Mom died. Here's how I'm feeling six weeks out. Helvetica version.

      Sorry, GoodReads.com, but I am finally sick of reading quotes about grief. Like anything else, it has as many meanings as there people struggling to define it. I may as well add my own to the cauldron.

      Grief is an empty glass that cannot be filled. Turn it over in your hands, inspect it – there are no cracks, no holes. It is solid. But whatever you pour into it goes running right back out nonetheless. Like a cheap magic trick from a novelty store on the shady side of town. And you think, if I could just FILL this thing and be done with it. Put in my time. Put in my tears. And come to some sort of end. I’m willing to put in whatever it takes. But it holds nothing.

      Grief is in many ways boring. It’s repetitive. After, say, day three, there are no surprises. Just wandering around the same old rooms, picking the same things up, looking them over, putting them back down in the same place they were. No amount of inspection reveals anything new or changed.

      Grief is a Nirvana song. The one about feeling stupid and contagious and even preferring to just be entertained. I am loathe to visit dear friends in the midst of their joy – I don’t want to drip my grief on their carpet. And I covet distraction. I long to be of the dead-eyed, cow-like masses and mindlessly consume because to be completely frank it beats the hell out of this utter void. My employer’s IT department can confirm this. Thank you, Arianna Huffington, for your cold comfort.

      Grief is a mad professor that asks you the same questions day after day but accepts no answers. You have an inkling that you may be in the presence of genius – there should be SO MUCH to learn here – but the tight-lipped professor offers no hints, no guidance, not even a syllabus. It’s maddening. And you think “why does the administration claim this guy has so much to teach me? Why do they revere him?” (I’m looking at you, Pema Chodron) But you get no answers, and since they’re in charge and presumably know what they’re doing, you’re pretty sure the failure is yours. No matter how great the teacher, some students are incapable of learning. I have a grieving disability. I am keenly aware that this makes me a bad Buddhist, which is pretty funny. Leave it to me to find the guilt in the world’s only guilt-free religion.

      Grief is lonely. People are very nice, very giving, very supportive. But even the ones who have suffered the same loss or one greater haven’t suffered your loss. At some point you’re expected to function. Work. Parent. Engage in the world around you. I imagine the inevitable whispered assurances among colleagues when I leave a room, “It’s okay – you know she just lost her Mom eight years ago. She’ll bounce back.” And people don’t do or say things that make me imagine this. It’s just me in here. If they did, I would be embarrassed, which in so many ways is the very opposite of and infinitely better than lonely.

      Because of the lonely thing, grief is also a guilt-trip. I've had moments of the purest gratitude I’ve ever felt – my mother’s service was one of them – but they are fleeting. And everyone understanding why you’re a bad friend/lover/mother lately does not, in any way, alleviate the guilt you feel for being a bad friend/lover/mother. Also, thank you cards. I can only assume it’s acceptable to send them six months late?

      Grief is disturbingly sentimental. Not only am I not a person who has to excuse themselves in the middle of a work day to cry in the restroom, but I am keenly suspicious of those people and have to take difficult and deliberate steps to not think poorly of them. Now, a butterfly inexplicably flutters near me for two seconds longer than seems normal, and I am sure my mother is trying to tell me something from beyond the grave. This is particularly inconvenient since I happen to not believe that anything exists “beyond the grave”. (Again, not the world's best Buddhist) But the after-life is a can of worms I am not at all prepared to take a can opener to yet.

      Grief was, for a brief time, convenient. All of those loved ones who don’t quite get Depression? They get this. For a solid month it was perfectly acceptable to call off work, day-drink wine, and watch Law & Order reruns from the pull-out sofa because it was all I was capable of. Alas the excuse was short-lived, because modern-day Americans suffer under the delusion that there is an expiration date on grief. (I so wish there were an expiration date on grief.)

      Grief calls me a fraud. After all, I had Depression before I was grieving and, new med experiment notwithstanding, I will more likely than not have Depression after. (If there’s an after. Is there an after?) I can’t help but feel that this is, in all ways, a bad fucking deal. A real lemon. At the same time, there are so many differences between grief and Depression. I know Depression. I KNOW that bitch. I know every card she’s gonna play before she plays it.  And above all, I know that each spiral will come to an end. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. In my darkest of dark spirals I have always known that at some point – two days or five days max – I will wake up and feel like a human being again. Smile at my kids. Blow a sales quota out of the water. But Grief? Grief is a new player at the table, and I have NO idea what she’s holding in her hand. I’ve got nothing left to bet. I wish she’d just deal me out.


Top 10 things I hope will be awesome about my forties

I had it all under control. The force of denial runs strong in my veins, after all. Honed through the generations to the shiny, impenetrable armor I thought fit so securely.

One well-meaning message of thinly-veiled concern was all it took for the house of cards to crumble. 

“How are you feeling about the impending milestone?”

Oh, it probably would’ve been fine on its own.

It was followed, on the drive home, by an NPR interview with a woman who just wrote a book about being in her forties and drinking like she’s still in her twenties (Blackout – review to come). 

Still – I’m good. It’s fine. It’s nothing I can’t ignore. I’ll just pour a glass of wine and turn on Sex in the City reruns – that’ll make me feel all young & fun, right?

The birthday episode. You know, where Charlotte turns 36, and decides she’s going to stop having birthdays because she doesn’t feel she’s quite accomplished all the things she wanted to by 36? And the girls go to Atlantic City to celebrate but  they're the oldest ones there and end up playing Old Maid?

Then for a moment I was sure I was having hot flashes (no doubt psycho-sematic). Turns out my air conditioning just broke on the hottest week of the year. So there’s that.

Oh for the love of Christ. Wait – do people still say that? It kind of sounds like something old people might say.

Should you ever find yourself in this particular predicament, I implore you – FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT GOOGLE “GOOD THINGS ABOUT TURNING 40”.

I have a few questions.

First of all and probably most importantly, can I please stop buying hair dye and just go gray already? No. Too soon. I'm told 20-somethings are actually dying their hair gray now. Kids these days...

Shall I hide my birthday on Facebook so that I don’t have to type ‘Thank you’ to hundreds of individual wishes, some of which could possibly mention “forty”? Is that just, like, part of the deal?

Mostly I’m wondering if my grown-up card is in the mail yet.

To save the young’ins out there the absolute HELL that was my tour through Google’s answers (apparently HuffPo is, like, FOR people turning forty) I’ve made my own list.

Things I’m hoping will be awesome about my forties

1.       My ovaries will no longer cry when I hold babies. It is now officially time to start asking my seven year old “when she’s going to give me grandkids already”.

2.       That tinge of disappointment when I don’t get carded will fade. For crying out loud, they’re not blind. And really, my time is limited…

3.       It will be harder to lose weight with this metabolism, sure, but the expectations will be lowered appropriately. (and let’s face it, I’ve had this metabolism since 30ish anyway)

4.       Over the next few years, I will have the privilege of assuring countless girlfriends that “forty isn’t the end of the world.”

5.       I can afford to fix my air conditioner…?

6.       If I get stoned I can pass it off as “having a senior moment”. (too soon?)

7.       It is now not only appropriate but practically required that I make snide remarks about millennials which, let’s face it, is just fun.

8.       Speaking of – I don’t suffer from “vocal fry”. I’ll always have that.

9.       The oldies stations will start playing Seattle grunge now, right?

10.   I only have nine. Don’t pester me, I’m old.


Politics as Usual

I’d like to share a bit about my experience deciding to run for Hanover Borough Council. I made the decision to run after the incivility, mud-slinging, name-calling, and pointless complaining that take place in my local government frustrated me; I felt like there is enough of that on a national and state level, and my beloved hometown can do better. The politics of my Hanover did not reflect the heart of its citizens, and I hoped to correct that.

First – I was sued. SUED! My ballot petition was challenged, without warrant, and the plaintiff requested $1500 in legal fees for his troubles. When I bothered to show up at court the suit against me was dropped, leading me to conclude the whole thing was a fruitless effort to bully a young woman out of civil engagement. Nice.

And now…someone has anonymously emailed a link to this very blog to our local paper, implying my use of colorful language (rather than my Depression, presumably) makes me unfit for public office.

So. I find myself in the rare position of having to explain myself. (Long time readers know this appeals to my ego, ha!) Allow me to explain the context and purpose of the following blog:
I write at my worst. That’s important, so I’ll repeat it – I write at my worst. These words in no way reflect the whole of who I am. The purpose of this blog is to record as accurately as possible how I feel in the depths of a depressive episode. On one hand it’s a purge of sorts, but really it’s helpful in other ways. Sometimes I’ll read it when I’m feeling well, and brainstorm effective ways to talk to that girl – so that I can talk her out of that funk more effectively next time. This process of understanding my Depression has been more helpful than I can explain in overcoming it.

I won’t pretend my couple hundred readers (international readers – not gonna lie that’s kinda cool) have conquered Depression because of some crazy wisdom I somehow imparted. That’s not how it works. But I’ve received many messages from friends & strangers alike who are comforted by the knowledge that there are other people in the world who unwittingly explore these depths. And when I receive those messages they buoy me in a way I cannot find words for. To feel helpful, useful….it’s damn near a cure. It does something for them, and it does something for me, and I think that’s pretty awesome.

When I decided to run, a few friends asked if I would close or purge my Facebook page, censor myself, etc. No – I’ll leave that, along with opposition research and smear campaigns, to the politicians. I am who I am. I am a mother, a professional, a daughter, a volunteer, a woman (the only woman on the ballot, er-hrmmm), and a citizen of what I believe to be an amazing town. If you feel a diagnosis of Moderate Depressive Disorder – which over 30% of the U.S. shares, far more than the percentage that bother running for municipal office – disqualifies me for office, than I probably won’t have your vote. If you feel the colorful language I employ, when I am at my very worst, to connect with others at a time when connection is my healthiest goal disqualifies me for office, then I probably won’t have your vote. But if you think that politics could use a dose of authenticity these days – of good old-fashioned positive pragmatism in the face of all negativity – then I’m your gal.


Nothing New

There’s nothing new here, nothing to learn that I don’t already know. No fresh description. I've exhausted allegory, and that is saying something. I am out of metaphors for this absolutely horrific shit. (When out of metaphors, it is best to use cuss words for emphasis)

No, I didn't see it coming this time. Well, sort of. I had glimpses. I was surely manic about the clean slate of New Year’s, which was of course an invitation. But holy fuck…that really escalated quickly! We’re talking work (kinda) from bed, in jammies, all day. Forgive me Depression for I have sinned…it’s been four days since my last shower.

A dear friend reminded me of words I’d shared with her during an episode of her own: “I see you’re listening to that bitch Depression.” Actually, her telling me that this was helpful at the time was a ray of light. To feel helpful…useful…to feel like your existence does in fact yield some positive influence in the world. It’s novel. Because Depression (the aforementioned bitch) is whispering the opposite. She is listing in excruciating detail the evidence of all of my failures. I’ll stop short of saying “they’d be better off without me” – I assume because the Welbutrin/Zoloft cocktail is, in fact, doing something – but it’s pretty fucking close.

Last night my darling daughter said to me “Are you feeling well today Mom? If you’re up to it, could you please get me some apple juice? It’s okay if you don’t feel well today.” Seriously. For all the Pema Coldron books in the world, there is no way to SIT with that. Acceptance…would be blasphemy. Embracing my powerlessness to change that -  heresy. I’m pretty sure they’ll revoke my Mommy card for even trying.

My house is disgusting. Like, Hoarders style. Yes, I realize that everyone’s house looks like that right after Christmas, but I feel reasonably certain mine will look this way well into April. Also, the crock-pot full of once-soapy water that’s been in my sink for 4 days is probably over the top. I refuse to even look at the litter box. I don’t want to know.

My long-suffering fiancĂ©. I can’t even.

So…the reminder is of course that it will pass. It always does. But even that – it will pass, but then it will fucking come back again! What the hell’s the use of that? This bitch will not stay away. It doesn't matter how many drugs I throw at her – prescribed or recreational. All the yoga in the fucking world…nothing.  Gluten-free, meditation, cleanse? Bitch please.

There’s nothing to do but ride it out. Look hard for glimpses of joy, acknowledge them. Minimize the damage to my loved ones as best I can, and forgive myself for the rest.


Fucking inexcusable

There was that time yesterday when I cried. I had steeled myself to visit with my Mom (all the way upstairs in her room!) It was her first day of radiation, and I knew she'd be emotional. I knew she needed me, and I am just so very...needed. So I reminded myself that the diagnosis is terminal - what a fucked up sort of motivating that is, how ugly. How very fucking ugly. And I steeled myself, and I visited her. She had a list of favors, and she had written 'hugs' on it. Three times. But mostly she was wondering if we could rig up something with some rubber tubing out her window so that she can smoke in her room. And I came downstairs with her laundry, and her cooler, and some pills she needed cut, and I collapsed at the bottom of the stairs and cried very quietly for ten minutes or so. No one heard me. No one checked on me. No one really wants to stand too close to a bottomless pity spiral. A supernova black-hole of needed and needy. Lest they get sucked in.

But the crying felt good, I'd done relatively little of it. So I tried it again on the drive home tonight. I called a few friends for an audience, someone to share the sound with, but no one picked up. So I just talked to myself out loud between sobs, which probably allowed for a little more honesty anyway. When they call back I won't answer. Timing.

I am drowning.

I am avoiding everyone - my friends, my fiance, my children, most of all my mother. I am killing everything with constant distraction. No one has had a conversation with me where I'm not simultaneously staring into the inviting glow of my phone screen. Facebook. HuffPo. CNN. Give me all these stories, all these far far away stories. I can feel about them - I can feel sad or funny or outraged or heart-warmed. Because they are so far away.

I don't want to engage in anyone, in anything. My children appear to exist solely so that I don't get drunk before 8:00PM (on Mama weeks. 5:00 otherwise. Every. Fucking. Night.) I am incapable of enjoying them. I'm barely capable of feeding them. The house is falling apart - I'd rather use the restroom at Sheetz, it's cleaner. And I have finally said "Nothing" enough times that my fiance has all but checked out. No doubt feeling helpless. Because helpless is what I make people feel like when I'm like this. Helpless and frustrated and guilty. I wouldn't want to feel that way either.

I can tell you how I feel around me - utterly disgusted. Weak, and disgusted by the weakness. Dirty and disgusted by the dirt. Fat and disgusted by the fat! Ha. I keep waiting to prove myself wrong. To wake up one day, hangover-free, clean my house, fucking organize some shit and work out. Go to bed sober and feeling good about how I spent my day. Waiting to leave this cycle of escape-rumination-escape-rumination behind. Waiting for some fucking boot straps. Jesus.

There are, of course, lists. Get a therapist. Forget the crazy high intensity workout and just walk a mile at lunch. We know the drill. Aim small. Baby steps. etc. etc. Maybe some meds. Cause when the going gets tough, the tough get Zoloft.

I can't do all these things I'm supposed to do. The appointments, and keeping all the meds filled, and making sure there's Diet Pepsi and cigarettes because Jesus Christ, Jeanine, she's dying, and she shouldn't have to do it without Diet Pepsi and cigarettes. But apparently she has to do without me, as I have completely left the building, and that is fucking inexcusable.


Dear Middle School Teachers,

Dear Middle School Teachers,

                I just received Sam’s mid-term grades, and I just wanted to say ‘Thank You’. I had some anxieties about Middle School, organization, time management. I’m assuming you’ve all seen this manila folder, Sam’s file. In my mind it has this large, red stamp across the front that says, ‘ADHD’. Inside are old Clearview nurse forms with medication instructions – first Ritalin, then Adderall, then, (frankly a lifesaver- screw me anti-pharma extremists) Strattera. But nothing for the last year, as my blossoming boy is med-free (screw me over-prescribing psychiatrists). The world is not black & white. Find your grey.

                The diagnosis you won’t see in that file (which if you had a hot minute to spare among your spread-too-thin, under appreciated time, you probably reviewed on a screen, but in my head it is a manila folder with a red stamp.) What you won’t see is his Asperger’s diagnosis.

                You know how I have to annoyingly ask you to send two copies of every important paper/calendar home at Back to School night? That whole 50/50 thing? Well, it’s not just where they sleep. It’s something called Custodial Custody. And it’s shared. And if his father, who loves him very much, doesn't feel it’s in his best interest to  sign the release, he’s not going to sign the release. And he has as much right to that choice as I do.

                So you’re in the dark. You may not know that Sam will absorb information well if you present it in a straight-forward manner, but if you make an analogy or use hyperbole to make your point (which is exactly what will engage 80% of your class, and I get that) you will lose Sam. Your concern is the class as a whole, and my concern is one out of your thirty students, and this will sometimes put us at odds.

                So I don’t expect miracles. But – that is what I got. I got a mid-term report that sent me over the moon. Much of that is Sam, and much of that is you, and I just wanted to say Thank You.

                                                                                                                Jeanine Pranses
                                                                                                                (Sam Carr’s Mom)

P.S. – you haven’t heard from me yet, because I spent most of elementary school micro-managing Sam’s education, trying (sometimes succeeding) to pick his teachers, his reading group, his disciplinary system. I called it “being an advocate”, and sometimes it is. But I didn't want to ‘warn you’ or ‘advise you’ – I think you know what you’re doing, more than I do as I didn't study the science of education – I wanted you to meet Sam with open arms and find your own way to him. And you have shined, and I am always happy to partner with you when you think it will be helpful. You can reach me at ________________________________.


I could...

Well I need to write about something.

I could write about what I suspect is the unnatural amount of anxiety I feel every time Sam walks on the football field. How my mind flashes to scenes from Varsity Blues. How I can see, in perfect detail, CT scans of his brain after repeated concussions. (Or, I could write about how my heart soars when I see him on the sidelines, slapping helmets & exchanging high-fives with "the boys". I could write about he started middle school with a built-in social circle, and how all the anxiety I had about him not having anyone to eat lunch with was in vain.)

I could write about my new job. I could write about how licensure hold-ups have meant I can't prospect, and instead I'm just renewing current customers and doing a lot of administrative stuff, and have needed to take time off for family reasons and have a lot of anxiety about it's perceived. How I'm lacking the opportunity to do the kind of work which will knock people's socks off and how, really, knocking people's socks off is what motivates me at work, and I feel I'm failing. (Or, I could write about my boss called a meeting to tell me how great a job I'm doing. How I've renewed every account I've been assigned, and how happy management is with the job I'm doing.)

I could write about Matty. About how I miss him and I hate seeing him come home, exhausted, after a twelve hour day. How every two weeks I have to swallow unswallable pride and ask if he can spare an extra $100 bucks for the never-ending bills. (Or I could write about how much it means to me that he sacrifices like this. His time, often his body & well-being, almost always his sleep. Just to ensure that me, and our kids, can eat & sleep in relative peace).

I could write about my Mom. A whole post about how I wish she would take better care of herself, how I selfishly feel that not doing so demonstrates a lack of compassion or interest in me and my children. (Or I could write about how amazing it has been to have her live with us. How wonderful it is that she gets to interact with me and my kids every day, and how happy I am that they know her so well. How much I appreciate that she makes dinner, and does laundry, and keeps my kids out of daycare. How very lucky I am, every day, to have the privilege of her company.)

I could write about drinking, On second thought, let's not.

I guess the point is - maybe there's something to this whole positive thinking thing. To the idea that you can choose to focus on the bright side of life or the bleak side, and what happens next - WHAT HAPPENS NEXT - might actually depend on which you choose. It sounds useless to me, honestly, on the surface. It sounds like some bullshit I don't buy mostly because I can't afford it. But what the fuck? It can't hurt.