Friday, May 30, 2008

Feeling my way through the dark

I know, I know... sad and bad stuff happens to everyone. But it feels like the universe has a big bullseye on my forehead at the moment. I lost Jessie on Tuesday. My daughter's anxiety is worse than usual. She has migraines that are unexplainable and debilitating. My son is in the middle of his second sinus infection of the season. I have school attendance offices on speed dial. Poor me, poor me... oh, shut up already, whiner.

In the middle of the night, I awakened thinking I heard Jessie outside, that we'd locked her out. It wasn't until my feet were on the floor that I realized that was impossible. She's not coming back. I wanted to go to the living room and read, the way I've done way too many times in the last few months. But she was always there those nights, with me, wandering out quietly to join me on her pillow, putting a cold nose on my knee first. "I'm here, Mom."

My family are adamant that her spirit is still here with us, they'll hear her walking around or see her out of the corner of their eye. It's comforting to think that they feel her even now. Maybe that's what I heard last night, maybe she was out in the yard, chasing the squirrels and patrolling the house, watching over her family.

I spent the last hour loading up every sad song I could think of on my playlist... and it's cheering me up, go figure. I have some things to donate to less fortunate folks with a dog. I have dog cookies to share with the pooches I meet on my walks, helping me make some new friends, canine and human. My friend Chuck gave me a hug when he heard the news.

I think I'll take that walk around the lake, the one I've always done with Jessie, and see how it feels. I'm bringing her leash along so she'll be there with me, helping me feel my way through the dark.

"I'm finding I'm falling in love with the dark over here... what do I know? I don't care where I start. For my troubles are few and I'm feeling my way through the dark..." ~KT Tunstill

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Starting to hate Tuesdays

Wednesday has always been my day. Lucky Wednesday Girl used to be my nickname. Good things seem to happen for me on Wednesday.

Tuesdays, now, are a completely different story. I've been fired from jobs on Tuesday - twice. I told someone I was leaving him - on a Tuesday. My dog, Rosie, died in 2006 - on a Tuesday. Now, Jessie, my best dog ever and constant companion of late, was very, very ill. She died on Tuesday.

I admit it - I'm superstitious. Very superstitious. Won't walk under ladders, never let a black cat cross my path. I throw salt over my shoulder if it spills on the table. But not pepper. That's totally different.

I can't even begin to describe how empty my life feels without her. She was my best friend. I'd sit in this office, sending off the 20th resume of the week, and she'd occasionally roll over and sigh, because I was taking too long to get done and she wanted her WALK, dammit! Then, I'd go upstairs and put on my converse. She'd bolt to the kitchen door, waiting and wiggling her rear end, knowing the jingle of the leash would be heard any second now. And boy did she love to walk! She NEVER got tired, no matter how far I went.

I'll never find another dog like her. Not a chance. She used to meet me at the door with her "yodel" and her entire body wiggling. I miss that. I miss the nose on my knee when I'm sad (like now). I miss her face at the window when I drive up. I totally miss her barking when the doorbell rings.

There won't be a new dog in my life for a while, but I'm a dog person and some day I'll find another one. I think when I'm ready, I'll pick him or her up on a Tuesday.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


It seems phenomenal to me to see news stories written about ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges and succeeding in everything. A recent Tuesday morning was no exception.

One of my favorite college football players went through some serious hard times last year and has come out ok, thanks to friends, family, coaches and health professionals helping him when he needed it most. He was depressed, something that the article claims one in six American’s faces at some point during their life. That means, when you’re standing in line at the grocery store, one of the people around you has been depressed, is depressed or will be depressed enough for them to have it affect every aspect of their life. To maybe have moments where they wish they weren’t here.
At one point in my life, I was one of those people, I was one in six.

After my daughter was born, a horrendous case of post partum depression hit and I was fortunate enough to have a doctor that demanded I seek help - and I did. Let’s be clear here – this was not a minor case of melancholy, the result of a little less sleep than I was used to. I could hardly get out of bed in the morning, was frequently unable to take care of my daughter. I received very little support or sympathy from my family. Because after all; depression is a sign of weakness, something to be embarrassed by and never to be admitted to in public. I was very, very lucky to pull out of it quickly and be able to resume a normal life. But I’m always watchful in case it returns. Once you’ve lived in the dark pit of depression, it’s hard to believe it won’t come back.

In the article I read that Tuesday morning, the most telling sentence was one that I am amazed made it in. You see, until recently, his family didn’t want it disclosed that he had been depressed; especially that he was and still is taking medication to counteract the depression. What would people think? Besides, my family has experienced firsthand the consequences of other people’s opinions.

My daughter has an anxiety disorder. She can’t shake it off, tough it out, just get over it. This stupid misfire in her brain has shaped her into who she is and how she handles everything in her world. It causes acute stress, difficulty going to school, awful battles to get homework done and even made her incapable of leaving the house for months when she was in junior high school. But she’s doing better sometime – because of medication, an antidepressant that she tolerates well and that takes the edge off. There are other medications she takes, as well, when she feels an anxiety attack coming on. Some of the adults in her life – including people at the school and family and friends – would like to see her off medication, mention it frequently. They truly don’t understand that these medications have saved her life, but also cause us side effects that can be just as debilitating. Migraines. Dizziness. Hands that shake like a druggie. She may never be able to function without them, of function normally with them, and who cares? Why does it matter? If she had a leg that didn’t work right, I’d give her crutches. If she broke her am, I’d get her a cast. If she had cancer, we’d try every cure available to make her well. If these pills make her somewhat better, some of the time, it’s worth it to us.

Her medications don’t fix everything, but they add a sense of normalcy to a large part of her life that she needs more than anything else. So lay off, folks, and be more understanding that we, as parents, have a hard enough time fighting the battles for our daughter to get the help she needs. What was she like without them? She couldn’t walk to her own mailbox. She would cry every morning. And, just as I feel confident that we’ve found the correct mix, the right doses, the proper solution, everything changes and she gets sick. From her pills.

I remember a little girl in mortal terror, threatening to throw herself down the stairs because she couldn’t imagine going on. She is a teenager who cries herself to sleep on more than one occasion because “It’s not fair – other people don’t have to feel like I do. Everything I do is so HARD!” She just wants to be like everyone else who can get excited about a slumber party, not terrified.
And, most awful, is the fact that her anxiety can mask real, honest to goodness medical symptoms that need immediate medical attention. She has been complaining about headaches, dizziness and stomach aches for weeks, even months. She is truly ill, in need of antibiotics or other treatment and, as her dad said it best, “We assumed she was crying wolf.” We didn’t know, chalked it up to more anxiety, because the symptoms are the same. You can bet the apologies were flowing freely for the rest of that day.

She hasn’t fully recovered. An additional complication for people with depression and anxiety is that they don’t recover quickly from illness, sometimes they’ll be going along just swimmingly in life and a common cold will set them back to a place where they can’t function. We seem to be there, mired in the next attack on her anxiety, to get things back to a sense of normalcy – just in time for school to be out for the summer. In September, we start all over again.

Can you imagine loving to do something, like running a football down a field, and being so deeply depressed or anxious that you just can’t? Really, physically can’t. Think of the things in life that you love and imagine your life without them, where sitting silently in a dark room, all by yourself, is more comfortable that going to a party, eating at a restaurant – or playing football.

I am so proud of my daughter for never giving up. And I’m so proud of that player who didn’t give up, either. I wish people had known what to do when I was depressed – when you’re in the middle of it you have no idea how to help yourself, let alone what others might do to help you.

Look around you. Is there someone that may be one in six? What will you do to help?

Friday, May 16, 2008


It’s amazing the things you find out about your kids when you take the initiative to spend some time with them. With life being so ridiculously busy, it’s often that one-on-one time with the kids ends up being low on the priority list. That is, until your son comes up to you and says “Mom, I’m taking you out to breakfast.” How could I resist?

We started this tradition a couple years ago. My son takes me to one of our favorite breakfast places on most weekends. That can be anything from the local McDonald’s to our favorite diner. The extra few pounds I’m carrying around is probably due almost completely to the Belgian waffles, biscuits and gravy and bacon I’m consuming on a regular basis. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I just started ordering oatmeal and black coffee instead. The calories can go, but time alone with this guy can’t.

I learn more about my kids over a meal than I ever do just hanging out together. Breakfasts with my son have become such a tradition that when times are tough and money is tight, I truly miss the meal together, even if we still spend time together. Undivided attention is rare and I love the fact that you have to focus on each other over the table. I learn more about his hopes and dreams, his challenges, his issues with other family members this way. Eating a meal with any of them, alone, is my favorite thing.

During one of our first breakfasts in our new neighborhood, my son admitted he sometimes hates it here. He misses his house, his friends since kindergarten and his old playground. The sad fact that the old neighborhood was no longer safe doesn’t really register with him – he just misses being able to walk out the door and find his posse of buddies so they could go goof off together. I know he’ll make friends here, but it’s been slow and painful and sometimes frustrating for me. It’s almost impossible to peel him off the couch or to pry the video game controller from his hands on weekends. Where are those neighbor boys to get him outside?

It reminds me that the world is very different than it was when I was a kid. I grew up in outer NE Portland. I lived just off Klickitat Street, just like Ramona the Brave (Beverly Cleary was my idol as a kid). My youth was filled with soapbox car racers, skate boards, football games that drew blood and my house being the place everyone hung out. Very few moms worked in those days and when my Mom went to work, I was a wreck. Dad was going to have to take care of me – how would I survive days full of the 3 men in my family? I buried myself in reading and homework and tried to stay under the radar. I also played basketball by myself in the back yard, shooting until I was the best free-throw shooter on my team. Just like my son. I was also very solitary, just like my son. Wait a minute… did he get this from me?

So, the next few breakfasts may be at the kitchen table, as I continue to look for work. Basketball camp this summer may not be a possibility. But time to share my life, my thoughts and my appreciation of the phenomenal young man he has turned into will always be my priority. It just took a little guy with an allowance burning a hole in his pocket (and the desire to do something special with his mom) to teach me a valuable lesson.

When we look to our kids to be better than we were, smarter than we were, more successful, we offer them great opportunities. We also offer pressure that is undeserved and seldom helpful. Today, I’ll play horse with my son at his basketball hoop. Maybe the lessons of my childhood can be shared to help him make his life his own, not to outdo mine. That would be success indeed.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Phone call from my son

My son is 13. He's very independent, does his own thing and is totally responsible. He checks in when he needs to. I'll occasionally get a call from him when he's out and about, but I usually don't worry too much about him. We’ve lived in our new neighborhood for almost a year and he’s been slow to make new friends here, to my chagrin.

Recently, after school, he took off to hang out with a buddy. They went to the school grounds up the street to toss the football. They were going to be gone for an hour - and I knew they were close by - so I was a little surprised to see it was him calling when my cell phone rang. He usually doesn’t call unless something’s up.

"Mom, a squirrel fell out of the tree."

I had to pause to process this little bit of info. After all, we live in a neighborhood with more trees than people. There are squirrels everywhere and most of them have babies right now. Unfortunately, they're dead in the road on frequent occasions, but they are rodents - no matter how cute they are.

I asked the typical mom questions - Is it dead? Is it moving? Don't touch it, hurt animals will sometimes bite. Are its eyes open? Is there blood?When I discovered through my 20 questions that yes, it was moving - it had slowly crawled into a corner by a fence, it had fallen at least 15 feet, it was small so probably a baby - I told him to just make sure to give it space, the mom squirrel would find it and take it back home, not believing that for a second. We hung up and he stayed close to the squirrel, keeping an eye on it, until he was due to come home.

He walked in the door with a frown. "It's still alive, but it's not moving. Will you come look at it? Please?"

Since he knows me very well, and knows that I worked for a veterinarian for a while, I said sure. We drove up to the parking lot where the accident had occurred. He told me more - he and his friend had heard a pine cone hit the ground and the squirrel followed close behind. I looked up at the tree and he was right - that's a really long drop even from the bottom branches. Maybe 18 or 19 feet.The little squirrel baby - probably about 7 or 8 weeks old - was huddled in the corner, pressed up to the fence as closely as possible. Eyes open, not moving much but not in any obvious pain. I checked it out from a distance and realized that if it had internal injuries it wouldn't last through the night, it was too young to take care of itself yet. I had visions of a shoebox and a hot water bottle.

We talked about what might happen. I told my son we should leave it where it was and see if it could shake it off and make its way back home. Squirrels fall all the time and I was hoping it would find a safe place to sleep until it felt better. Or, maybe it did live in that tree and the mom squirrel would come looking for it.After a couple hours of angst (and numerous phone calls from Sean) I finally made my way back toward home from an appointment. I stopped to check that corner of the lot and the squirrel was gone. There was no place for it to have crawled and died anywhere nearby so I hoped it climbed back up its tree.Here's where the story gets interesting.

I lied to my son.

"It was back in the tree, I could hear it rustling around up there." The relief in his eyes was something else. He took a huge, deep breath.

"Thanks, Mom."

Why did I lie? It seemed to me that his fear of something bad happening to that little animal was much worse than the reality must have been. Someone else from the neighborhood found it and rescued it, a predator got a hold of it, or it crawled off to die someplace. It's even possible that it survived the injuries and made its way back home - there's just no way to tell.

In life, I think it's better to give my kids hope than to make them worry, like I do, about how things are going to turn out. After all, hope is what gets us through the long, lonely nights.
I’m not sure psychologists would agree with me. I know many people think “Honesty is the best policy” and I, obviously, don’t always agree.

When my daughter was a toddler, I had to explain death to her in an unusual way. We were walking through one of the area’s phenomenal green spaces and happened upon a young robin, dead on the pathway.

“Mommy, can I poke the birdie,” she asked, totally unaware that it was dead. She thought it was sleeping. When I explained that the bird had gone to heaven, she looked confused. “But Mommy, it’s still. How can it be in heaven?”

When we have children, we are painfully aware that the time of innocent childhood is short and that scary life comes on too quickly. “Well, sweetie, the birdie died and its soul went to heaven to be with all the other birdie souls.”

A smile crossed her face. “Can I still poke it?” she asked with a slightly evil grin. I let her, and we talked about how everything that is alive will die one day. “Except you, Mommy.” I let that one go.

My son slept with a clear conscience last night - and so did I.