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.


The Middle

I like the idea of there being a middle. I know there is a beginning...oh how I see it coming and recognize it at the Arrivals gate. So if there's also a middle and there's a beginning then clearly there must be an end. Which is a nice warm fuzzy to curl up with at night.

I'm being dramatic. Of course there's AN end. But is there ever a The End? An end not followed by a uspecified period of "okay" and then, inevitably, another beginning? Another middle...another end?

I actually kind of like The Middle, though I'll have to backtrack to explain why. After an end (yes, its fucked up. There is stuff after an end, always). After an end there is a process. Sometimes - not always - a small moment of triumph. If it was short-lived, or not so...sharp, as usual. There are hours (usually days) of introspection. I had a customer service job once, where after every fuck up the team would sit down and have "an autopsy". What went wrong? How, in hindsight, could we have avoided it? Fucking process improvements, that's what I need. A workflow chart for my interpersonal relationships. So that's how I think of these hours/days of introspection...an autopsy. My team leader used to call them, "Come to Jesus meetings."

Was I exercising? Were there changes in my sleep pattern I could've identified earlier, and if I had could I have cut it off at the pass? What were the external factors - added stress at work, children having difficulties, some conflict with my family or partner? If so, how could I have utilized my self care practices to get through them without a spiral? (This process usually ends with something like "I should do more yoga" or "Why aren't I drinking the recommended 8 glasses per day of water?") Sometimes I think this autopsy is helpful, and sometimes I think it's an ingenious torture device, and sometimes - okay usually - I vacillate wildly between these two options for a time that, at the time, feels endless. The line between introspection and rumination is razor thin.

After THAT fun fest I generally convince myself I've learned my lesson and comfort myself with the knowledge that climbing back on the wagon - any wagon - burns a lot of calories. But then...well, then the doubt creeps in. I start thinking about Icarus or some crazy shit from a 101 - any 101 - Mythology, Literature, Religion, Science. Neural pathways and whatnot. Peer-reviewed studies. Centuries-old meditation practices. The best knowledge our world has to offer on easing the suffering of Depression. Now this is where the crazy comes in. Because these thoughts seem on the surface to be completely reasonable, and the time and effort it takes to eek out just how much is reasonable and how much is crazy...eventually I say 'fuck it' and go about my life. Every time. But now there is doubt. Now that I've had my end...it simply becomes time to await my next beginning. My next spiral. The Triumphant Return of the Tally Marks. Hours slept. Drinks imbibed. Voices Raised. The never ending search for Red Flags. The endless, exhausting self-care that is little more than Keeping Score.

The beginning can sneak up. The end is generally easily recognized & quantifiable, but fraught with anxiety about the next beginning. But the middle...

The middle I know like the back of my hand. I can recite it like poetry. Sometimes it recites me; we're that close. I don't enjoy the middle - that's the wrong word - but it is in a strange way very comforting. Because the middle is where the work is. The middle is "If I exercise every morning I'll feel better" and managing to half-ass it a couple times a week. The middle is no coffee after 3:00pm, even if that means I'm frantically pouring a mug at 2:59. The middle is a yoga DVD before bed more than 50% of the times I made that a goal. The middle is committing to only one glass of wine, having three, but feeling pretty good about not having five. The middle is progress. (Incidentally, the middle is usually blog posts)

I'm learning that I have some small measure of control over the middle. The beginning and the end seem arbitrary...I wait for them. In the middle there's really no waiting.