Monday, October 30, 2006

Expressions in the Garden! (revised and now including a poem in couplets)

This party is going to be the coolest birthday party I've ever had (by coincidence it falls on my birthday--it's not really just for my birthday) because it's going to be at a garden coffee shop and there will be live music and I will be showing my ART AND PHOTOS and I'm alive for it! :) If you're just tuning in this living-ness is a bigger deal than you might think for someone so young--last year was really fun for me; various doctors said:

You're due to have a baby!
(oops, sorry, not this one);

You have major depressive disorder and anxiety!
(oh, you little overachiever, just since you're not all better in three months you're suicidal);

You might have breast cancer, but probably not, still we should check.
(yeah, you don't have it, but thanks for giving our residents a chance to practice needle biopsies and lumpectomies on your boob).

I'm going to be 32. But that's not what really matters.

What really matters is that Jareb and David and Fiona are going to be singing, and that Jeremy and Darren and Monica are going to be serving lots and lots of guests, and that I am going to be showing my art and photos--which means it really is a celebration of their voices, The Espresso Garden's first winter, and the re-birth of my life. You know--since last year I kept the whole birthday thing on the down low, and I didn't know I was one of those people who could have a photo and art show or write a poem in couplets about crappy things happening. Well, I knew about the writing. But not the subject matter.

Details soon--but keep Saturday, Dec. 9, 6-9 p.m., at The Espresso Garden on your calendars. It's a very important day. It's my BIRTHday. :)

And the first inaugural Expressions in the Garden! (The entertainment and art is going to be a quarterly experience, but I'll still only have birthdays once a year.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"I Love Life" v.2 (written when 1 seemed totally lost)

Someone from work gave me a box of "Power Thought Cards" by Louise L. Hay. It's "a deck of 64 affirmation cards to help you find your inner strength." According to Hay, "Affirmations are like planting seeds in the ground. It takes some time to go from a seed to a full-grown plant. And so it is with affirmations--it takes some time from the first declaration to the final demonstration. So be patient." (All of this language from the back of the box that I just read for the first time, so as to be able to describe these cards more fully. They're rounded squares and painted with--you guessed it!--flowers and whatever other symbol might go with the affirmation--"The past is over" includes a sundial on a pedestal with a vine wrapping its way around the base.)

Even without Hay's direction I've been patient.

In fact, after opening the box when I got my care package, I read a few cards and thought, "yeah, it's really that simple and trite" and then I put them away and didn't look at them again for months.

But about two months ago and eight months after I declared to the school that "I had a miscarriage with complications and was going to be on disability and then still would take the leave of absence I had planned for this year," I opened the box again.

Now, five of them are displayed around the apartment, to remind of life's possibilities.

The one I see first thing every morning is on the medicine cabinet mirror. It has a picture of a little girl with brown pig-tails watering a potted flower and on the gentle green background is the red-lettered affirmation, "I love life."

It's like a short mood test.

Today I looked at it and thought, "Yeah. I do."

A miracle!

And by the way, I'm giving the end away first because last time Justin came to therapy with me she gave us the Cliff's Notes version of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. They like to get to the point of the story right away, whereas women like to hear the whole story. They like to "go into the cave" (which is what I've come to call the office) when they come home from work and have time to themselves "to decompress"--usually by taking their shoes off, having a beer, and playing video games or perhaps going through the mail, whereas women like to chat--"How was your day?" with a real answer, not just "fine." So now Justin gets cave time, and then we talk during the making and/or eating of dinner.

But I digress. (My students would love that if this were a two-hour block schedule of class and we were discussing Anna Karenina or Crime and Punishment or Taming of the Shrew, any of which I could find a way to relate to this story.)

Where was I? (move cursor up) Oh, OK. Hit "play" button on my brain.

So, every morning I see, "I love life," and then, as if I were having a mental conversation with the flower watering girl, I think, "Eh, not so much." Or, "Well, I don't know about love, but it will do." Or, "Not really, but I won't kill myself today." Or, "Hmmm... well, it's OK, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone."

So you can see actually agreeing with the cheerful little bitch came as a bit of a surprise this morning, though my responses have been on a bit of an upswing lately. More toward the "Yeah, it's OK" variety.

So why this emotional turn? Maybe because yesterday I got to see my friend and former colleague and the woman who is advising the newspaper now (playing foster mom to my kids, I used to say), and she treated me to dinner and a David Sedaris reading.

And I laughed!

First of all, she and I both have this rather dry sense of humor and often we say the same thing the other person was about to say. Like, "How sick is it that we just got this unidentified photocopy of an article about education in our mailboxes and based on the font and the style of the infographic we can tell that it's from USA Today?"

So of course the drive to Copley Hall and dinnertime was a cross between a hoot and a shared outrage at this Administration and the mental healthcare offered to our military, among other stories of life in the high school and/or depression trenches.

And then of course there was Sedaris. In true reporter/amnesiac style I took notes so I could tell Justin some of the jokes later. My notes read:

--"Baby Killer!" shouted by the man across the street
--fairy v. preschool teacher
--the downstairs [no idea what this relates to]
--no water
--my brother telling my mother he was "just storing the [small] bottle of vodka in his freezer for a friend of his"
--Is There No Place on Earth For Me? a book about schizophrenia by Susan Sheehan that he recommended
--watching TV without sound and making up our own dialogue (Mia and I both thought that was a pretty good idea)
--lumpectomy story
--"gay" @ DOD
--"A lit cigarette is held at the level of a child's eye" (with illustration)
--Word War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide--Brandon and Justin might like these books
--This American Life is going to be on TV, but Ira never thought of radio as a jumping off point, in radio a story is discovered as it is told
--Children Playing by a Statue of Hercules

OK. So the list turns out to be a combination of stories he "reminded" me to tell and quotations from his presentation. You guess which is which; I'm too tired to sort it out for you.

I should go check out this day I said I loved, before it gets so far past me that I feel like I missed it, and change my mind.

"I Love Life" v. 1 (written at night, but it didn't post)

I think I mentioned before that someone from work gave me a box of Power Thought Cards by Louise L. Hay as part of my gift basket when I first went on disability.

One of the square cards is green, with a drawing of a little girl in pig-tails watering a potted plant and the red letters in the air read, "I love life."

I put the card on the bathroom mirror. Every morning when I walk in there I see it. A couple of weeks ago I thought, "Eh, I don't know about love, but it'll have to do. I guess I'll go through this day." Sometimes I think, "Yeah, it's pretty good." And today I thought, "Yeah, I guess I do."

It turned out to be a fantastic day. We did yoga at The Garden in the morning and then a bunch of us artist/singer/musician types came up with the idea of showing our talents at the Garden with a regular event called Expressions at The Garden. Of course, I got all excited about the planning and organizing, but it was really cool because I didn't become the official leader and I didn't take on too many tasks, I'm just sending out press releases and articles (depending on publication preference), making a flyer and showing my work.

The coolest thing was that I was genuinely excited, a rarity for a depressive. Also, it's going to be on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 6-9 p.m., so it's going to be my birthday party!

Last year I didn't want a birthday party. I always make a big deal out of all birthdays for people and make the festivities grand, so this ho-hum attitude was new. I thought it was just because 31 isn't a very interesting age to turn, but now I wish someone had recognized it as a sign that something was starting to go really wrong. I think part of my thought I shouldn't have a birthday party because I was supposed to be 8 or 9 months pregnant and since I wouldn't be having a birth day, I shouldn't celebrate my birthday. I have blamed myself for so much in my life. But no more! I am letting go of blame. It doesn't matter what happened in the past or why; it just matters what happens next.

So this year, we will celebrate in my favorite Garden with my favorite people and with my re-birth: Olaina After School. Olaina the Artist, the Photographer, the Writer. Olaina Live.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What's in a dream?

I just watched the re-run of the ER where Abby & Luca's baby is born and she has to have a hysterectomy and has to tell Luca he can't have the big family he wants to have with her. It was a little easier this time, knowing the future episodes show her blissfully dancing with her child while Luca goes out with the ER friends, but Lord it's hard for me to watch babies being born.

Makes me wonder how Justin's doing emotionally with this Ob/Gyn rotation. Like Jeremy put it, "Wow, he was the first one to touch a life as it came into the world!" I think Justin's Marine-ing through it; he has a way of focusing on the work at hand and pushing all of the feelings some people (like me) attach to work out of the way. I suppose that's what will make him a good doctor one day, and I know that's what made him a good Marine and kept him alive when he had his career-ending traumatic foot amputation during that training mission. Justin can focus and hold his heart at bay when necessary.

That's not me though. I feel everything. My therapist says sometimes I'm like a burn baby--with everything so raw and painful and exposed that I can't really be touched and taken care of without it hurting more. Part of me so wants to be involved in the birth experience, to watch it happen, to hear life start with its little cry. It wouldn't be fair if the only part of life's cycle that I will get to witness is the little cry at the end when someone I love dies and all the cries in the middle that we share with each other.

It's not that I necessarily want to give birth, or even know that I ever could, and it's not that I even want to (or can) raise a child. (God, it looks like so much work!) I like my borrow babies.

But we had a name picked out for a girl and almost agreed on one for a boy.

A person can only live so vicariously--parents want to name their own children, have their own families in the room when their babies are born, teach their children their own values and histories and games. People do not share those experiences just because someone else might not get to have them and feels sad about it.

Is it a dream deferred?
A dream dashed?
Or a dream dead?

I suppose we shall see. And as whatever happens happens in my life and Justin's life, I need to let other people live their own lives and be OK with not being part of things I thought I'd be a part of right now.

After all, I'm part of a coffee shop (weird), an art show (surprising), a painting class (huh!), a photography club (really) and a family. Me and Justin. We're family. And there's those people we came with, family and friends, but he and I are really good at being married. That should be enough. That is enough. I'm just not used to this new scaled-back lifestyle; I'm still relatively used to imposing my rush-rush-rush style or being fueled by everyone else's rush-rush-rush style of living that I find slowing down a bit disorienting. This new North Park/Hillcrest feel is way more real, even if we are all quite a bit poorer. There's art here, and love, and everyone knows that no one really cares what your GPA was in high school.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Tooth Fairy

Remember that funny feeling in your mouth when your tongue touched up against the places where baby teeth had fallen out and grown-up ones hadn't quite broken through?

I keep feeling like a kid in elementary school, which in my imaginary world is quite delightful. (But I vaguely remember in the real world feeling ever so slightly buzzing with anxiety and hope and fear and fun (a little) and perfectionism and loneliness.)

But right now, it's way more fun to think of myself as a little kid than an old woman who needs dentures.

I think maybe I'll hoola-hoop a little before I vacuum the apartment and put the laundry in the dryer. :)

Yes, I really do have a hoola-hoop. Don'tchya know? You CAN'T be depressed and hoola-hooping at the same time.

And maybe later I can get a couple people to play double-dutch with me in the Garden parking lot. Gosh that was fun!

ps. The tooth fairy was late. I asked for my teeth so that I could put them under my pillow for her, but the Naval Hospital surgeon wouldn't let me have them. Justin said he met someone yesterday whose civilian doctor let her keep her wisdom teeth. He also said that since my teeth were so big and not actually under my pillow it takes the tooth fairy a little longer to get around to stopping by.

Hello! Tooth fairy? I'm waiting for you! I'm the 31 year old woman with braces, two missing teeth and a hoola-hoop in her apartment, right next to the drafting board and supply of canvases and acrylic paint. You can't miss me. :)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

stuff that should have happened then happening now

I had the wierdest dreams last night with nightmarish high school boyfriends returning to my parents' house--all older now--and Aunty and Uncle were visiting and Mom was sleeping and the boys had a ballgown for me but I knew I had to get rid of them but I just wanted to try the ballgown on once and so I had to shower and it was generally awful. Also, the yard of the house was all dug up and I think there was a body in the dirt or something and there was some construction like stuff going on in the back area (of the house or yard I'm not sure) and so it was just chaos. I hate waking up from those dreams with Justin already gone to work.

I think the dream maybe was related to the missing teeth and the bloody tummy/mouth. The things happening to me are pretty much all supposed to have happened when I was a kid, so maybe it was just my mind trying to analyze that. hmmmm....

OK. Better get ready for Nancy. Good thing I remembered that (after I looked at the pile of meds--what with the pennicilin and the giant motrin and all--it's 12 pills today and that's sans vitamin, which I don't really bother with anyway). Sh! don't tell! (not that anyone in the military healthcare system has a primary care phsyician now anyway).

Monday, October 23, 2006

eating locally

The good thing about living near Henry's Marketplace is that we can walk to get food. The bad thing is that healthy food tends toward crunchiness, which a girl in braces can't do, and soy chocolate pudding is gross.

pulling teeth

It's a cliche.

"It's like pulling teeth--" to get high school kids to follow directions, to learn MLA style, to throw their trash into the trash cans.

People should not use cliches in their writing. It's boring and it doesn't conjure up images in the readers' mind because the reader just glosses over the overused, over-heard phrase without really taking its meaning into consideration in the context in which it is written. Plus it's not creative.

That said, the benefit of short term amnesia is that I kept forgetting I was going to have someone at the SD Naval Medical Center pulling my teeth on Monday. Happily, I did not become anxious about something I did not even realize was happening--I was going to say that becoming anxious over the improbable was impossible, but given my recent anxieties over being attacked (it's been happening in our neighborhood), running out of money (again, a common neighborhood occurrence), staying disabled for a longer time than my insurance will cover (it's happened to other people), I know I could have been anxious about this teeth pulling bit.

But I was not.

I am one of those people who never had a cavity, never had a broken tooth, never had a root canal or a drilling. I actually like going to the dentist. Except for being "encouraged" to floss more frequently, it's a very relaxing experience to just lie there and let someone else take care of me while I think of nothing. I like how smooth my teeth feel afterwards, and I like being congratulated for not having cavities and for brushing well. I know that's a little sick--the grade-mongering over dental care, but the smoothness of the teeth is really the best part.

Justin on the other hand is the reason we cannot neglect to buy dental insurance. Cavities, fillings, root canals, etc.

So, when I said I was just going to have local anesthesia and that I was driving myself to and from the oral surgeon's office at SD Naval Medical Center, he acted like I was crazy. Firstly, he thought I should be put under IV conscious sedation. I did that for my lumpectomy; I didn't think it would be necessary for pulling clearly visible teeth numbers 5 & 12 (the molars in the middle/back just past the canines).

"You've never had a shot in your mouth before, have you?"

No, of course I hadn't.

Then he wanted to drive me there and back--which would take him away from his Ob/Gyn duties that afternoon, which to me is like ditching school (even though he had permission), and to which I objected.

But I lost the battle. Besides, who doesn't want to be taken care of when a handsome gentleman insists? Plus, I got to go to breakfast with him at The Mission, which is delicious. Cinnamon French Toast, eggs and bacon. My last meal before The Teeth Pulling.

As with my lumpectomy surgery (my first surgery), I did not think this procedure was going to be that big of a deal. Of course, after my lumpectomy I was happy that my nurse-mom had decided to come down to take care of me for a few days; I couldn't move without pain, I couldn't hold much of anything, and even walking hurt. Who knew such little things actually bounce?

Before brunch & teeth pulling I can smile--up close you can even see the teeth they'll take.

By the time my neighbor, my coffee-guy and my husband had looked at me with a mixture of horror and pity and told me it would hurt, I was good and nervous.

In the waiting room my hands were shaking. I kept asking Justin if he wanted to come into the room with me. He said no at first--said he was already queasy, said he could amputate a guy's leg but couldn't look at an oral procedure, especially on me ("You really amputated a leg?" "Yeah," he said it as if he were admitting to liking pizza.). I kept working on making cards--despite the shaking hands, and said, "Yes, I really do want you to come with me." At least he could hold my hand during the mouth anesthesia shots. "You can look away. You don't have to watch." But the surgeon said he couldn't--it was a sterile field.

The nameless surgeon (if he told me, I forgot immediately) did the shots as well as the pulling while also having a conversation about the ER and General Surgery departments being stupid over when and where to admit some guy who had a broken mandible and a high blood alcohol level (my surgery was at 1:30 p.m.).

I'll admit, the shots did hurt. It's not like a bee sting, which is what they say. It's more like a needle going into your gums and the roof of your mouth. There's no comparison. But even my eyelids turned tingly and then unmoving, which turned out to be OK because they covered my eyes with a towel. Had I known my contacts were going to be dried by closed eyes and slightly paralyzed blinking, I would have worn my glasses. I was warned that I would feel tugging, pulling, pressure and pulling and that if I felt a sharp pain I was to indicate as such, then he would give me more local, but it wouldn't hurt because I'd already be numb. I got more local about four times. On the right side I did hear cracking, and then this fascinating one sided conversation about where "it" could have gone. "See that little part that's missing? [this was to the assistant] It's less than a milimeter . . . Maybe it's in the cheek? . . . I'm going to do a little incision here to see if it's in there . . . could you get me some sutures? . . . nope not there . . . we'll do some sutures (at this point I can't stop myself from giggling just a little bit as I feel the threads falling on my face and picture Justin sitting at his desk with his suture-practicing-kit tying knot after knot) . . . OK well, we'll take an X-ray afterward to see if we can find it." And then he started on the left side.

When he was through yanking my teeth out while I held my neck back and my chin up and reclined as if in the beginning of the going-upside-down part of a fair ride, he told me to sit up. I did. Then he directed me to go to the X-rays room. With gauze filling my cheeks and holding down part of my tongue I warned, "There's two of you," holding up two fingers and then putting my hands together in front of my face and moving them apart and together like scissors.

"OK. Then just sit there for a little while longer."

By now a little posse of oral surgeons were gathered at my door discussing the ER situation and who was yelling at whom and what their ranks were and thereby who should call the ER next. The guy who pulled my teeth out turned to the woman doctor and said something about my double vision, asking her, "Is that normal with local anesthesia?"

She said, "Yes, sometimes."

Ah, confidence inspiring. I've been operated on by yet another resident. Junior resident, senior resident, I don't care, but I know for sure I can't walk down any hallways and remember my wisdom teeth being pulled during spring break in high school and the same thing happening, only then I was too shy to say I couldn't really walk and ended up lying down somewhere while they waited for my mom to return with a week's supply of chocolate pudding and apple sauce. This time, the resident asked if there was still someone out there waiting for me, and I said yes, and he said he'd get my husband to help me walk, and I happy-clapped. If I closed one eye I could see fairly clearly. But with two open--the lids slow to blink and tingling--two Justins.

Now how great would that be! We could have one who went to medical school and one who stayed home with me and played. :)

I was X-rayed sans earrings and with nose ring. They couldn't find any little tiny chip of tooth that will apparently work its way out if it's in there or will cause an infection, and then he'll "have to just cut in there and take it out and then it will heal," so I get to take penicillin four times a day for ten days.

Gauze filled with blood fills the mouth that can't really smile because of the anesthesia.

"It's like pulling teeth." Not that bad, not that great, different for everyone, shouldn't be used in writing.

But in a couple of years when these braces come off, my teeth better look damn good and my gums better not recede one tiny little bit more (which was the primary motivating factor in getting braces in the first place.)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Being Brave and the Department of Defense

Today, for a little while, I was really really brave.

The Department of Defense was holding a Task Force on Mental Health town hall meeting. ( I only found out because I needed to refill my prescription for Effexor and saw the words "Mental Health" on the San Diego Naval Medical Center website and read the press release. Despite my cynicism--no one will ever do anything about this issue, no one really cares, this is just one in a series of masks the government wears to try to make its citizens believe they care--I went and I spoke. I knew if I did I would feel as though I had done my part to serve my country. I knew if I didn't speak, I would regret giving up one of the few chances I have to make a difference in the world, and to hopefully help someone have a better life.

I also knew I was one of a very small number of women in a position to speak out about the nearly worthless psychiatric services available at San Diego Naval Medical Center and throughout the military health care system because I am in no danger of ruining my husband's career or being chastised by my husband for opening my mouth.

Today I was brave.

(And I want to say, I have Andrew, one of my former students, to thank for that bravery. I learned from him, from his demonstration of bravery last year when he decided to break the silence and come out not only to his family and friends, but in the school newspaper. It was the most important moment in my teaching career, and I don't think I'll ever forget it. By example, Andrew taught me to be brave.)

When they called people to the mic of course there was hesitancy. I can't really remember how it all happened, but I either went first or second. I think second. I think the first person to speak was an 80 year old veteran who said that for some of the boys the first people they talk to about their experiences of war are the old guys at the various bars for veterans. He had many good points--one being that the living history of our country should be used while it still lives; that those men who fought in previous foreign wars can help because they can relate to the boys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Actually, I think maybe I spoke first. Because after he spoke, or before, he came back and shook my hand and said thank you for sharing my story, and several times during his talk he referred to some of the stories "that young lady in the back" shared.

I introduced myself as the wife of a Marine Corps disabled veteran who is an amputee. I said that I was a high school teacher and that I had a miscarriage in May 2005 after a lot of infertility testing including a surgery, but that none of my healthcare providers ever asked how I was doing emotionally. I told them that I think they don't ask because they don't want to have to deal with the answers. They don't want to have to take care of us. I apologized for being so cynical, and the non-military female professor in charge said I didn't have to apologize. I told them that about 9 or 10 months later a friend and counselor sat me and my husband down and told us that he thought I needed help. I thought I'd have a therapy session once a week after school, but in my first session my doctor was astonished that I was still working--I was "so depleted" she said. I ended up on meds, sneaking lesson plans into my classroom at 5:30 in the morning because I refused to accept that I might need to take a longer break than just one or two days. I did that for two weeks. Then I had to call my principal and tell him I had a miscarriage and apply for disability through personnel and enter the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Intensive Outpatient Program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. After three months, as the over achiever that I am, I felt that the project should have been complete--I should have been healed and back at school. But I was not. I was worse. I was suicidal, and my doctors knew I would succeed if I tried--that's what I do. So they told me they wanted me to spend the night at the hospital, but I said we were having a garage sale and I couldn't leave it all to my husband. They insisted until I agreed to go inpatient. Unfortunately, because of our Tricare insurance I had to go to the Naval Medical Center. I spent two days in the locked ward and six days in the unlocked ward. They made me strip down and then gave me men's hospital clothes to wear for the rest of the time I was there. "I mean look at me! And I think they were a large!" I got four hours of good therapy there. One of them includes the hour the elderly volunteer brought her dogs in for us to play with, another includes the times we were allowed to go outside and I saw that there was a chapel and church services and one of the other patients told me they couldn't restrict my right to worship, so on Sunday I found us a way to get out again and some of the boys and one escort came with us. I told them how the people who took care of us were for the most part not trained in mental health--the HN Whoevers were just assigned to the hospital, some of them because they didn't know what to do. Every morning they woke us up at 6 a.m. to get our temperature and our blood pressure taken, and I have to take my thyroid medicine before I eat and that was a huge issue, and then we had this meeting where we all had to say our name, how we were feeling (nearly everyone said "depressed") and what our goal for the day was. Some of the boys goal was simply "hygiene." One of the guys running the meeting actually just said to us, "Wow. That's a lot of depressed people in this room. Any idea what we can do for you?" We all just stared at him; we, a group of people who were just recently trying to kill ourselves were supposed to have the answer to what would make us feel better?

I let them ask me questions.

I answered to the best of my ability.

Next, one man said he drove all the way from Loma Linda to speak on behalf of three other people and himself. A retired woman--the only person there purely as a citizen--said she read about it in the North County Times and researched more to find out she could speak today. She is outraged. She wants to help. They say they do too, but we all found out about the "town hall meeting" by chance, essentially.

After others spoke I added my thoughts; approaching the mic again I told of my neighbors who we called the "scary family" their dad was deployed and every morning the mom started the day by yelling at the teenage boy and there were also three other kids in the house. Sometimes it sounded like between the larger people someone was getting hit. And it didn't get better when the dad got back.

When they asked what they could do after a gentleman explained all that his work is doing to try to help the "warriors" I added, "I'm a high school teacher on disability--I've been sitting back there lesson planning. It's Olaina Anderson again. Training about mental health needs to start in boot camp. Some of the boys I was in the hospital with were just from boot camp. When they enlist they need to know what they are getting into. It needs to continue to be talked about while they're at war, and it needs to be discussed when they return. It's a culture change we're looking for here. I realize this isn't the best setting for this example, but in my classroom no one is allowed to use the word "gay" in a derogatory way. "That's so gay." I will stop the lesson and explain that they have no idea who they are hurting by talking that way, that someone in the room might be gay, or a best friend might be gay, or a family member; and eventually the culture in my classroom changed to where at least people knew they shouldn't go there and the students would chastise each other or catch themselves. I told them that the change needed to be among the higher ranks and the enlisted men.

I told them about the doctor (a recent graduate; just barely a doctor) who when I was being examined for a lumpectomy--I don't have cancer--made a terrible joke. I told him I was concerned because I'd been losing weight and bruising easily, and as if he were in a bar or they were out surfing he hit my husband's thigh and said, "You gotta stop slapping her around like that." My husband and I were taken aback; and I said, "That's definitely not it," and then wrote him up. It was a good thing that it was me; but if it had been someone else someone might have been beaten that night.

It's a total culture change--people just need to be more aware of what they're saying and doing.

Afterward, a few of the panel and the vets thanked me for sharing my story. I said thank you. Then I spoke with the young staffers from Senator Barbara Boxer's office--apparently she was there yesterday and really cares about the issue; they said she really wants to see something done. They gave me their contact information and I gave them my card.

Then I spoke to a woman serviceman who teared up as she told me of her trials with the system and a man (who was in) with a personality disorder, and how when she stepped forward she was accused of trying to ruin his career. She was one of the people I spoke for--the silenced.

Then, someone from the Pentagon gave me his card and told me to tell any of my friends to use the numbers there--I told him they probably wouldn't, but thank you. I told him that as an educator I had decided that if one good thing could come of my terrible experience it could be that I became a part of destigmatizing depression. I let him know that I've spoken in front of thousands of people before and that I also write, so if there was anything I could do to help to please let me know, and I gave him my card.

Today I might have made a difference. I might not have. I know my words did not fall on deaf ears--as the leader of the group said we were preaching to the choir--but I know they may not travel far. All I can know for certain, is that I did my best. As I told the panel, this would drain all the energy out of me and tomorrow I'd be exhausted, but I did it.

I am spent.

But I hope I taught someone something.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

up down and all around

This is becoming the most boring blog in the world.

depressed depressed depressed depressed

oh, and did I mention depressed?

People, like at the Garden, say they've seen me happy and sad. Does that mean I'm bipolar or I just have moods--like all human beings?

Am I "rapid cycling" when I go from one mood to another so quickly?

Is there a medication that could stop all of this craziness, or would stopping all the medication be better?

Someone said I think about it too much. And maybe I do. But I forget things frequently that I can't miss it--another friend walked around the garden with me while I tried to wash my brushes and get clean water for my painting and she seriously had to walk AROUND the garden with me: oops, forgot the cups, oops, left the coffee mug on the porch, oops, need more water, oops, didn't get my oatmeal yet, oops don't know where my wallet is--God I hope it's at home. (I confirmed later that it was.)

I don't know why today was such a sad heart day--was it because I didn't get out of the house til 11, was it because I missed yoga, was it because I didn't eat enough, was it because I was worried about spending too much or too little time with a variety of people? There was a point (OK several) today when I had actual tears in my eyes.

Geesh. Beautiful day, sunny skies, lots of painting done, talked to friends, played with Tea Cup... nothing to complain about. Even yesterday I got to have lunch with a good friend who I haven't seen in a long time and we had fun and I bought a book at a used bookstore.

Then, Justin stopped by the Garden on his way home and pointed out that today is Wednesday and we've seen each other awake for one hour since Sunday. He's waking up at 3:30 these days so that he can be at the ObGyn clinic in scrubs by 4:30. And on Friday night he's on call. He caught his first baby all by himself (well, you know, surrounded by doctors and nurses and the dad who cried and cut the cord) yesterday, and he called to tell me. He worried about calling me a bit, but he likes to share the good and the bad with me--we are communicators.

So maybe that's it. Hug deprivation. I'm a hugging kind of girl and stuffed animals or tiny puppies or other people's babies aren't quite enough.

So I'm going to sleep now (he already is), and he'll wake up in four hours, and I'll wake in seven and I'll do yoga and decide whether I think the Department of Defense really cares about my opinion of their mental health services. (Which I know are essentially worthless.) I already know they don't care, I already know the Task Force is a formality, and I already know I don't actually want to spend my whole day listening to those stupid people.

But maybe I do. Maybe they will listen. Maybe I'm not even cynical enough yet to skip voting in this election. But still, maybe I'll only go to the part where I'd get to talk, instead of all 13 hours.

My highs are not ever high enough for me to be bipolar. It's called a good day. It's called happy, maybe a little hyper or overzealous, but not manic. I never think I'm invincible and I'm never not tired when I stay awake too late because I'm doing something. I'm just stuck doing things and don't really want to stop until it's finished. I'll by a little obssessive and maybe compulsive, but that's it.

I hope kids show up for story hour tomorrow.

By the way, Justin has ruled out ObGyn as his specialty. He says it will get boring--already is: Pap smears, looking at slides, telling people, "No, you're not ready to have the baby yet, come back when you're in labor. No, your water didn't break, you just peed a little." But he said the baby catching is "wierd." There are several stressful hours of very loud and uncomfortable labor, then there are a few minutes of "wow! the miracle of life! There's the head! the arms! the whole healthy baby!" Then the dad cuts the cord and it's over and there's paper work to do.

I just want to see it happen at least once in my life.

OK, scatterbrain. Good night moon! (and why IS there a bowl of mush in the bedroom? Is it really just to rhyme with hush?)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A VOTE! (or if you'd prefer, a poll)

Some of you have been involved in my occassional calls for democratic decision making before, and some of you have decided it's a bad method for living--which is why we could call it a poll instead. Feel better now?

For the uninitiated let me give a brief explanation:

When I have some major life decision or another to make, I usually want to gather the opinions of the people I know and who know me (or total strangers, as the www goes....), so I call for a vote. Now, never fear, I do not actually ACT on the vote unless I think it's the right choice, but it's sort of like flipping a coin to decide whether you want a hot dog or a hamburger (I was going to use ice cream flavors, but the choices weren't working at all). If you say heads is hot dogs and it lands on heads and you're really disappointed, then you know you want a hamburger, so you ignore the coin-flip. Here, with the voting method, I get to consider the background of the voter (and therefore the weightiness of his/her vote) and the number of votes, and then I make MY OWN decision--but I've gotten a little help from my friends. :) (Thanks guys!)

So here's the situation. I'm not waking up with sad-heart in the morning, which might mean the wellbutrin is helping (or could also be because I've gotten past school starting without me), but by the late morning/afternoon it usually catches up with me. So, maybe the new meds are helping a little. But there's also all those nasty side effects I've mentioned, the chief of which I find bothersome being the loss of short term memory and word retrieval which creates the utter confusion I so frequently feel.

Here's the decision I have to make soon:
Do I:
A) Stay on the meds or even up the dosage and hope that my mood continues to improve or at least stabilizes (praise Jesus!), and hope that the side effects will go away eventually.

B) Give up on all these meds at the risk of sinking into a deeper depression, but perhaps have my memory return (which would definitely cheer me up in some ways--as Justin pointed out one of the things that is depressing me right now is feeling stupid all the time).

C) Switch to all new drugs and hope for the best.

Cast your ballots people!

(yes, this is another desperate plea for e-mail. Vista Print is currently the only sender who writes to me consistently. And her life is never different--just always a printing. You people on the other hand are interesting. So write back! Comment!)

Thank you (grovel, grovel, grovel). :)

Things to remember about photography

In case I somehow forget (ha!) I wanted to write down a few things to remember so that next time I volunteer to help a friend by taking photos of an event I am fully prepared for the experience. This little "5 hour job" took it all out of me for two days, and this third day is being spent in recovery. I'm clearly not work ready--not even for fun.

For instance: a five hour retirement ceremony does not equal five hours of work.

First, there is the hour of preparation just to look good for the job and to make sure all the equipment is clean and properly functioning and batteries are charged.

Then, there is the transportation time and parking.

Of course, I want to get to the location early so I can scope it out, so for an event that starts at 5, I would really want to be there at 4 or at least 4:30. In fact, it's probably better to tell myself 4, because lately that means I will get there by 5.

Then there is the 5 hour event, which just might become 6 if I schmooze for too long or if the revelers are not good at stopping when time is up. (I suppose I should just keep close track of my time and leave at 5 hours, but what if the great shot were to appear later... like a bunch of grown & gowned women piling into an SUV like uncountable clowns in a car?)

And here's the painful part about digital photography. At a 5 hour event I am apt to take nearly 1000, yes, one thousand, photographs. If the ceremony is too fast moving I don't always have time to edit in-camera, so then I have to go through and weed out the crappy photos (eyes closed, ugly face, blur). This gets me down to about 900 photos. After that I can spend 20-30 hours further editing the pile so that I only give the friend about 500 photos. I suppose this is an optional step--I mean, there's the paring down of numerous photos of similar poses--figure out which one is the best group photo with the most open eyes and non-ugly faces, and then there's the making sure that the quality of the photo (light, color, etc.) is the best possible. The paring takes about 10 hours for someone as attentive as me. The perfecting at least another 20 hours. And then there's the CD burning--30 minutes per 200 photos on one CD, and the printing, and for a wedding the proofs book or the uploading to the web and the wedding album. Oy vey.

Justin says it's not mania that carries me through these horrible spurts of work, it's a little obsessive compulsive maybe. A little perfectionism. Way too much work ethic. Unrealistic and unrelenting high expectations for myself. It's not mania because I AM EXHAUSTED and miserable when I have to work this hard. If it were manic, apparently I would not feel the need to get more sleep and I'd be super fast about doing it all. Plus maybe I'd shop a lot. I always hate shopping, so it can't be that.

So, I have to remember that 5 hours really equals at least 16 hours, but for a really high quality job more like 30-50 hours.

And now we know why professional photographers charge so much per hour. It's not only to pay for their expensive equipment (a $400 flash, for instance), it's also to pay for their time behind the scenes.

Anyone have any ideas or suggestions or recollections of how much they paid their wedding photographers or family photographers or would be willing to pay for such services?

Don't be shy answering--I won't even post your replies if you request that I don't.

The thing is, I LOVE taking the photos. I love working the crowd, I love capturing images and details others might not see until they look at my photographs. But Lord, do I need to figure out how to speed up the rest of the process.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I'm reading Jane Pauley's memoir Skywriting: A life out of the blue and I feel like I'm reading my own autobiography (granted, I'm only on page 65 of 300). The pressure she felt to be someone else--to take over Barbara Walter's job at age 25 on the Today show--in her career and some of the other aspects of her life are strikingly similar to the way I have lived my life.

She has experience with depression and bipolar disorder.

Please God, give me a little break here. Please?

When I try to think of words that other people might use to describe me and I allow the group of people to include people close to me as well as people on the outside who just see me "perform" these come to mind: depressed, quiet, excited, hyper, hard on herself and others, high standards, perfectionist, sarcastic, funny, electric, moody, moody, moody, doesn't smile enough, sweet, cheerful, boring, fun, insecure, confident, kind, caring, loyal, sharp witted, critical, high energy, tired looking, hard working.

I'm not sure anyone would say even-keeled, except that maybe they would--I mean, maybe they would see me racing around balancing the needs of students and administrators and the general public (all important to teachers and newspaper advisers especially) and think, "Wow, she's really even-keeled to be able to handle all that." But they probably wouldn't know that feeling in my heart--just the racing and the amazement at myself that I could do all that and make it look relatively OK that I was doing it.

They wouldn't know I went outside sometimes just to breathe.

I'm going to be spending my afternoon on The USS Midway taking photos of a retirement ceremony for someone I know in the Navy. So I'm thinking about boat imagery. I know that if I were riding on a boat I'd like it to be even-keeled because then it would be a smooth ride and I wouldn't feel seasick. Right? And being around a person with an even-keeled personality is comforting because you know what to expect. Right? But is it fun to be the even-keeled person? Maybe. I mean, those who appear even-keeled also seem to enjoy themselves in most situations. But maybe I like the electricity more--the static and the charges and the surges and the blackouts or brownouts.

Maybe that's what I am. Electric. (I know I've switched metaphors... I've really got to work on that.)

Doctors have clinical words I don't like for what I've always been admired for and prefer to call a strong work ethic.

Maybe what I'm supposed to be doing is learning how to manage the electricity levels. Maybe I can still have all those fun different levels of energy but be more in control of them.

Is that what my goal is here? Is that what this time on disability is about?


If this were a dating show and I had those four adjectives to decide which person to spend some time with, I think Electric sounds most fun. Interesting. Sparkly.




Thursday, October 12, 2006

What happened?

How can I go from feeling on top of the world to feeling like crying just because someone yells at someone else? This emotional roller coaster is what makes me crazy--not just literally, but it makes me feel even worse than I do in the first place. I don't know if that makes any sense. But there's a hummingbird that just flew through the garden and that made me feel a little better.

So here's the story:

I was delivering menus for The Garden to all the vet and pet shops I've seen around town. Keep in mind I do not actually work for the garden, I just like the guys and the place and want to help them stay open for at least as long as I live here. Primarily, everyone was very nice & receptive. Sure, they weren't all crazy about having more paper clutter around their space, but they were excited about the idea that there is a place in town that is truly pet friendly--a place where they can bring their little friend in and drink their drink while petting their puppy.

And then there was the guy at the fanciest store, the one on University down the street from Mo's, and they sell such expensive outfits and furniture for dogs and cats that for sure their customers would want their dolled up dogs with them at all times possible. So I told the nice girl who works at the cash register about this amazing little Garden and then asked her if I could leave some menus with her. She said, "I'll have to go back and ask the manager." So I gave her a few.

Then, from the back and in the snootiest pinched voice ever, I heard him practically yelling at the poor child, "Absolutely NOT! I HATE FLYERS! They're obnoxious and disgusting and I don't want to see them around here...." and he went on.

Then she came out and said very kindly that "they wouldn't be able to put them out, but if any customers asked about it, she could give them one and let them know."

"I have a feeling you'll have to be the one who mentions it," and made an I'm sorry face, "But thanks." And left feeling completely deflated.

Which is silly. I didn't get yelled at. I did not do anything personally wrong. The guy might have just been having a bad day as my newest and most diplomatic friend said. And once again, I was not at fault in any way shape or form. But still I felt like crying.

And that is another part of this disease. Taking things too personally and emotionally over-reacting to them. I need to learn how to control that by thinking through the above paragraph quickly and just keep on rolling, instead of being knocked out for the count--or at least one round. I really can't make boxing metaphors. So, that is why I am unemployed--I mean, on disability--because if that happened to me in a work environment I would not exactly be getting rave reviews. And if it happened to me in a high school--which it would; those kids are like a pack of wolves; they sense weakness and attack it, together--I would probably have to quit or be driven out in an ambulance after having a nervous breakdown in front of the class. (I've heard that this actually happened to a kindergarten teacher once.)

OK. I feel a little better now that I've written about it and also had some yummy herbal tea and swung in the swing and listened to the water fall in the fountain at The Garden--healer of many a wounded soul.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


It seems there is a small contingency of people who think that I am not doing enough. I, surprisingly, and for once in my life, do not rank among them.

Here's why:

A) There are many women who do not have "jobs" in the "real" world, but they spend their time taking care of their homes and their husbands. They are commonly known as housewives. The number of hours it takes to make a house a home are numerous. I do not know how people who have "real jobs" and husbands and homes and even kids do it all.

So that's reason #1: other people don't have jobs, so why should I?

B) I am on disability for major depressive disorder and anxiety. This situation is a two part answer. Firstly, under the terms of my particular disability insurance, I am not allowed to have any income.

So that's reason #2: I cannot work for money.

The second part of this answer is perhaps more important. I actually am suffering from a serious and potentially deadly disease. It kills more people in my age range than breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Therefore, I should not be overexherting myself and getting into situations that put me under so much stress that my condition worsens. In fact, I have been ordered to get out of stressful situations. Apparently, and according to the doctors, right now my main job is to recover.

And reason #3: Recovery is no small task.

Firstly, my mood has to be stabilized through medications whose effects are difficult to assess and that take weeks to start working. So, by the time we figure out that one medication or another is or is not working well enough, a month has passed and I've been paying close attention to my "mood" as well as my reaction to the medications--the side effects. Side effects can range from dizziness to nausea to dry mouth to urination hesitation to constipation to loss of appetite to gain of appetite to short term amnesia to problems with word retrieval. Imagine having spent a lifetime in love with words and stories and then suddenly losing them.

These are not fun months of experimentation.

Then, once my mood is stabilized I get to delve into the "whys" of why I am so depressed in the first place. Why my mind reacts to situations or statements others make the way it does. Why my mind's reactions can make my heart drop so far. And the doctors don't want to go there too much until my mood is stable because while it is unstable everything looks worse than reality, which of course would cause my mood to dip even further.

In the process of doing all of this recovery-work, I have lost some friends, I have gained some friends, I have lost some of "me," I have found some of "me," I have come to understand realistic expectations and accept them (whether I LIKE them is another story, but give me some time), and I have some idea of why I am the way I am.

So, lest anyone think I lie around in bed just thinking and being depressed all day long or that I watch TV(really? we don't have cable.) and eat bon-bons (what are bon-bons, anyway?) every day, let me describe for you a typical day in the life of Olaina-on-disability:

4-6 a.m. the husband wakes up at varying times during these hours, depending on his schedule. He sneaks out of the room, trying not to wake me because sleep is very important in the healing process.

6-7 a.m.ish He leaves for the hospital to do whatever it is third year medical students do. I sometimes rise at this time, or sleep for another hour.

When I do rise, I take my meds, then usually check my e-mail, read some news online, sometimes write on my blog (whala!), and then have breakfast. (I have to let at least 30 minutes pass before eating after the meds--it's usually about an hour.) Breakfast can be toast, oatmeal, cold cereal, cookies (rarely), yogurt, fruit or eggs (rarely). Then I get ready. Despite my lack of employment, I have been making a relatively concerted effort to look decent each day--to shower, do my hair, wear nice clothes & some jewelry. I worry about the days that I do not do not do these things. Those days could be precursors to what they call a relapse, though I am not sure that I am so recovered that I could relapse anywhere... just sink further into the abyss.

At this point in my day it is time to figure out what to do for the day. I've turned The Espresso Garden into an office/studio of sorts. In fact, Jeremy called me today because he hasn't seen me there in a few days. I have some responsibilities there--I read to little kids twice a week, I make their menu and advertising flyers, and I painted the flowers that decorate their walls and their hours sign and seating is for customers only sign. But mostly I go there so that I do not have to be alone in my apartment all day. Isolation is another sign of depression and another risk factor for going deeper into the abyss. At the garden, I have Jeremy and Darren to talk to, plus the other regulars and customers. It has sort of become a catch-22, Am I a loser for hanging out at the same coffee house everyday? But where else could I go? I suppose I could go to the Art Academy and paint there, since they let us use their studio during off class hours. But I do like the outdoors, and this is walking distance from my house, and I like the company--though that is true of both places.

And as for work, I DO work. It's just not the work I've done in the past. I write. I paint. I take photographs. These are all things that I am doing to work toward being able to earn money from them when I am allowed to earn money again. Granted, I don't exactly have manuscripts ready to send out the minute my disability disappears, but I will. I NEED to paint. I feel the need coming from my soul--the same goes for writing. And so I am building a body of work, and it is from this that I will be able to show work in the future and hopefully be able to sell some of it. The only thing I need to do more of is working on the photography stuff--I could put together a wedding album from Mandi and Eric's wedding, and I could think more seriously about my "commercial" photography portfolio. Plus I need to work with the camera more.

See--I work.

I go home when the shop closes and then I am tired. I fear naps--do not want to ruin my nightly sleep cycle, do not want to fall into the typical depressive's pattern of staying in bed or on the couch all day. That was something I did when all this stuff started. So I read, do the online thing for a while, clean sometimes, do dishes sometimes, run errands sometimes, think about dinner but never make it (my doctors would say that's the depression at work) , read a book, watch a little TV.

Depression sucks energy from a person's body and spits it out without caring.

I am tired.

The garden is going to be open in the evenings now. I don't know how I will react to this change I've been wanting so much. The garden is my office, will I work or stay at home? Or will I learn to relax even here?

My therapist wants me to strive for non-striving. This concept does not mean I should never do any work, I just can't think about it in the old driven way I used to operate under. Somehow I need to learn to work and be still and free at the same time.

Anyone know how to do that?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Competing for Attention

I also have been maintaining, which is just one of my little ways of helping them market themselves. Since 8 people have hit the page, I think it's definitely working. ;)

Actually, we had 12 little feet at story hour Thursday (I read Fox in Sox and decided we should count), and since each of the little feet came with big feet people who drink coffee or tea, that was good. Except I ended up competing heavily with Tea Cup, the puppy Chiuaua and Jack Russell terrier mix who has a little kennel and a cage and is the shop mascot. In my teaching-style ingenuity--if you can't beat em, join em--I said, "OK. I'm not above reading from the doggie cage." So I opened the gate, climbed in, and sat with Tea Cup in my lap and the kids in rapt attention with their little fingers wrapped around the wire and their noses poking through the holes while I read The Very Hungry Catepillar (which is always followed by a butterfly hunt--sometimes we get lucky and find the real thing flying through, but I have planted a ceramic fake and also painted one, just in case). The only problem was when Tea Cup was burrowing into my lap and started chewing on the drawstring of my sweats. Then we had to take a commercial break while I tucked my strings into my pants so that I wouldn't lose my drawers when I stood up later.

Then, during the butterfly hunt, Tea Cup pooped and his owner (one of the shop owners) had to clean it up and pour ammonia on the area because of course he did it right by the gate and one of the daddy's said, "There's dog poop within kid reach."

I managed to keep all the kids seriously engaged in the hunt and on the other side of the garden while that got cleaned up.

My back still hurts from a combination of yoga and carrying the borrow babies around...

Tonight there's music at the Garden--so go to their blog, or better yet, go to the Garden! :)

Friday, October 06, 2006

"Where are you going?"

Psychiatry sucks.

Every time I go to the doctor who gives me the medications I think that I'm going to come away with some new solution. I've been forgetting things; give me my memory back. My heart is heavy; lighten it. I feel impending doom; make me at ease.

I want the miracle cure and I want it now. But nothing happens.

The doctor asks me a bunch of questions about how I'm feeling:
on a scale of one to ten how depressed are you?
on a scale of one to ten where do you think you've been most of your adult life?
are you more anxious?
less anxious?
more depressed?
less depressed?
compared to before you started this drug?
compared to before you started that drug?

I am having a short term amnesia problem. Most of these questions are very difficult for me to answer. "I don't know. I don't know. It's hard to say, I don't remember."
"I started them at the same time, in the hospital, so I don't know," I answer.
"Damn it. There's no way of knowing." This is what I like about my doctor--he dresses well and he swears.
"Can you give me an example of the forgetting?"
I try to remember one and come up with this:
"Like, Justin had a week off, which was miraculous, and he and I were unpacking the office which we still haven't really finished, and apparently he was wearing pants all day, and then he was wearing shorts. And then I started to talk about how hot I was, and he said, 'Olaina, we just had this conversation. Remember? I was wearing pants?' But I didn't remember it at all."
Somehow I had forgotten the most recent example, I turned on the wrong street to get to his office, had spent most of the day reminding myself I had an appointment with him, and then when I got to the parking garage I drove right past the ticket spitter-outer (what's the word... dispenser!) and up to the kiosk and the woman said, 'You just drove right past it.' I was looking at her blankly I didn't know why she didn't want to see my military ID card, nor why I didn't have it out, all I knew was I mostly drive up to the people to get into places. 'Oh, sorry,' I said. 'I'll get it for you,' she said, and walked back to the... (look up to see what that word was) dispenser... and gave me the ticket and lifted the gate-thingy.

Then, after he told me his solution for the month--change nothing--and went to sit at his desk instead of staying in his counseling chair, I got up from the couch (no, I wasn't lying down, I always sit) and opened the door to leave.

"Where are you going?" he said.

For a minute I thought he really wanted to know my plans for the rest of the day. I just looked at him like, "I'm leaving, duh. We're done aren't we?"

Then it clicked, "Oh yeah," I said and closed the door. He was looking at his calendar to schedule my next appointment. I sat back down and said, "That would be an example..."

"Of (I forget the word he used, what's the word for when you're not paying att....) inattentiveness?"


Then I went to the parking garage and couldn't find my car. I knew I had the best parking spot I'd ever had and that I didn't have to go down more than one ramp to get it, but I couldn't remember how to get there. I started pushing the lock button so that I could maybe hear it calling me, and I did, but I realized I had heard the noise coming from the wrong direction when I got down there (three ramps down). I almost started crying. But I just started walking back up and pushing the button, hoping it would get louder and louder, and it did.

So now I'm here.

Where am I going?

No where fast, I guess.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It's Time

I'm finding myself in the oddest of situations.

I have free time, yet I feel I am not able to get everything done that I am supposed to complete. (The doctors will love how I avoided saying "should do"--in January one told me I was "shoulding [myself] to death.")

It's not just the typical laziness that normally high-geared people feel when they are on vacation; it's not a rebellious refusal to do work. It's just that working for money is off limits while I'm on disability for major depressive disorder, but that income will end in February at the latest and apparently I need to start mentally easing myself back into some kind of position with earnings.

My therapist this morning said that a couple of months ago I had been thinking about starting to do photography and maybe even work as an assistant photographer for someone for free and then move into a paid position later, so that for now I would be building a portfolio. I do remember that I was feeling relatively excited about starting a new life, since even if I wanted to I can't go back to teaching mid-year. I do still want to start a new life, I just don't think I can work THAT hard on it right now.

Right now when I wake up early enough to see the sun rising I think it is beautiful, but I don't want to jump out of bed to take a luxurious jog like I did years ago. And I have the TIME, it doesn't make any sense. I can tell something beautiful is happening behind those dusty white vertical blinds, so I rise, I open them, I lie back down and watch as well as possible from the bed. I know I must "get ready" for the day--a big part of avoiding a major relapse comes in simply dressing well enough to look like I might actually be well. So eventually I do that.

Then I eat (sometimes--I'm getting back on track with that task, I've always told my students breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and a mocha doesn't count), gather my art supplies and walk to the Espresso Garden to spend my day painting so that I can build a body of work, so that one day I can show my work and maybe even sell it. Then I come home and I look at all the stuff we have and think about unpacking more or cleaning my drafting table off (how did it get covered in papers and posters?) but somewhere between feeling overwhelmed or intimidated I return to my computer. How different is blogging from perhaps writing a first draft of a novel? Or at least notes for one? So even in this teenage tool for drama I find something to do that is almost excusably productive.

Eventually the husband arrives and we have to figure out something to do about dinner. In our vacation/depression eating-out we have expanded, so we have returned to the walk to Henry's to buy some goods for that night alone and maybe the next day, and then to cook, to eat and to clean together. Hopefully as our bellies shrink our wallets will expand from this method of nourishment. (Which, by the way, buys me some time with that man I married, and I like that. Bonus!)

Today the theoretical image that Nancy came up with for me (and some of her other patients, she says) was that we're like a little garden. And when we were growing up some of our seeds were nourished, and some were left to shrivel up and those are the seeds that we are trying to revive right now. The seeds I fed were the ones that drove me for all those years to be the best at whatever I was doing, to do as much as I could to please others and earn their respect/affection/love, and to relentlessly feel shame or guilt if I didn't reach perfection. For the past (Jesus!) eight months I've been trying to trim the vines of that rampant groundcover back, to tame it and not allow it to be my whole garden because it was depriving all the other seeds of the light and the nourishment and fresh soil that they need so that they might be able to grow within this space I occupy.

The problem at this moment may be that I have managed to cut back some of the crazy groundcover, but I am not really sure what the seeds are that are under the dirt and the muck.

How do you find what you're looking for when you don't even know what it is or even what it looks like or feels like?

I mean, I have slowed down; I do not care about some of the things I used to care about, I do not do all of the things I used to do to please people because I know it doesn't work and because I can't be bothered. I also do not have any desire to set myself up for failure--in the Tuesday night church group I would have to drive so far only to be faced with problems concentrating, understanding information, and then articulating a response to the information. In letting go of responsibilities I have also had to let go of my standards of perfection for some of the projects that happen even without me (!), but if other people are doing the work, who am I to judge the quality? That's sometimes hard. I like perfection. Sometimes I cannot buy fruit because the choices are so numerous yet so marred, and I am embarrassed to dig through it all in search of something that probably isn't even there.

But I digress.

So here's where I think I am right now. I do not know which seeds will develop into full grown plants. I do not know what the future holds for my career or my income or even my living situation once Justin gets his residency in somewhere-in-America-where-he-"matched."

But I do know that I love to paint. That I can capture the emotions of people with a camera. That I have probably written more creatively in the past eight months than in the past eight years. That I have some ability to market The Espresso Garden by using my photography, writing and graphics skills as well as my outgoing personality.

I know that none of these things are particularly geared toward making lots of money, and that the regular salary of a teacher is going to look mighty fine next to my new bits scraped together here and there. But I sort of have a plan. Keep painting: build a body of work. Market it. Keep photographing people, especially at weddings, and build a portfolio for that sort of work. Build a portfolio for portrait or commercial/architectural work. I've been told that customers prefer photographers with a focus--but I think there is a lot to be said for versatility and I can't get past that. I am versatile. Market it. I can even sing. (But that's not going to be a money maker, I'm just hoping my voice will come back (it's shaking again) and I will be able to solo in church for Advent and Christmas.)

I also know that I might end up with a job as a waitress or a clerk of some sort to fill in the gaps, but I know that right now there is NO WAY I could do a regular job. It's the word retrieval that is killing me. It makes me look retarded (and I am using that word judiciously). Today I spent the day working on the new Espresso Garden menu, and when I called the printer I couldn't think of the word for USB (what is it?) and I couldn't pick a paper color because I couldn't remember what Darren had told me just ten minutes earlier. I think at one point I even forgot the word "menu" and "trifold." I don't think I can have a job where I will constantly feel at risk of making a fool of myself because of my deficits.

I have so much sympathy for our special ed students now. It's horrible to live in such a confused state when everyone around you seems to have it together (even if they don't and can just fake it better). It's embarrassing. No wonder they lash out, or withdrawal, or don't even try. Why try when you know you're going to fail?

But I can't do that. I have to act as though it is impossible to fail. I have to give living a new life my all because I can't keep slogging through the muck looking for the seeds and pushing back the tenacious groundcover.

It's time to find myself. To create myself.

Like Justin said, I am still growing up.

I just have to do it faster than babies, infants, toddlers, children, pre-teens, teenagers and young adults. I am 31 years old and I can use what I know about life thus far to figure out at least a few of the next steps. Like Anne Lamott said, when you're driving through the fog you can only see a few feet ahead, but that's all you really need to keep moving forward.

I will keep moving forward. I will find the right seeds. I will grow into what I want to be, and I may turn out to be something no one ever expected (no matter what they say).

Monday, October 02, 2006

babies, babies, babies

Further conversations with Justin:

O: I'm kind of jealous. Not that I want to have a baby, but that I'd like to get to see it happen.

J: You don't get to watch when you're the one having a baby, you know.

O: Yeah, but you get to be there. I'm never even going to get to be there. I mean, it's a new life coming into the world... Maybe my brother will get a wife and they'll have a kid and I'll get to watch.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Reason No. 4908538098309 why I married Justin

This chat took place while he was ironing the clothes that I picked out for him for the week. (The Naval Medical Center makes him dress up, and he can't even wear scrubs in the parking lot. So now I have a lot more laundry to do than when he was at UCSD Hillcrest and wore scrubs almost exclusively.) He is perfectly capable of picking his own clothes--we've purchased things that are practically like the Giranimals of our youth; easy to match--but when I do it he feels loved, so I do it. I mean, really, how easy is that? Plus it makes me feel artistic and useful. And since I've put off going to the comissary for over a month and haven't cleaned much of anything lately, it's at least one relatively domestic task that can make me seem like a good wife.

J: I liked your blog.
O: Which one?
J: I'm not sure.
O: What was it about?
J: It was poetic.
O: The one about the pills?
J: Yeah, I liked the way it was written. Like poetry.
O: I haven't written poetry in years. In high school I used to write it all the time. Everyone thought I would be a writer when I grew up. But I didn't give myself the chance because I didn't believe I could make it.
J: You're still growing up.

He said it gently, like anything was possible. I looked up from the plants I was potting (hoping that tiny succulents will survive the tiny pots that were a gift that killed relatively small basil and mint) and smiled at him.
O: Thanks. :)