Sep 12

Suicide Prevention Week

nancy background collage lighter

I wrote an article about suicide prevention for work a few years ago. I put myself in the lead, talked about how familiar I was with suicide ideation. I’d thought about how easy it would be to turn the wheel of my car into a drainage ditch when I was a new driver, age 17. I slept through most of Saturdays during the fall of my junior year of college, saved by a friend who pounded on my door on those weekend days, making me join her in the dining hall.

My lead of this article wasn’t as graphic as the words above. Still my husband wondered why I wrote a first person lead. “You were never going to do that,” he said. “Why’d you put yourself in there?”

The only reason he could say that I was never going to do that was because I didn’t. But he hadn’t lived inside my head all those years ago. How I wanted a safety valve out of life, an escape away from my dark mind. The truth is, some of those months were so dark during my senior year of high school and my sophomore year of college that I don’t even remember the minutes of those days.

Still, every time depression calls my name, knocks on my door, sits on my couch, I remember every step it took to drag myself away from spending time thinking about suicide. The getting out of my head and into my body: exercise, as much as possible. Eat: stop forgetting or not bothering to eat. Meditation: do it, especially when you don’t want to. Breathe: when you gasp because you’re sobbing, slow that breathe down and breathe as deeply as you can. If every tool under the sun doesn’t lift that veil of darkness, make an appointment with a therapist.

I used to think my young foray into depression was the worst thing that ever happened to me. But just last week, I again remembered how thankful I am that I learned my own steps to step up and out of deep depression. I lay next to my younger daughter as she tried to fall asleep and I had a few brand new thoughts. What if my mom did everything right when she helped me long ago, pulling me to therapist after therapist until I admitted the darkness that filled my brain? And what if being depressed at age 17 taught me everything I know about living?

The next day I called my mom and told her I thought she did a “pretty great” job at raising me, that I realized this while lying in the dark next to my own child as she eased her anxious mind into realization mode and fell asleep. My mom said she remembered how I slipped into her bed night after night when I was depressed.

“I did?” I asked her. “I don’t remember doing that.”

Then my mom recounted a recurring nightmare I had back then, but I don’t remember that dream either. I didn’t remember the specific ways she reached out and tried to pull me back into the land of the living. But I remember the list we made when I went to college about the steps I needed to take whenever my brain leaped into depression. That’s the list I used my junior year of college to battle my depression. It’s the same list I use today, whenever need be.

I keep reading these posts during suicide prevention week. I want to add my voice to this week. I want to be a hand reaching out to anyone who lives where I sometimes live. If you’re depressed, I see you. I see the horrible land of hurt you live in and I can sit with you as you work your way out. There’s so many of us here waiting to help you, people who have been and do live where you are right now. I want to be eloquent and wise, but the truth of the matter is simpler than that: You are loved just as you are. I want you to live.

 

 

Aug 16

Summer Light

WebsiteSummer is winding, winding, winding down.

The strength of the sun wanes and the chill in the air grows.

My girls are growing, growing, growing up.

Yesterday I was up early to interview a woman with non-verbal processing disorder at 7am. We talked about her learning disabilities and her strengths. I am growing into a different person.

This morning I hear the coffee pot click while the dogs sleep and I am trying to soak in the few school’s-out-for-summer mornings that are left. Soon my eldest will be in high school. My youngest will be in 5th grade.

I just read a sentence about a woman who was happy when her children were off to college. I’m not there. I’m instead in this place where I’m relishing my relationships with my daughters, in awe of the closeness that summer brings. How the lack of school pressure leaves so much room for just being. For watching “Grease” and telling my girls how I wasn’t allowed to watch this movie when I was a kid. How Chris and I note that the mores of the 70s are tacked on to teenagers in the 50s in this movie. How Stockard Channing looks like she’s 30 but she’s playing a high school senior. How we’re watching the second half of the movie but my 14-year-old isn’t here. She’s with her friends, right where she’s supposed to be.

Later the teen arrived home just to ask if she can sleep over at her friend’s house. And even though I was half asleep before she arrived, the air around her and her friends lights me up. I’m awake and remembering why teenagers are awesome. They come alive at night with their energy. I laugh as they fill my house with silliness. My teen needs her ear drops for swimmers ear placed in her ear canal while her friends surf the internet and chat with me. I am wrapped in the loveliness of summer.

This morning the sun pushes its August light through the blinds on my windows. My tween sleeps in. I sit here and relish summer before it leaves and school arrives. This is why I haven’t posted on my blog. I knew you’d understand.

 

May 12

Get Loud, Nancy

KK_StJ18It’s been so quiet here.

Life has been so loud, lately.

Someone asked me once how often they should update their blog. I said update it only when you have something to say.

Lately I’m saying so much at so many other places. The feature I wrote about trying to pass paid family leave in Washington State went live on ParentMap. I’m writing Parent Fuel columns two or three times a week. My favorite one is about teens and social media because it’s wrapped inside of a lovely conversation that I had with my KK.

Mostly I say a lot while teaching my writing students. And they teach me right back. Our exchange is this loud color dance that pushes me into creating and makes me see again and again how much clarity the young carry with them.

I’ve been watching a lot while coaching Girls on the Run. Fifteen awesome 3rd through 5th graders just lit up this spring season with so much bright energy that I will be sad for weeks as our twice a week practices are now over.

How’s that for a run-on sentence?

What did I come to say today? That the sky outside my office window is a light blue and I have no fancy word for this shade. That these sentences I already wrote don’t contain the darkness of my dreams lately. Nor do they spell out why I’ve been dreaming of weird funeral scenes and being lost in New York City. How I’m obsessed with the passing of time as news of an early middle-age death and one injury that changes the course of a life fill my immediate airwaves.

Sometimes I think writing about stuff that’s close to home but not my story feels wrong. Sometimes I feel like a spy and worry that I’ll offend people. But I can say that all of the crushing updates push up against the fact of my KK’s graduation from 8th grade in a few short weeks. And that’s the headline that I can’t get away from: the girl who just bought her first pair of wedge heels with money she earned herself.

On Mother’s Day, I held my new grandniece and rocked her to sleep. My tween Annie was jealous, thinking I loved this baby more than my own two girls. No, I rocked myself as I rocked this baby. This, this, I whispered, is the ticking of the clock and the circle of life, the news I can never escape. As my life gathers speed toward higher numbers, I felt that baby’s new arm sneak around my waist to hold me close. She pushed secrets from the other side that I couldn’t hear into my almost still body. Someday I’ll know what she told me on Sunday. Until then, I’m taking the pearls stuck inside every minute of this life of mine and loving them as fiercely as I can, second by glorious second.

Feb 25

Tired of Traveling Alone

Website

We are ghost and shadow

steeped in skin

too hot to drink

yet cold to the touch.

 

I read a blog called the 27 powers.

 

I don’t know what the 27 powers are.

 

I have 27 powers.

 

I can see too much.

 

But I can’t see the whole story.

 

Just that you are bruised.

 

A shadow of your former self.

 

Like me. I step out on the ledge and forget how I don’t know how to go on. Because the breeze here clarifies and connects me to the bird who thinks the wind is her friend.

 

I have 27 powers and I don’t know which ones are for good and which ones leave me too open for my own good.

 

I keep thinking how hard I worked to get here. How many powers I left behind. The power to know what your answer was when I don’t even know what my answer is.

 

That there is no answer.

 

There’s only my girl who texts me and asks if she can skip play practice. How I tell her she made a commitment and then she asks, please.

 

This is the only answer I know. Yes, you can come home. And I’ll love you no matter what shape you are in.

 

The only power I have is how much I love you, how I hope everyone has someone to love like that. How it breaks me open until I know the birds use the wind to fly and we use each other until sometimes we are all worn out. And then we are only for those who break us wide open, the ones we can’t walk away from, our family of love.

 

I have 27 powers and I left them all behind for you and me so we could begin again with not one answer between us, only this love that is bigger than everything we ever got wrong.

 

Together we are always right. Even when we’re wrong, we can just wait all of our errors out. Put the tea kettle on, we’ve got all night.

Feb 17

Not Alone Enough

deception6Lately I’m stuck on a phrase that isn’t helping me. Have you heard of the idea that we are making it up as we go along? We are making it up as we go along.

We are making the coffee and toasting the bread and waking the offspring.

It is winter time.

Given a day off, I sleep until 9 am.

I keep pulling one book off my shelf with this title on its spine: The Anatomy of Hope.

I need to practice hope like it is a yoga practice that can’t be forgotten just because everyone needs me to be me today.

How do you practice hope? How do I not get stuck thinking I’m making it all up as I go along and today I don’t want to do what I get to do? Which is figure out how to be 45 and watch an 8th grader make her way into high school and sit next to an 11-year-old who finally has latched onto her independence just as her body grows taller than my chin height. While tending to a marriage and being a friend to some while letting other relationships slide away for now.

To be truthful, I don’t always makes the coffee. Most often, my husband makes the coffee. And making coffee with an automatic coffee machine is so easy I don’t even need the word stupendously in front of it.

Still, I think about my co-author of a self-help book (that we never published) telling me we need to continually refresh our spiritual practices that give us sustenance.

Writing is one of my spiritual practices. And the poetry retreat I attended recently kick-started that. My work life (at ParentMap.com and elsewhere) is going well. That is not an active sentence. Let me compliment myself actively. I write a new column called Parent Fuel. Last year I edited a fabulous column every month called Ask the Experts. This may all sound like a pat-on-the-back tangent, but it’s not. Today my writing practice showed my hope. I interviewed someone who is doing hopeful work. It was a reminder that all of us are doing hopeful work every time we step out of our way to be kind to someone or to help another person. Hope is as simple as that.

Hope is as simple as picking up The Anatomy of Hope this morning and flipping to a page I had turned over when I read it years ago. In this chapter, the author Jerome Groopman, MD, wrote about his own journey back to being physically active, how he didn’t believe he would return to good health but someone convinced him to try, to find hope. I think of how much I want to run, how I keep telling myself it won’t happen, I’m not dishing out money to go get fixed. Ah, but I do run, small sprints we when are hiking. I am going to yoga again. We have a new bed and I am less sore. I don’t need a miracle fix and even now, when I say I’m not running, I still sometimes run and I don’t fall over in excruciating pain when I do run.

Sometimes I think the 40s bring us so many difficulties that I tend to think negatively. That I can’t make it up as I go along today, that I don’t have what I need. All I need is to stop thinking that I am making it up as I go along all by myself. That teen almost ready for high school offers me big hugs sometimes when she can see anxiety start to spread on my face. No, she’s not responsible for me. Yet this part where she sees me with love is a learning moment for me. Accept the love, I say to myself, and we hug. A writer I only know via emails and social media tells me she sometimes is writing for me (Nancy) when she is writing. She is an invisible thread in a beautiful shawl that sustains me even as I feel so alone. I am not alone.

Which brings me to some words from Rilke that I once memorized. I pulled them out this week, and ahh, there’s the balm I need. Repeating just some of this poem reminds me that I am not alone making it up as I go along. I am with my people, near and far, alive and not alive, walking into the future right now. I hope you feel that rope underneath you today, too.

I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough
to make every moment holy.
I am too tiny in this world, and not tiny enough
just to lie before you like a thing,
shrewd and secretive.
I want my own will, and I want simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action;
and in those quiet, sometimes hardly moving times,
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know secret things
or else alone.
I want to be a mirror for your whole body,
and I never want to be blind, or to be too old
to hold up your heavy and swaying picture.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
because where I am folded, there I am a lie.
and I want my grasp of things to be
true before you. I want to describe myself
like a painting that I looked at
closely for a long time,
like a saying that I finally understood,
like the pitcher I use every day,
like the face of my mother,
like a ship
that carried me
through the wildest storm of all.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feb 08

I Came for the Mystery

IMG_2613Life is this changing thing that can’t be grasped too hard. I fall down, not like a leave. I fall down like a weight. There’s one loud thump and I’m back in the past like a good memoir writer returning to the page every day.

People make fun of trigger warnings or maybe they think anything with a trigger warning would lead to a bad day so don’t read that. The sun shines so brightly right now and I think I should go take a walk. But I know my soul is trapped on the page today.

I picture a red leaf fluttering down to the ground in an overcast October day. That’s the kind of falling I want to do. I want to face the sun outside my window and leisurely cascade down to a soft, soft ground covered in deeply hued fall leaves.

Instead I read a story on Facebook about a boy that almost killed himself but was saved by the kindness of a stranger who became a best friend. Whoosh. I’m down the rabbit hole. I’m there receiving my acceptance letter to college and I’m calling my friend and telling her it must be a lie. I’m crying and fragile and fighting my way out of clinical depression. That, my friends, is what trigger warnings are about. (Even as I see my friend who drove across town to tell me I am a yes for her, always.)

One of my brothers would say I need to stop reading the internet unless it’s a funny video on You Tube. He’s not wrong, but I’m also here for the mystery. Why when four children grow up together in one household do all four turn out different? The mystery of genetics, the simplicity of one who chooses the funny YouTube video over the sentimental stories lining the internet.

What did you come for? That’s one of my favorite questions. I came to understand myself. To unravel the mystery of a girl who didn’t believe she was smart enough to get into that private liberal arts college. The girl who went there anyway and found herself surrounded by so many people just like herself. I talk in the third person but I came for her, the teenage girl who didn’t want to get out of bed.

I came for the child who is perplexed by this world. Whose skin is too thin, or so the world says. I want to be a light for the dark, a reason for someone to get out of bed.

Needless to say, this urge to help gets me in trouble. I’m nobody’s savior, except my own. But these words I fashion for you, it’s what I do. My poem is always for the kid with the onion paper skin who sees things no one else can see. The kid like me who is astonished when someone says, “Oh, Nancy, all humor is at someone’s expense.”

My heart is your heart that breaks on the floor in response to the world’s meanness and madness.

What I came for is this. To show you the magic of words. How your heart can feel like a weight that falls to the gym floor that makes the loudest sound. How you can pick up that heart with typing fingers, create a scene out of your misery. Turn it all on its head. Give some beauty to the tragedy. Some days these words are joyful. Last week I stood in front of a class room and taught children about poetry. I pulled Nutella out of my brain and put it on the page and heard them all laugh in reply. This blog may not be a funny You Tube video, but it’s enough to get me unstuck. What did you come for? I came for the mystery I unlock in myself. I place it on the page, no matter what.

Feb 03

A Full Day’s Work by 9am

Author photoYesterday I wrote a Facebook post about how parenting is hard, and I asked people to compliment a parent even if the only compliment you could come up with was about their shoes. Because who doesn’t love shoes?

I made sure to note that I was not having a hard time parenting at that exact moment. I don’t want to belabor my own difficulties and I was truly in a good space.

Today I’m OK but by 9am I felt like going back to bed. I woke up a few times last night with a pain in my breast. Which means I probably pulled a muscle in my chest or that I’m subconsciously worried because at age 45 I hear about new cancer diagnoses way too often. So I throw myself out of bed and take a shower and make the coffee and sit on the couch and drink the coffee and try to simmer an almost life-long fear of cancer. Because, you know, I have to wake the kids up for school.

And I wake the kids up for school. The tween has decided she is sick as soon as she opens her eyes to look at me. The teen doesn’t move. I enlist the husband’s help with the teen. I ask the tween to go through the motions of the morning before we decide if she needs to stay home.

And the details are minute and boring, but the next 45 minutes were full of what to do. A thermometer. No temp. The husband thinking it’s something else. The tween saying no. Me noting that she felt sick after school yesterday and rebounded, recalling she was worried about a science test yesterday and on Monday she was worried about not getting math and possibly needing to repeat 4th grade. The teen turning into her chipper self after almost not making it out of bed. (Aside: how does she do that? I want some of that.)

After we decide the tween should try school this morning, she tells me about her teacher telling some kids (not her) that 4th grade may be repeated if they don’t write proper headings on their papers. We have her place of worry. The tween repeated kindergarten and even though I reassured her two days ago that she won’t be repeating 4th grade, well, a science test on the parts of the human body that she might fail today, surely I’m wrong and she will have to repeat 4th grade.

My sensitive tween makes me remember my sensitive days in late elementary school. Going home early because my stomach ached with worry. The parties I wasn’t invited to. The girl who slapped me. Being taunted for being smart. The comfort of home. The warm TV, the meal I got to eat in front of it, the books I read that took me far away from my achy stomach.

Oh, if we could all wrap ourselves up in the comforts of home, the ills just outside the front door dissipate and almost disappear.

But the trick is that we have to step through that front door and face those fears so we realize we aren’t repeating 4th grade. The science test score doesn’t matter. Love does. The girl who slapped you in 5th grade makes really good copy now. My sensitive soul is good at wrapping my girl up in the love she needs. My husband’s can-do attitude gets the kids out the front door in the morning.

And I’m sitting here piling through my emotions recalling an email I read while drinking that morning coffee. In it, Meghan Leahy wrote:

“When emotions don’t move, they can become toxic. Aggression. Depression. Anxiety. Numbing out.

Big emotions in our children are messy, often inconvenient, and sometimes scary.

But they are normal. They are needed. They are human.

Here’s a mantra: All emotions are welcome in this family.

My emotions are moving right now, finding a place on the page. I put them here knowing that giving them to you is just what I do. In case you need these words. Watching my tween wave goodbye and knowing she was really OK, well, that’s a long day’s work all done by 8:15 in the morning. My Facebook post yesterday was right. Parenting is hard work. And my shoes look good.

 

 

 

 

Jan 25

The Not-Striving Place

photoLIZLately I yearn to be done with striving. Wouldn’t it be nice not to strive, I think. Just who am I striving for?

Often I find myself striving for my family. And this is good except when it isn’t. Except that they all can strive for themselves.

When my tween is sick and her teacher emails and asks if we can catch her up on some work before she comes back to school, everything in me aches as I read the email. I already pushed my youngest to do her reading tutoring and it took bribing her, a trip to Starbucks with my gift card.

Even as I say no, I think how much I want to push her to strive to be the best ever student. This vision of how I aimed to be the best student long ago stops me. Screech. Striving led to pats on my head and 5th place and 2nd place and my name on a column in the high school paper. Which led to never being good enough and so much time in my bed surrounded by too much darkness.

To strive. Like the locker poster I can still see in my head, pasted on the Seniors’ lockers one day during my high school years, an ad from Time Magazine: “To be the best. What else is there.” Lee Iacocca.

My new yoga class for people with bad backs is the antithesis of striving. The teacher laughs when she is nervous, and it reminds me that showing nerves is OK. And we almost do nothing in class and this is the closest my back and hip and calve muscles have gotten to feeling better in years.

To not strive. After I told the teacher no homework for the tween, I drove through so much rain to pick up my cranky teen. She unloaded her angst on me and I pushed my way through making dinner. And my husband walked in and said barely nothing and my grief and anger and tears erupted. I am so done with striving. My animal tears wouldn’t stop and they almost stopped me from going to yoga.

But my friend texted and says I could cry at yoga. She picked me up and took in my tears as we stood in the hallway where all the shoes watched us.

It’s OK to be angry, she said.

It’s OK to be full of grief about so many things, she said.

It’s OK to be tired from taking in your teen’s emotional energy. From being her safe place and taking all of her tears and angst in, she said.

And I can take your anger, your grief, your tiredness, and your tears, she said.

We’ll need a drop off time, I said.

And we chuckled just a bit as my tears found their end.

I walked into my gentle yoga class and practiced not striving. It’s a remarkably easy yet hard place to be. I think I’ll stay for a good long while.

 

 

 

 

Jan 18

She’s Turning 14

deception6You know what? When your daughter’s almost 14, there no holy crap she’s a teenager. There’s more, oy vey with a swear word in between she’s almost ready to leave. Except she’s not. She’s still her baby self when she’s sick, especially on the weekends when she’d like to be hanging out with her best friend.

I never planned for this, these days as a parent. Some kids practice being parents. Some people plan their whole lives for the day they hold that baby in their arms. And then there are people like me. I think I assumed I’d be a parent but I more deeply assumed I’d never marry. I never dated anyone more than a handful of months until I met my husband. I was firmly sure of the fact that no one wanted to put up with me on a long term basis. Heck, it’s taken until age 45 for me to figure out a good enough way to put up with myself on a daily basis. (Side note on how to live each day well enough: coffee, write poetry, walk outside, text like-minded friends when things feel dire, lean on that man you married. Remember feelings change.)

But these days as a parent, I’m constantly learning how to parent these girls that are in front of me. And the front-runner has all the scrapes and bruises of my learning deep lessons. I marvel at how my husband sees parenting as intuitive, and how it’s taken me 14 years to know he’s mostly right but some of us need a lot of extra help. Yes, I need the parenting classes. I need to interview parenting coaches for my work life to cull plans for my real life. I need to read all those articles I find online to find out who this mother inside me is.

This mother inside me is marveling that I finally feel like I got the hang of this. I finally feel expert enough to find a quiet space so I can hear my own answers when parenting hands me a question. What parenting hands me right now is a girl about to turn 14. Her hair reaches the middle of her back as she wonders why it won’t grow longer. She wears clip-on earrings high up on her ears and these pieces of metal are secrets that are hidden in the glory of the rich waves of her thick brown tresses.

This girl is calmer than her mama, except when she isn’t. And then she asks me with her complaining to push her towards her own tears. And cry she does. After she hugs me so deep. She hugs me on and off all day long most days still. And for that I thank all the parenting wisdom I sought outside of myself. Most of that wisdom comes from one of my oldest friends, who did me a favor when she undertook studying parenting seriously at the Neufeld Institute. I dabble in this institute’s teachings, taking from it that parenting is about the relationship. Build the walls of your parent-child relationship out of the sturdiest wood. Let it bend in the wind. Let it whisper its truths as it groans in the night. Let the rain fall upon it and bring blankets and cushions to make yourself as comfortable as possible.

And when the almost 14-year-old girl offers her arms to you for yet another hug, fall in as deeply as the girl will allow. Hold on, then let go. Tighten then loosen. Loosen then tighten. Sing happy birthday as loud as you can. You are each others for life. That much you know for sure. That much makes the flight patterns that grow ever larger from your holy home easier to marvel at. She soars as your heart beats out the rhythm you learned together.

 

 

Jan 14

Break into Blossom

PoetryDo you ever think about the fact that the older we become, the more like a collage we are? And have you weaved that in with the idea that spinning toward the positive with every word you speak can really unravel a bad day?

Yes, I’m in poetry speak mode today. But I just read a Modern Love column about a man who decided to skip the small talk on every first date. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so instead I’ll tell you that the article hit the collage I call myself and landed on the day I apologized to an old boyfriend for the horrible ending to our friendship.

We were no longer dating when our friendship ended, and it ended over my big mouth, the way I talked all my stuff out with anyone who would listen, so someone overheard something I said about him and offered up the tidbit at a dinner party in front of many people. Bam, friendship over.

With the advent of Facebook, I looked this old friend up. With age, as that collage grows with scrap after scrap of life experiences, one grows wistful for the people you knew in your early 20s. I wanted to say sorry as my sentimental soul remembered how much I really liked him. I sent him an overwrought email filled with a big I’m sorry.

No small talk. No do you have kids? I see you own a bike shop. How’s that weather back in my old state? Not that I could have used small talk when what I knocked on his door with was an apology for my gossip. My verbal throw-up back then felt like unpaid therapy (it so wasn’t, luckily I had a therapist, too) but was a a talky way to figure out those crazy college relationships.

But what my old boyfriend/friend handed me back was beauty. Out of the grace of his being, he typed me a reply that said what he remembered most from our friendship. He said when he thinks of me he remembers lying on our backs and looking at the stars on a night in Chicago.

What if I remembered everything like that? The best parts. Not the angst-ridden endings that are a part of life too. But the part of the relationship that breaks into blossom. Teaching my friend (who later died of cancer) how to ice skate on a rink behind my house. Watching Pete climb the trestles of a bridge across the Mississippi. The 8-mile runs with my old running partner, even when we managed to argue. Because 8 miles gives you time for apologizing and telling one more story that has nothing to do with your argument over whether true love exists.

This is why I read my horoscopes. Yes, yes, these are fiction, right? But who doesn’t want to try to turn a prediction of a 4 kind of day into a 9 kind of day? And my horoscope for 2016 that says a supernova will teach me the stuff stars are made of this year? I’m on it. I’m making star stuff every time I remember that there’s a bit of beauty leftover from the ugliest endings. Like the way I turned on the radio to cheer up my depressed 4 0’clock self and “Footloose” was song number four. Joyful dance break time. You can’t make this stuff up. But you can make up your own meaning.

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