Tag Archives: depression

Unfrozen

This post is the sixth in a series that starts here.

It was 1980, I was 20 years old and had just given birth to my second son, who was in foster care until his adoption was finalized.  I had kept the pregnancy and birth Top Secret except from my mother and sister.

Now I moved forward with my life as if nothing had ever happened, and I never gave it a second thought.

Haha!  Just kidding!  That was never going to happen.

Six weeks had to pass before the adoption would be finalized.  I suppose that was to ensure I wouldn’t change my mind.  I didn’t.  I gave birth on a Sunday and walked out of the hospital that afternoon.  Finals started the following week, so I was back in school studying for and taking exams the next day.

Once I finished exams I had to study for the big test that would make me a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant.  There were lots of other distractions to keep me busy and keep my mind off of Isaac.  I would think of him as “Isaac” for the next 20 years.

I got the highest scores in my class, so I won an all-expenses paid trip to the National Occupational Therapy convention in San Antonio, Texas.  This was a big deal for someone who lived in public housing, took the bus everywhere, and washed laundry by hand in the bathtub.

Six weeks passed.  I went to the courthouse.  In the courtroom it was just me, The Creep, the judge, and about 50 strangers who were there for other cases.  The Creep and I didn’t speak.  This would be the last time we would ever see each other.  He was pleased, I was sure, that he’d be off the hook for child support—not that he paid any for Vince.

There’s a psychological phenomenon called dissociation in which you seem to separate from your own body because you are under so much stress.  This must be what happened to me, because it was like I was a spectator to myself.  It was like I was sitting in the jury box, watching the judge lean forward and ask, “Do you know what you’re doing, miss?”

“Yes,” I replied.

Again, like when I signed the papers in the hospital, it was as if I was watching a mannequin hand sign my name at the bottom of the forms.

It was over in 10 minutes.  I stumbled, dazed, out of the courtroom with the official-looking order that said Termination of Parental Rights at the top and my signature at the bottom.

I went to San Antonio, which was my introduction to the concept of “open bars” at conventions.  Free drinks!  I drank all night, then slept by the pool all day until the bar opened again.  What a great professional opportunity!

I came home and kept drinking.  School was over so I had all the time in the world to spend with Vince.  Except that my relationship with him had changed.  I had gone from doting, passionately-engaged mother to detached, emotionally-absent caretaker.  I escaped by cleaning the bathroom, applying for jobs, reading thick novels, scouring the kitchen sink, making lists of things, and drinking.

I kept busy, in part, to blot out the fact that I kept hearing the sounds and smelling the smells of a hospital delivery room.  I knew from psych classes that sometimes the mind reacted like this under severe stress—I wasn’t psychotic—but it worried me.  What next—would Dr. G and her residents show up in my bedside?

Vince had never been needy before but now he started whining and hanging on me and it really got on my nerves.  He was 18 months old; was this some kind of annoying phase?  I tried to gently put him off but that only seemed to make him want more attention.  Finally, I lost it.  I shoved him and yelled, “Get away from me!”  He tumbled to the floor, whimpering.

I was horrified and rushed to comfort him, pulled him onto my lap and rocking him.  Was this the future we had to look forward to?

The Slog

This is the third of three posts, the first and second are here. If you started reading this blog for the prison theme you may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with Vince going to prison? I don’t know if it does—you tell me.

And so I informed people of my decision, which I had known from the moment I’d found out I was pregnant again: I would give the baby up for adoption.

I told Judy, the Catholic Charities social worker, and her eyes lighted up. “I do have a few reservations,” I told her about what I had learned about adopted people in my Abnormal Psychology class. Judy laughed lightly and handed me a clipboard with forms. While I was signing them she said, “We have to trust that God knows what’s best for us. Even if it’s painful—especially if it’s painful, we just have to put ourselves in God’s loving hands.” I thought this was muddled but made a mental note to try to pray in my spare time.

I told my college advisor. “My due date is right before finals but I promise there won’t be any interruptions in my attendance.” She looked a little stunned and said, “We’ll understand if you need to take some time off.”

“No, no—that won’t be necessary,” I cut her off. I didn’t want them to cut me any slack. I would graduate on time. The whole point of this plan was to do what was best for all three of us, so I needed to graduate and get a job.

The other point of the plan was to keep it all hush-hush. I would stay away from the family, my friends, and the whole neighborhood where they all lived. If my grandma called and asked if she could visit me, I would make an excuse to keep her away. It would only be for six months, right? It wasn’t as extreme as the case of Margie, a girl I knew in high school, who went through her whole pregnancy and adoption while living in her family’s house. None of them ever talked about it. Now that was weird.

So there Vince and I sat, alone, on his first birthday. I had called The Creep and invited him but he had “some really important business” to take care of. In other words, a drug deal. I only saw him once again in the ensuing 36 years.

V 1st Bday

I did what you’re supposed to do for a baby’s first birthday. I made a cake with one candle and let him eat it with his fingers and smear it all over the place. And I cried…and cried.

Then I stiffened myself and plunged my feelings way down into the deep freeze and didn’t feel anything again for a year. That’s the thing about avoiding negative feelings—it makes you unable to experience positive ones, either.

Life went on as before. I trudged through the snow to the daycare, studied furiously, and cleaned the house as though I was in boot camp. As happened during my first pregnancy, perverts tried to pick me up at the bus stop, in stores, in the elevator of my building.

The student who had pressured me to have an abortion was disappointed when I told him I was going the adoption route. “That’s…I’m sorry, but that’s just selfish,” he said. “That poor kid,” he said, staring at my belly.

Sometimes students I didn’t know would try to strike up a conversation.

“When’s your baby due?” they would ask brightly.

“April,” I would respond flatly, giving them fair warning that proceeding with the conversation would be a mistake.

“Do you want a boy or a girl?”

“I don’t really care, since I’m giving it up for adoption.”

This would result in sputtering and something like, “You’re so brave—good luck!” as they backed their way out of the room as fast as possible. I hated that line—“You’re so brave.”

Now that I had set my course I didn’t second guess it, but if you had asked me I might have said I was just being practical.

Happy New Life, Again

Happy New Year!  I am re-posting this from January 1 of last year.  I hesitated to share such a personal story then, but it has been the most-read post of the 232 Vince and I have written.  Maybe it’s the story, or the encouraging advice.  Or maybe it’s the guns.

If you received this twice, that’s because I accidentally posted it for January 1, 2015.  Off to a good start, I say!

Three years ago, I hit bottom. I had lived with depression for as long as I could remember, but then….  I had to have a tooth pulled—boy, will that make you feel old! Then during a Christmas Day blizzard my car was towed and I spent four hours waiting in line outside at the impound lot to pay $300 to get it back. I then drove to Fountain to visit Vince. The trailer he shared with Seth was full of guns, beer cans, and smoke. I figured what the heck, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, so after he assured me that none of the guns was loaded, we posed for photos that became my holiday cards to my friends in the UK, where they had a good laugh over us gun-crazy Americans.

Vince (11)Vince (7)

Due to the blizzard I spent the night in Seth’s 5-year-old daughter’s bedroom; she was at her mom’s. Here’s a tip for parents who smoke: Keeping your kid’s door closed doesn’t keep smoke out. I couldn’t open the window and after tossing and turning until 5am I slipped out and drove home. On the way I started itching. Great—now I had bedbugs!

I contemplated suicide. I leaned my forehead against the screen of my 20th floor window. I had turned 50 the year before. Thinking about being depressed every day for another 30-40 years wasn’t real appealing.

Here are the things I had tried to manage depression and anxiety:

Meditation

Medication

Prayer (including begging, pleading, and bargaining)

Acting normal

Abstaining from drinking

Cutting down on coffee

Self-help books

Alanon

Exercise

Getting outside every day

Appreciating beauty, be it fine art, nature, music, babies, or kittens

Gratitude lists

Avoiding negative people / avoiding unnaturally happy people

Running away to other countries

Denial

Journaling

Telling myself, “At least I’m not a refugee / amputee / blind / fill-in-the-blank.”

Psychotherapy

Retail therapy

Sleeping, drinking, and movie binges

Reaching out to friends, even when that was the last thing I wanted to do

I thought that jumping out of my window would be exhilarating, until I hit the ground. I had some leftover pain killers from the dentist, and my prescription for Restless Legs. I googled an overdose of the two and learned that they wouldn’t kill me, but that I would likely need a liver transplant. I decided to keep living.

That spring, I visited Vince again and this time, made a reservation at a B&B.  On the free-book-shelf there, I picked up a tattered copy of, “Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy”, by David Burns, MD. I read it and did what it told me to do, and I stopped being depressed. For good.

The book was about Cognitive Therapy. I had been instructed to use it at least twice in the past, but I’d been too stressed out to do it. Basically, you write down your negative thoughts and then argue with them rationally until you’ve de-fanged them. Writing it down is important; if you try to do it in your head you’ll end up down a rabbit hole.

So was a lifetime of depression cured overnight by one book? No. I think it was all the other things I had tried over the years—the good things, anyway—and then I added this on top of them and together they all added up to a breakthrough.

I still feel sad sometimes–there’s plenty to feel sad about–but I’m not depressed and I’m committed to living.

Sorry for the long post but, if you’re struggling, I want to encourage you to keep an open mind, keep plugging away, and keep trying new things.

PS: I didn’t have bedbugs after all.  I think I was just itchy from the smoke and dry air.  Living with addiction can turn you into a drama addict.

The Choice

This is the second in a series of posts, starting with this one.

I was unmarried and pregnant with a one-year-old baby, on welfare, living in public housing.  I was 19.

I had just started to feel better about myself and the future.  The first pregnancy had been due to carelessness.  This time it was due to birth control failure.  It was painful knowing people thought I was stupid.

I had just gotten rid of my pet rat, Smiley, because I couldn’t afford to feed him.  If I couldn’t afford to feed a rat, how could I afford to feed another kid?

I had gone to a doctor because I was exhausted.  His name was Charlie Brown, believe it or not.

I figured he would say I was anemic.

He laughed a yucky laugh when he saw the look on my face.

“That’s what happens to girls like you.”

“What?” I was confused.

“Girls who sleep around shouldn’t be surprised when this happens.”

“But it’s the same father.”

He glanced at Vince as though he was a cockroach.

“So the father is white?”  He lowered his voice.  “I know some people who would pay handsomely to adopt this baby.”

If a doctor named Charlie Brown said this to me today, I would punch him in the face, then sue him.  Instead, I thanked him mechanically and never returned.

In spring semester I would take Statistics, English Literature, and part two of Pathology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Abnormal Psychology.  My favorite class was Pathology.  The Hennepin County medical examiner taught it; his name was Vincent which I took as a good sign.  It was basically one long gruesome slide show—or should I say, sideshow.  There was the guy who had been decapitated when his snowmobile ran into a barbed wire fence, a baby born without a brain, and a glistening, five-foot-long tapeworm with eye-like markings.   I loved it.  I didn’t want to drop out.

I went to see a social worker at Catholic Charities.  Her name was Judy.

“You could give the gift of life to a childless couple!” she exclaimed.  I had an image of her as a Tyrannosaurus Rex, drooling and flapping her little claws over this baby.  This white baby.

I didn’t care about helping some rich couple who probably lived in the burbs and had a foosball table in their basement.

“I don’t want Vincent to be an only child,” I said.  My siblings and I didn’t always get along, but I imagined being an only child as very lonely.

“You can always have more children,” said Judy, “when you’re married.  You’re certainly fertile!”

My psych instructor gave a lecture on “high risk youth,” the new buzz phrase.  There were certain early experiences, like being beaten, locked in a basement, or put up for adoption, that caused youth to become drug addicts, criminals, and psychotic.

“Statistics show our prisons are full of men who were abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents—usually single mothers on welfare.”

My best friend from high school was adopted.  I thought about the times I had seen her mother belittling her.  “You’re so fat!  Are you going to wear that?”  What if I gave this baby up for adoption, which I now understood was an act of abandonment, and his new parents abused him?

I told some of my classmates and they urged me to have an abortion.  “At this stage it’s just a clump of cells,” they reasoned.  This was true, but I couldn’t have an abortion so soon after giving birth.  I couldn’t explain it.  I just couldn’t do it.

“Don’t be a tool of the pro-lifers!” the one male student in my class said.  That was a valid concern too, but I had to set it aside.  Choice meant choice, right?

My mother didn’t tell me what to do.  “If you go through with adoption,” she said, I don’t want you anywhere near the family.  It’s got to be our secret”

Sad Mom

Tumblin’ and Floppin’

What was I thinking when I gave Vince a rock tumbler for Christmas? It’s his long-time hobby, and this is probably the third one I’ve bought him, but it’s the first time I’ve lived with the sound of it, cruncha-rugga-chugga-rugga 24/7. I don’t know how he can sleep with it in his room. .

Here’s an update on Vince’s and my living-together situation.

If I come home and he’s in the living room, he immediately gets up, goes to his room and shuts the door, and doesn’t come out again until the next morning. If I’m the one in the living room when he comes home, he goes straight to his room and doesn’t come out until the next morning. He doesn’t slam the door, so there’s nothing to point to and say, “Stop doing that!”

When we run into each other in the morning, the exchange is:

“Good morning.”

“Good morning.”

“Have a nice day.”

“You too.”

When I ask, “What are you up to today?” he tells me, but there is a tone, as though he thinks I am prying. If I call to him inside his bedroom, there is a long pause during which I imagine he is rolling his eyes, and then a drawn-out, “Yeh-sss?”

I managed to catch him long enough one day to say that people who live in the same house usually talk to each other now and then. He seemed to think I was trying to trick him into talking.

Things came to a head on Christmas day. I found myself crying in my room (into a pillow, so Vince wouldn’t hear, because I didn’t want him to think I was trying to manipulate him). I had been out 16 of the last 18 nights, trying to give him space.

I was tired. I had lost perspective. Was it nosy to ask, “How are you?” Was everything I did annoying? Was the sound of my voice noxious? Should I confront him? Try to be nicer? Suggest we go to counseling together? Ask him to move out? Go live in a motel? Was I acting like a martyr? Maybe if I bought some non-floppy slippers—because surely the sound of my footsteps must drive him crazy.

I recognize Vince’s behavior because I’ve acted the same in the past.

I had a roommate; I’ll call her Irene. She was from Ontario and taught theology at a local private university.

I could not stand being in the same room with her. Everything about her irritated me—her denim dresses and sturdy shoes, the giant jar of Branston Pickle in the fridge, the fact that her favorite color was navy blue.

When I heard her key in the door I would scurry to my room, silently shut the door, and not emerge until I knew the coast was clear. If she tried to make conversation I would deflect it with a curt answer and a stiff demeanor. If I did have to communicate something to her, I left a note on the dining room table.

Poor Irene! She was such a nice person, a good person. She had a sharp wit and obviously was no dummy. We could have had great conversations if I had been open to that. She was also wise, I see in retrospect, because she never got ruffled by my behavior, never seemed to take it personally.

And it wasn’t about her—I can see that now. It was about me being laid off from my job, Vince being missing for the umpteenth time, and other stressful events I can’t even recall now.

So Irene, if you ever read this, I apologize unequivocally. I was horrible to you. Better yet, I will write you an email after I finish this post, and apologize directly.

Vince, here is my version of a note on the dining room table to you. You’re doing so well (a job, a car—health insurance! 19 months of sobriety!). But I know it’s hard to have a social life under the probation restrictions. The solstice has passed, the days are getting longer, soon your time “off leash” time will double.

Now about that rock tumbler….

Hedgehogs, Mice, and Echidnas, Oh My

I pride myself on writing realistically about life. You can count on me to tell the truth as I know it, to question everything, and to imagine the worst case scenario. I don’t know why the Pentagon hasn’t called me yet to offer me a disaster-planning job.

But that doesn’t mean I’m depressed, or even “unhappy”—the more generic term. Being a highly-analytical thinker has its rewards. I notice and think about things that other people do not. There’s often absurd fodder for laughs. Sometimes I’m the only one laughing, but that’s okay, right?

There was an article in the Sunday paper about a study that debunked the popular myth that “happy” people are healthier and live longer. Yes! My friend who works in an old folks home—or whatever they’ve been rebranded as now—has always said, “There are plenty of miserable, crabby 90 year olds. And they’ve always been that way, because their kids tell me they have.”

About five years ago, I kicked the depression that had dogged me all my life. Since then I have felt mostly contentment, punctuated with the normal situationally-appropriate emotions. I felt angry when my landlord raised my rent $300 a month, which forced me to move. I was stressed when I moved again three months later so Vince could live with me. I was anxious when Vince was in solitary confinement. I cried for everything my sister and her kids went through when she had cancer. I felt awe hiking in Petra, in the Jordanian desert, and nervous about crossing over into the Palestinian territories. I felt powerless rage when I was banned from visiting Vince. I had a blast with my friends in Berlin. I’ve been bored at work. I was proud when Vince led his squad at his graduation from boot camp. I am excited at the prospect of remodeling my kitchen.

Hey, I guess I just wrote my Christmas letter!  What a year it’s been.

None of it lasts. Some people figure this out somehow, much earlier in life than I did. Emotions come and go. The pleasant and the unpleasant, they’re all fleeting. So enjoy the nice ones while they last and know that the bad ones will dissipate. Don’t panic if you feel blue once in a while. Don’t latch on to the negative feelings or thoughts. If the blues don’t go away for weeks, of course, seek professional help.

In the last week I’ve had some really good times with people I love.

Yesterday I took my mother to tour the Purcell Cutts House, a prairie-style home build in 1913 and owned by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. This is the living room:

Purcell Cutts

The guide explained that the simple, serene style was in part a reaction to the chaos of the age. The architect was from Chicago, which was the industrial center of the U.S. Meat packing and other industries attracted droves of immigrants and African Americans from the south. There wasn’t enough housing, and the water and sewer systems weren’t up to par. There were no child labor laws, workers’ compensation, welfare, or social security.

So architects brought nature and art inside. Obviously this was not a house that could be produced on a mass scale. The immigrants and African Americans still lived in poorly-heated hovels. But at least this one architect could escape all that and find sanctuary at home!

Last weekend, I hosted a cookie-baking party for Vince and his cousins.

Hannukah HedgehogsTaisei n me

They’re not pretty, but we had fun. Strangely, Vince and I had prepared enough dough to yield 16 dozen cookies but only nine dozen made it to the final stage. Hmmm…or should I say, Mmmmm….cookie dough?

So enjoy the moments that contain things you love. In my case: design, craftsmanship, nature, history. Kids, creativity, and cookie dough.

Lasagne, Interrupted

I came home from work, tired and famished.  I was lifting a big slice of lasagna out of a pan to a plate when the landline rang.

This is the phone I am required to have as a condition of Vince’s probation.  He was in the shower, and the phone is in his room.  I respect his space and don’t go in there except to the do the laundry.  (He shares his tiny space with the washer and dryer.)

Brrr-ing…brrr-ing…brrr-ing….  I stood with the lasagna poised between pan and plate.  It stopped.  Then Vince’s cell phone started up—vvvbbbb….vvvbbbbb…vibrating on silent.  It went on and on and still I stood drooling over my longed-for lasagna.

I heard the shower shut off and Vince’s voice, “Hello?  I’m in the shower.”  He repeated himself.  Did the person on the line not believe him?  Then: “MOM!  Will you let the agent in?”

I lowered the lasagna into the pan—it was lukewarm now anyway—and went to the front window.  Yep, there she was, sitting in her car at the bottom of the stairs.  I moved to the front door and opened it, waving down to her.  I stood waited while she got herself out of the car and moseyed up the stairs.

Do not sound sarcastic or mad, I told myself.

“Next time, why don’t you knock on the door?” I suggested.

“Oh, yeah!” she replied, as though she had never heard such an idea.

She stood in the dining room with the urinalysis cup while Vince threw on some clothes.   She smiled, I faked a smile back.  Vince entered the room, retrieved the cup from her, then returned to the bathroom.  As he was returning down the hall, the agent said loudly, “Be sure to tip the cup on its side so the urine gets on the test strip.”

Yum!

Maybe I should have exited at that point but I didn’t realize she was going to linger.  And did I mention I was hungry?

Vince sat at the dining room table.  The agent and I stood in opposite corners in the room.  I was half way into the kitchen, with one eye on the lasagna.

“How’re things goin’?” she asked.

“Fine,” was his reply.  He told the agent he was planning to buy a $300 car.  It would help him get around quicker and he could tinker with it on “the property” which includes the parking lot of the condos where we live.

“The big challenge,” I volunteered, “will be for him to find a landlord who accepts ex offenders.”

“That is a big problem,” she said, “Most landlords take advantage of them, because they can.”

My crabbiness quotient quadrupled.  Or maybe it was just plain anger.  Well, I’ve rarely had a good experience with a landlord, so why was I shocked that they would exploit ex offenders?

“We do know a guy who is open to ex offenders, and fair,” she continued.

One landlord in a metropolitan area of 3.5 million people.

She told Vince she would get him the landlord’s information, and left shortly thereafter.

Finally!  My lasagna.  I sat across from Vince and when I saw his face I thought, “Oh no, I’m in trouble now.”

Mom,” he began slowly, as though he was talking to an utter moron, “Don’t ever bring things up to the agents.  Now the next time one comes, they’ll grill me about why I want to move out.  ‘What’s wrong at home?’  ‘What’s going on with your mom?’”

“But…last week you told me you had that tip on a sober house.”  For a few days we had both been excited but it fell through.  “You want to move out, don’t you?”

“Yes, but we agreed I could stay a year.”

“Yes, but…you were talking about that house….  I thought she might have some resources.”

I ate my lasagna without gusto and offered him some, which he accepted.  “Do you really think I would try to get you in trouble, on purpose?” I asked.

“Sometimes I wonder,” he said.

Just like when he was inside, I didn’t know the rules until I broke one, and trying to be helpful only got me in trouble.