Dog Food: Mission Accomplished

Preface: I swear to you, dear readers who may or may not know me personally: I am an intelligent, sentient being. I am capable of reasoning, of multitasking, of implementing creative solutions to difficult problems. I strive to learn something new every day, I read constantly, and I am educated. It’s important that you keep this all in mind while you read the following, because there are days when I astound even myself.

Background: My senior year of high school, during a group project in my AP U.S. Government class, Mr. Bunck delegated Kelley M. and I to design a functioning government for Iraq (post 9/11, pre unjustified U.S. invasion). We studied the history, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic structure, and current events of the country. We learned all about the gut-level divisions between the Sunnis and the Shias.

Iraq

We applied our considerable combined brain-power… and then we sat and stared at each other, open-mouthed, while we realized that we had absolutely no clue. It was an unsolvable problem. As previously mentioned, I’m a pretty smart cookie, and so is Kelley M. This was the first time in my academic career, and possibly my life, where I was completely stumped. The feeling of powerlessness was overwhelming, and I have never forgotten that moment. We simply could not solve that problem. Fourteen years later, it’s clear that we weren’t the only ones.

A Tragic Play, in Two Pathetic Acts: 

8 a.m. in my apartment: The dog asks to be fed. (The nerve!) This is nothing new– he likes to eat twice a day, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. sharp, please and thank you. We have our routine. He gets two scoops, twice a day, and he waits until I tell him “okay” before digging in. This isn’t a new routine; he’s five, and he’s been eating habitually since day one. But today, when he asks to be fed, I am stymied. He has just presented me with a problem that I can not solve. 

Intermission: I swear, I’m not exaggerating. There’s this little-known phenomenon that goes along with depression and anxiety where your brain simply lays off all non-essential employees. “Sorry, lads. There’s just not enough happening here to justify all your salaries. We’re going to have to cut back.”

My brain has recently gone through its fourth or fifth round of cuts (the guy in charge of keeping track is long gone), so I am basically, at this point, down to a skeleton staff. All of my remaining brainsters (that’s brain + teamsters; apparently the guy in charge of bad puns snuck through) are working hard to keep me breathing and standing upright, so this morning, when my dog stood beside his bowl and turned those enormous brown eyes on me, I felt terrible, because I didn’t know what to do. The dog was hungry, and I had no idea how to solve this problem. It was Iraq all over again.

To fully comprehend the gravity of the situation, please note the following:

  • The 40 lb. bag of dog food in my pantry is still 3/4 full.
  • The scoop is not lost. Neither is the dish. Nor did the pantry door handle fall off. The food is there and easily accessible.
  • My dog has not suffered a recent illness or accident that would leave me questioning his nutritional needs.
  • I did not recently switch time zones.
  • I did not recently lose my fine motor skills. All of the body parts required to dish out the food remain intact.
  • My dog did not recently change his eating habits.
  • I did not recently rearrange the furniture or relocate his bowl.

None of these was the issue. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around so many steps:

  1. Walk to bowl.
  2. Lift up bowl.
  3. Carry bowl to pantry.
  4. Load bowl with two scoops of food and allergy pills.
  5. Deposit bowl back on top of doggie station.
  6. Tell the dog it’s okay to eat.
  7. Wipe the dog’s mouth when he finishes to avoid coating the kitchen in slobber.dog food

Act Two: It is all just too much. I literally have to talk myself through the process, like I used to do as a toddler learning to dress myself. “First, I’ll walk to the kitchen, then I’ll pick up the bowl…”

Five eternal minutes later, it is finished. The dog will live to eat another day, and I feel like I’ve just accomplished a task of overwhelming difficulty and skill. I sink gratefully into my favorite chair, emptied of any superfluous thought or ambition. I have just successfully fed my dog. Mission accomplished.

mission accomplished

Fin.

In all seriousness, it may be time to rehire some of my brainsters. I am trying so hard not to let depression win. I know it lies. I know all the evils of which it is capable. This may, however, be the first time it has attacked so boldly on my home turf that it has actually murdered brain cells. Before I’m left with a permanent hole in my intellect, I’m going to have to figure out a way to restructure. Will somebody please call Kelley M.?

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Life, Filtered

Life, Filtered.

This is the last picture Madison Holleran posted on her Instagram feed. She uploaded it about an hour before jumping off of the 9th floor of a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia. It’s beautiful– even ethereal. But it’s filtered.

Kate Fagan wrote a beautiful piece for ESPN about Madison’s death, which you can find here. Much of the article focuses on the shock Madison’s friends and family felt at her death, because the image she curated on social media was that of a successful college athlete: happy and hardworking. Sadly, like the ethereal final picture above, that image was heavily filtered.

Reading Madison’s story got to me, because I have been filtering since before Instagram was a thing. Since I hit puberty and things started to fall apart, I have been choosing what parts of myself to share openly and what parts to leave buried under a forced smile and glib words. Too many nights found me dissolving into tears as I removed my makeup, afraid to look too closely and acknowledge the sadness I covered each morning with mascara and bronzer.

When I started to show symptoms of my illness at around eleven years old, I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I did know, however, that something was desperately wrong. And just as surely as I knew there was a problem, I knew that it must be hidden. I didn’t want my family or friends to worry about me. I didn’t want to seem morose, or ungrateful for all that life had offered me. I didn’t want to seem different. From the article:

Yes, people filter their photos to make them prettier. People are also often encouraged to put filters on their sadness, to brighten their reality so as not to “drag down” those around them. The myth still exists that happiness is a choice, which perpetuates the notion of depression as weakness. Life must be Instagrammed — in more ways than one.

As an adult armed with an official diagnosis, I began to really notice for the first time just how much filtering I’d been doing my whole life, and that realization was scary. I had been filtering so successfully for so long that it had become second nature– and I wasn’t the only one.

So much stigma exists around mental health issues that for many people, taking that vital first step to ask for help feels like stepping alone onto a ledge. So many of our most vulnerable find themselves unable to take that step for fear of falling (or being pushed) off that ledge, and who can blame them?

I know what it feels like to be judged as “less than” because of my illness. My ex-husband, in a very public forum, once called me “one huge character flaw,” because he couldn’t see past the symptoms.* In such an environment, I wasn’t safe to express my true feelings; how could I help but filter?

And yet, when I realized how much misinformation was out there, and how many people like me were afraid to ask for the help they needed, I knew I had to try to break apart the stigmas and the filters and tell the whole ugly truth. I’m fortunate, you see. I am an intelligent, educated woman. I have a supportive family and group of friends, and good doctors. I find strength in my faith. I feel as though I bear a personal responsibility to tear down as much of the stigma as I can reach with my two hands and my voice, because I have been so blessed in other aspects of my life.

And so, I began to speak openly. I blogged. I posted honest status updates on Facebook. I spoke out in public forums, inviting sincere questions. I even tried– and this was the hardest part– to speak up for myself when individuals who were closest to me smelled blood in the water. And I saw results. Friends began to share their own stories. Honest questions poured in. My relationships with close family members deepened, and I began to feel like a whole person again.

It felt good to be open publically about my illness, and I was seeing positive results, but the temptation lingers. Honesty comes at a cost– and believe me, I have paid mine. I have lost romances, job opportunities, and friendships because some people (maybe even most people) prefer the filtered image to the ugly truth.

After my original experiment in total honesty, I now find myself walking a line. I push myself to be authentic and open, but I also fear the repercussions that come with the unfiltered lifestyle. I’m currently job-hunting. How open can I really afford to be about my illness? The truthful answer: not very. On the other hand, I’m dating a wonderful man who knows the truth about me– even the ugly parts– and loves me anyway. My relationships with close family members have never been so solid, but my mom is a worrier. Do I tell her, in one of our long-distance chats, if I’m feeling suicidal? Is that productive? Or does it just spread the pain? I struggle with these questions every time I wake up feeling less than great. I have yet to come to any satisfying conclusions.

I still find myself filtering on a daily basis. Sometimes, I censor myself to shelter those I love. Sometimes, I’m trying to shield myself from too much introspection. Sometimes it’s just easier. I’m much more open than I used to be, and much more authentic in how I present myself to the world, but too often, like Madison, I hide an ugly plea for help behind a twinkly picture and hope no one will notice my inconsistencies. It takes bravery to post my ugly truth up there with no filter, and when I have only 140 characters to tell my story, the filtered version often wins.

Next time I’ll come clean about the lies I tell when my filter is on. In the meantime, it’s your turn to weigh in: How much of what you share with the world is filtered? Why do you think we feel the need to hide that way? 


*I hesitated to include this, but did so because I felt it made an important point. It is hard to love ourselves when those closest to us can’t seem to. However, dear readers, we don’t hate my ex-husband. Loving someone with a mental illness is excruciating, and his suffering was as real as mine. He spoke harshly, but he spoke from pain. Some of you know my ex-husband, but none of you can know just how much our relationship cost him.

The One in Which I Get My Voice Back

I’ve been Ebaying; I just bid on this:

Little Mermaid statue

And as soon as she arrives, I’m going to break her into several pieces so that I can superglue her back together.

Please don’t worry; I have not suffered a stroke. I simply need a daily object lesson.

You see, when I was around five years old, my family went to Disney World. Around that time (and ever since), I was obsessed with Ariel. So when my parents gave me the opportunity to pick a souvenir, the choice was obvious. I will save the debate on the wisdom of buying a kindergartner a ceramic figurine for another time, but I’m sure you can figure out what happened over the next decade or so.

Poor Ariel had to be superglued together so many times that she started to resemble a frankenmermaid. A few of her fingers were lost forever, the seams in her fin were very visible, and she was slightly misaligned from a hasty glue job, but she had a place of pride on my shelf for over twenty years.

Scarred as she became, she was still my Ariel–the princess in her own right who has always reminded me to be my own glorious self.  So I kept her.  She came with me every time I moved, all the way to Yuma, where she mysteriously disappeared. I was sad at the time, but I haven’t thought about her for quite awhile… until tonight.

Tonight, I decided it was time to write again. And I just finished writing a long story about why I’ve been absent for so long. It was all about my own personal Prince Charming and how my fairy tale ended with me in pieces.

I’m sorry you missed it, really. It was clever, and kind of a tearjerker. But halfway through, I decided I needed to take back the narrative. I’m tired of thinking about how broken I’ve been. Shattered, really, into more pieces than I could ever pick up. I believe some parts of the original me have ground into dust and will never be reassembled.

It was sad, really. It was over a year’s worth of sad. But I’m done. Not with sadness, I’m sure, but with allowing myself to be ruined. That’s why God invented superglue. And Ariel–who, despite her countless superglue surgeries, remained her beautiful self.

I’ve been slowly trying to glue myself back together. It hasn’t been easy. Right now it’s downright hellish. Ursula the sea-witch has nothing on my own personal demons, I swear.

I’ll never be the same; I will always be scarred and slightly misaligned– but I will be whole again, someday. Get your dinglehoppers ready, world, because Ariel is on her way back to me, and she and I are making a comeback. It will be slow. It will be sticky. It may involve copious amounts of glue. But it will happen.

Dailyish Record: I Need Fins

Charming is good for me in lots of ways. One of the things I like best about him (when I’m not grumping at him for being bossy) is that he’s always encouraging me to be better. One of his favorite platforms is fitness, and he’s been bribing me to get into shape by dangling soccer lessons in front of me. (Charming is a soccer superstar… Not that I’m biased at all or know anything about the sport…)

To get in my exercise even with my injured foot, I’ve been taking daily advantage of the pool in my complex and the fact that swimming in Yuma is like getting into a warm bath no matter the time of day. (Yesterday I swam at midnight and I swear the water was 80 degrees or so!)

I’m no Michael Phelps, but I’m getting faster and stronger every day. Now I just need some spikes for my soccer lessons!

P.S. Charming isn’t really bossy. He’s just really good at telling me what to do. 😉

Numbering the Stars: Sun City

Map of Arizona highlighting Yuma County
Map of Arizona highlighting Yuma County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yuma 009
Yuma 009 (Photo credit: DiverDon)

Each night, as Ozzie and I take our pre-bed rounds, we (well–mostly me) like to count the stars and assign to each of them a blessing. I like to share those blessings here. (Ozzie would, but he’s a little lacking in the opposable thumb department.) 

A little over a year ago, I moved to the sunniest city on earth. It’s true. Yuma gets more sunny days than any other place in the world. Nine months out of the year, that sun comes with lovely temperatures and a nice breeze, and for three months, it turns into a taunting, heat-dispensing jerkface. But still– it shines.

I have discovered over the years that sunlight is really helpful in keeping my moods balanced. I need to take in some sun every day, and I need my living space to be filled with light. (My apartment is not so good for the latter, but that’s not Yuma’s fault.) Living in Yuma, even with the excruciating heat of summer, has been really beneficial for that reason, and I’m grateful for the time I’ve spent here. Besides the sun, I’ve met some wonderful people and had fantastic, ameliorating experiences left and right. And oh yeah: I’ve run up some pretty high air conditioning bills…

I Smile, Therefore I Live

 

I’m alive; I swear! I’ve been AWOL lately because I’ve had lots of fun things to do. Here’s what’s been going on:

 

1. Esperanza returned home. And then left again. (Detailed post to follow.)

 

2. Bailey, my friend Caroline’s dog, is staying with us for two weeks. Oz is thrilled and delighted.

 

3. I did something vicious to my foot, and it’s swollen up to another shoe size. I’m fearing it might be permanent.

 

4. I nearly burned the house down trying to make shishkabobs with the broiler. That’s what I get for showing off, I guess.

 

5. I found a job I’d LOVE, and I’ve been obsessing over perfecting the resume. Keep your fingers crossed.

 

6. It’s hot here. Really, really, really hot. Oz and I have been doing lots of swimming at the lake.

 

7. I got my vacuum back, finally, and then nearly lost it at a car wash (I’ll blog about that later too). I haven’t tested it out yet, but I’m sure it will be perfecto!

 

8. My mom has finalized her plans to come visit me next month, and I could not be more excited! Well… maybe if she was bringing a million dollars in her suitcase…

 

9. I found out today that Nelson Mandela is “the president of Africa, or something.” (Yikes. I held my tongue, but only barely. Proud?)English: Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gaute...

 

 

10. There is a man, who shall henceforth be referred to as “Charming.” He lives up to the hype, believe me. 😉 (He may or may not be the root cause of all the smiling; I’ll never tell.) 

 

Not Quite Daily Record: My Uterus is Ruining My Life

Can anyone tell me why it is that with all the medical advances in our society, no one yet has figured out how to remove the uterus temporarily and then stick it back in when it’s wanted? Because I would really really REALLY love to evict mine, just for now. 

One of my many medical issues is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD. You probably haven’t heard of it, so here’s what you need to know. Every month, my uterus and I get into a fight. For about a week before my period, my uterus becomes very angry that I have not placed an occupant into the home it has prepared, and so it exacts revenge by  turning me into a complete basket case. I bloat, I cramp, I get very very weepy, and most importantly, I get flooded with more feelings than one person could possibly deal with at once.

Now would be that time. So please, no one show me any long-distance phone call commercials, or missing pet notifications, engagement announcements, or…. pretty much anything. You are on notice, world: I am currently being held hostage by a very vindictive internal organ, and I am completely nuts not myself.

In other news, Michael Darling is involved in his first serious relationship since our divorce, and though most of me wants to be happy for him, my uterus is currently sending hate mail. We’ve been divorced for over a year, and of course letting go is a process that’s neither easy nor painless, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to handle the news much better when I return to my normal, semi-sane self.

In other other news, the K baby sent me a picture she drew. I loved it. My uterus and I may or may not have cried for about a half an hour because my little Beanie is growing up so fast. (See what I mean?)

Seriously… if  you can think of a way to evict my uterine friend, let me know. (But send the message in code–she’s armed and dangerous.)