a raging psychopath with a grudge to contend with.  I mean I really sounded angry.  I am angry.  This sucks.  That is my great SAT vocabulary word to describe the situation.  So I left one pissy sounding message trying to explain why I had to cancel.  Then I got cut off.  Not unusual actually- my messages for her tend to be long and foolish but generally on the ridiculous, silly side of the couch, not the Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” side.  So I called back.  In my second message I tried to be more normal and gentle.  I told her what I needed, when to call, that I am not as angry as it seems but okay maybe I am super mad but come on now wouldn’t you be after all look at this isn’t this just my kind of luck isn’t this just my kind of life did I marry Murphy of Murphy’s Law?  Then I got cut off.

Of course I called back.  My two one-sided conversations (that will one day serve as evidence in either a commitment hearing or a dissertation on the devolution of modern language even among writers) simply were not enough.  How could I end on such a dour note?  How I could I let her think that I was the type of person who needs therapy?  Oh shit… Scratch the last one.  There isn’t a “type” of person who needs therapy and the only thing my messages were proving was that I need a verbal editor to follow me at all times.  And of course that I am a mite bit unhappy with the current disruption to my life.

THREE messages.  In a row.  I am fully expecting a call back suggesting that maybe I selected the wrong appointment to miss.

New message:

Hi Dr. Saved-My-Life! It’s Miriam X and I wanted to let you know that X (wee little sweetheart sicky girl) has spiked a new fever so regretfully I have to cancel our appointment.  Please call me when you get a moment so we can talk about prescription issues and scheduling.  Oh and I am totally not raging on the inside, stuffing all this down as far as I can in hopes of getting through another week so… no worries. Sorry for the inconvenience and have a super swell day!