I arrived for my very first psych hospital stay without any books. Without anything, actually, because I was operating on a profound, dangerous sleep deficit and there was nothing going on in my brain that wasn’t destructive.
The doctor at that little hospital started giving me a Prozac capsule every day, this brand-new drug that no one had heard of yet and that would spawn a million newsmagazine pieces in which various experts would wring their hands about what it all meant.
Meantime, one green-and-white capsule at a time, Prozac saved my life.
When I transferred from that first, tiny psych hospital to a much bigger one in Phoenix, I carried my chart with me, and of course I read it. In my first 10 or so days there, the staff had used the phrase “catatonic signs and symptoms” to describe my behavior, which I thought was pretty funny since inside my skull, everything was chaos and mayhem and frantic activity. I would sit curled in a big chair in the day room and never move until someone told me to. I’m not sure I spoke at all. I remember someone washing my hair while I sat in the shower and that seemed OK. My arms were too tired for head scrubbing.
So, to the books: I couldn’t read at first. The brain chaos precluded anything except sitting. When I started to calm down a little, I discovered a bin full of tattered paperbacks. The first thing I read was Silence of the Lambs, which seems to indicate that someone on the staff had a terrible lapse in judgment. The inside of my head was a profoundly violent place and I’d definitely have chosen the hose over the lotion.
Next from that bin, I pulled out a copy of Postcards from the Edge. I didn’t realize who’d written it (I was well enough to read books, but very far from WELL.) and I had no idea it was a semi-autobiographical novel. I believed it to be a memoir and I thought, “Sheesh. She’s almost as fucked up as me,” and that was, somehow, a little comforting. I was very alone with my self-destructive thoughts at that time. Lots of people loved me, but I couldn’t feel that love. Mostly, I thought people who loved me were fools. But Carrie Fisher maybe understood a little, and between that and the Prozac, I had a rickety little bridge that I walked along for awhile until I could make some connections that were a little less tenuous.
For as much as I loved Carrie Fisher as Leia, and as deeply as I have enjoyed some of her subsequent books, there was this one time in a crappy regional psych unit when a book by Carrie Fisher helped save my life.
Go forth and tell your truth because you don’t know who you might save. There’s no shame. Carrie showed us that.
Carrie Fisher died today, December 27, 2016. She drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.
I woke at 3 am today, hardly ideal but no surprise. We’re all insomniacs here. I spent a little time with Abbie because her insomnia and mine cross this way sometimes, and I’m awake before she falls asleep. I drank some coffee, wrote for awhile, and woke Carter at 6:30. I dropped him off at school and it was all so blessedly ordinary. Our lives are boring in all the right ways: family, church, dogs, books, work, coffee, prayer, movies, burritos, birthdays…a predictable succession.
Our lives were dogged by crisis and tragedy for long and long and I never took the last three peaceful years for granted. I never quite settled in, either. Trauma and chaos change a family. We became much more grateful, but also more insecure, always suspicious. Our lives have turned inside out too often and we stay alert, not because our watchfulness will prevent the next disaster but because we can’t not.
As I was rushing Carter to my folks’ house a few weeks ago because my daughter’s friend was missing (found now, and safe), he said, “This isn’t how I thought this day would go. This was going to be a regular day. I guess you never know when everything might change.”
Indeed. Brian woke at 4 am today and went, as always, to meditate and pray for an hour before he went to his office for a standard Thursday, except it wasn’t. He called at 9:33 am from his car to tell me he was coming home. “Reduction in force” is what they call it. How cold those words are, so far removed from the reality of a family that has always been waiting for The Next Thing. Brian cleaned out his desk and put his things in the box provided for him, except for the award they gave him for five years of service. He left that on the floor. He was a few months from an award for ten years, but he got a packet of COBRA information instead. “Reduction in force” feels a hell of a lot like “kick that guy in the teeth.”
We’re OK. We’ll be alright because we have people. Our lives are saturated with relationships and if we are short of money or health or sleep, we have an abundance of friendship and kinship. Our phones have been chirping all day, bringing messages of encouragement and hope. We have meaning and mission and opportunities to serve. We love each other and that love is as solid and true as the earth under our feet.
Nevertheless, 8:30 this morning seems a very long time ago, the time before The Next Thing became The Real Thing. There’s darkness ahead, and pain, and Brian and I will enter together, surrounded by a vast cloud of witnesses. I’m grateful to know that, if we reach for a hand to hold, we’ll find one
M. Scott Peck opened The Road Less Traveled with that line and I don’t guess I know anyone who’d disagree. A few weeks ago, when my family was in the midst of yet another minor crisis, my dad asked me, “Aren’t you glad you gave up on waiting for life to finally calm down and get easy?”
Yes, I am. Very glad. That was exhausting, when I thought that eventually, the universe would finally bestow upon me the easy, angst-free life to which I would like to become accustomed. It was like hiking, and I’m climbing the hill, and I’m convinced that when I reach the summit, I’ll finally see the lake spread before me, but no. Every hilltop grants me the view of another hill to climb. Surely this one? Nope, another hill. And another.
The hills are less steep now, the hike less arduous, but I don’t quite know how to stop climbing.
If I had to guess (It’s really only a guess; I used to think self-awareness was an achievable thing and now I know self-awareness is the narrative I tell myself, about myself, and as soon as I think I have myself all figured out, something will change and I need a new story.), I’d say I’m in a very late process of growing up. My adult life has been defined by nothing so much as chaos, some of which happened to me and some of which I happened to create. The past three years have been the calmest I’ve ever experienced and while that doesn’t mean life has been easy or quiet or calm, it does mean I’m face-to-face with myself. For two decades, my life was dominated by turmoil: a bad marriage and the subsequent divorce; single parenthood; trying to get an education while parenting; blending families; unemployment and financial challenges; our youngest son’s disabilities; alienation from my two eldest children; protracted, bitter battles with extended family; and my own mental illness.
Now. Now, for the first time, though life is still difficult, we’re not living in perpetual chaos. When the crises come, they recede. Life has as many challenges as ever, but far fewer emergencies.
I am grateful. Deeply, extraordinarily grateful, but I don’t know how to live now. I’m not depressed, exactly, but I’m lost. I have what I wanted all along: for life to stop demanding I put out one fire after another after another and give me some space to breathe and create a life that revolves around spirituality, family, and creativity. Now that I have that space, though, I find I’m calibrated all wrong. I don’t know how to show up for life when there’s no air raid siren demanding anything of me.
“Adulting” isn’t a verb but it should be. Sometimes I look around my life and wonder, who the hell had the idea that I was qualified for all this?
“Adulting” isn’t a verb but it should be. To adult is some elusive combination of things like always having clean underwear in the drawer, never ramming a cart when people leave one the middle of the aisle while they compare prices at the grocery, remembering the Netflix password, and eating something that’s not cookies for breakfast.
Last week, I renewed my domain name, and I was all puffed up with pride because I was renewing nopointsforstyle.com 11 days before it was due to expire. Eleven days! Look at me adulting! I even renewed for two years because adults consider the future. Adults plan ahead.
Except I renewed my domain name last February for 3 years, which means I now own nopointsforstyle.com until February 15, 2019, a date so far away it seems pretend, for a domain that directs to a blog so neglected that if you’re actually here reading, I’d like to give you a token of appreciation. Maybe if I see you in the grocery and your cart is in the middle of the aisle while you studiously compare light red kidney beans to dark red kidney beans, I’ll give you a pass.
Maybe. Pull your carts to the side, people. Civilization may depend on it.
Sometimes I look around my life and wonder, who the hell had the idea that I was qualified for all this? I mean, clean underwear and taxes and a car? This is ridiculous. I still feel like this girl:
My mom was more responsible at 16 than I am at 40 mumble something cough, yet somehow I have as much adulting to do as anyone. Insurance, for crying out loud. Furnace filters, dental care, and making sure my kids are never the ones on Twitter asking who the hell this Paul McCartney guy is.
True story: in the late 1970s, my mother-in-law was in a record store and she heard a girl say to her mother, “Hey, look at this! Did you know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?”
For the record, I manage the clean underwear issue by owning approximately 40 pair and I doubt my kids could name all the Beatles but they for damn sure know who Eric Clapton is. My eldest son gave me an Allman Brothers CD for my birthday a few years ago and raved to me about how I was sure to love this new band he’d discovered, which is a win for good music but a lose for me personally because how did I never share my love for Gregg Allman with that kid?
I have a broader and much more important statement to make about civil discourse and how we need more adults in all our conversations because I’m damn tired. I’m not tired of the heated conversations or even the arguments. I have learned things in recent weeks about race, culture, disability, sexual identity, and privilege (plus more) that no college professor could teach me, in spite of the hyper-aware education in sociology delivered mostly by earnest professors who worked damn hard to teach those things. No, I’m not tired of those conversations, painful as it has been to be called out a few times. I’m tired of watching those excellent conversations spin out in outrageous directions that do nothing but prove Mike Godwin right and leave the internet littered with so many straw men sacrificed for the cause.
Unfortunately, I can’t make that broader statement now because I lost the gas shut-off key for the fireplace. Adulting requires me to remain ever-vigilant about fire and locate then buy a new key immediately. I have letters to write to my elected representatives because adulting means civic responsibility, and then there are emails to send to the worship team at church because to adult is to be of service.
Speaking of civic responsibility, have you donated blood recently? I should put that on my schedule for next week after I check to make sure my 45 days is up.
After I find and order that gas key, I have to put the underpants in the dryer so Carter and I can get dressed before I take him to school. Adulting doesn’t mean I don’t do things at the last minute, or even that I do them all that well. There are still no points for style, at least until February, 2019.