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Hope and Preparation to Defend Against Depression

In January of 2013 three of my four children began their slide into massive emotional melt downs. In March of 2013 my husband began taking anti-depressants after a lifetime of cyclical depression. That March was also the month where I had one of my kids diagnosed with three different mental health disorders. I helped the others as they slowly grieved and processed the things going on in their lives. I was pretty stable myself during that time, which I regard as an amazing gift because I am often plagued with unreasonable quantities of anxiety. I was stable, but stretched beyond my limits over and over again. My heart hurt every day because people I loved were suffering.

It is sixteen months, seven doctors of various specializations, and six prescriptions later. My heart no longer hurts and my beloved people have taken strength from their experiences to grow in amazing new ways.

Know this. Cling to it in the worst of times: It can get better. Suffering, even with depression or anxiety does not have to be permanent.

Know this also: use the good times to build strong foundations so that when the bad times come again, they do not destroy you. No life is filled only with good things.

When a high-profile person commits suicide, the internet fills with reactions. I react rather like a mouse in the grass when the shadow of a hawk passes by. I freeze and check, are my loved ones safe? Because that thing has pounced on us in the past. And I am certain in my bones that we’ll have to deal with it again. I can’t control depression, but there are hundreds of things we can be doing every day to make sure that we will be prepared for any attack that comes. This mouse is building a castle with armaments and supplies enough to withstand a siege. In this way it is like any other health issue, preventative maintenance is how to thrive long term.

Space and Perspective

It appears that what I needed to establish emotional equilibrium was to shut myself in my room for six hours during which no one attempted to talk to me. I slept, stared at the walls while my brain sorted thoughts, did a little bit of writing, and watched some Netflix. After all that I took myself out to a late lunch where I sat by myself and talked to no one in a mostly-empty restaurant. I guess I was in serious need of introvert time, because life feels better today. I may be ready to tackle next week.

I think the other thing that really helped me gain perspective is that I spent part of today working on my One Cobble at a Time book for 2013. That is where I take all of my blog entries for the entire year and format them into a book I can put on my shelf. I’ve been putting it off because I didn’t really want to emotionally revisit 2013. It had some heavy emotional stuff in it, most of which landed (like an avalanche) in March. Today I worked on putting the March entries into the book. Just reading them was hard. I was so worn out. I kept expressing a hope that things would ease up, that I could find some calmness. Instead it just kept getting worse and more. Week upon week until a crescendo of emotional mess during the last week of the month. I would read an entry that ended with a small hope for things to be better and I would cringe, because I remember what came next. That was the month when Gleek was having panic attacks at school and we went through a diagnostic process with her. The other kids were going through emotional transitions with varying degrees of meltdown. Howard started anti-depressants. We were on the final weeks of sending a book off to print and running the Kickstarter for the challenge coins.

Yesterday I wrote a giant post about all the things that are impacting my August. Today I am so very grateful to have that list of things instead of what I had last March. Suddenly this August looks easy. Sure I have lots to do and lots to track, but none of it hurts. Everything hurt in March of 2013. Today I walked around my house and saw the fruits of the struggle we went through during the transitions of 2013. I saw Gleek’s room arrayed and relaxed instead of set up for defense against anxiety. Link’s Eagle Scout project in process is evidence of his reduced anxiety and the fact that he is beginning to take charge of his life. Kiki has stretched her wings and paid for half of her school expenses with her art commissions. Patch is poised for some transition during the coming year. He’ll need help with that, but for once his needs are not over shadowed by the urgent needs of siblings. I’m so glad to be in the middle of this August.

Tomorrow is Monday and I fully intend to meet it head-on and get all the things done.

Stuffed Animals on the Shelf

This last week Gleek finally claimed her room. It has been the room she slept in for the majority of her life. She shared it with Kiki for most of those years. Last Fall Kiki moved out. Gleek’s stuff sort of spilled across the room, mostly on the floor, but Gleek did not take steps to make the space her own. She pulled out all her stuffed animals and arranged them decoratively on shelves. She hung pictures on the walls. She sorted her bookcase. The room is beginning to feel like a reflection of who she is, rather than a place where she is camping.

I walked in and looked after Gleek was done. The display of stuffed animals brought tears to my eyes. For years Gleek kept all of her stuffed animals shoved into four pillowcases. Sometimes she got them out to play, but they always went back in when she was done. She kept them that way so that in an emergency she could easily grab them all. She lived her life feeling like any moment could be the disaster for which she had to be always prepared. The array of stuffed animals on the shelf means she is not as afraid as she used to be. I am very glad that she is not.

Crunch Time

In advance of GenCon there are a hundred tasks to be done. Each task is simple taken by itself. The tricky part is remembering to do all of them and sorting them so that they are accomplished during the right windows of time. Merchandise must be shipped early enough to arrive. Ditto Banners. I have to put a credit card on file with the hotel, but that can’t be done earlier than a week in advance. The cash register must be updated. Schedules must be coordinated between the seven person team that is required to run the booth. Each of those listed tasks actually breaks down into a multitude of little steps and I have to remember them all. My task list is always full in the weeks before a large convention.

We actually have two large conventions coming. Salt Lake Comic Con follows GenCon by only two weeks. It is a slightly simpler convention to prepare for, partly because it is local, partly because we have a smaller booth and smaller crew (only four people.) Also some of the work done for GenCon can double for SLCC. We’ll just use the same banner, for instance. Yet there are some time-sensitive tasks related to SLCC that I must also track.

During the week between these two large conventions, my kids will start school. For the younger three, this means we’ve been doing wardrobe assessment and discovering that most of them need some new clothes, underwear, or socks. They’ll use the same school bags that they had last year, but we’ll stock them with new folders and binders. I’ve also been having the kids sort and organize their bedrooms so that they’re both mentally and physically organized for the school year to come. On top of that, Patch had some over-the-summer homework which we ignored until this week. For Kiki “starting school” means that she’ll be packing up all of her things and on the Saturday after Howard comes home from GenCon, I’ll be driving her back to college. Kiki does her own packing and organizing these days, but there are a few tasks, such as making the tuition payment, which require my participation.

Speaking of kid things, between now and the end of August is the time frame that we’ve declared for the completion of Link’s Eagle Scout project. We made a fantastic start with selecting the project, getting it approved, and clearing the site. Then for the last week we’ve been stalled, waiting for someone to get back to me with information. She never did. Instead I had to go shake the information out of an entirely different person and unfortunately the information wasn’t “Sure you can have a donation of materials.” It was “Before we can consider your request we need you to get tax ID numbers for Habitat for Humanity and your scout troop.” The request is reasonable, but it means I’ve left messages with additional people and now I’m waiting for them to call me. I hate waiting. I also hate not being able to clearly see how this project will fit with all the other things. Am I going to spend portions of next week helping Link set up construction help or am I going to spend the next week helping Link figure out how to secure funding? I can’t know until people return my calls and we then go petition in a written letter for a donation of materials.

To make the next few weeks even more interesting, we’re trying to push to send Massively Parallel off to print by August 30. I approve of this push. We need it to line up the Holiday season in the ways it needs to go. It means a pile of work for Howard. It also means work for me, but we’d really love to have the book done in time to let people buy it for Christmas.

I have another book I’d hoped to have ready for Christmas, the Cobble Stones holiday-themed book. There is still time, but my timing sense is telling me I’m already late in prepping it. I should be half way through sending it through writer’s group and I haven’t submitted any of it because I haven’t yet revised any of it. Because I’ve barely had space to do anything that wasn’t already on my task list. It seems like all the minutes of all of my days are spent juggling my priorities so that nothing falls apart. Writing so seldom gets juggled to the top. I know the common wisdom is that I must then seize the time for writing. That is the writer-correct thing to do, but I get very tired. Except tired isn’t quite the right word. I’m not sleepy, I just run out of focus. Writing flows when I have spaces to think and consider. I haven’t had those lately. I probably won’t have them for weeks more. So instead of having words flow naturally out of my thoughts, I have to find the force of will to untangle them from the rats nest of other thoughts which haven’t had time to settle.

Other things that are taking up space in my brain this month:
We’ve had to renew our life insurance policies. This required meeting with an insurance agent whose job it is to first make us very afraid of death and then to convince us that we should salve that fear with large policies. We opted for a policy that will give us two years to find a new normal rather than the set-for-life policy which would have cost more than we can afford annually. Then we had to answer health questionnaires over the phone which made us realize that we’re not the golden life insurance prospects that we once were. It costs more to insure us now. On Monday a tech is going to come and do some blood tests and other basic health measures. After which the insurance company will tell us how much we’ll owe as an annual premium. Whee.

We’re going to have to find a new health insurance provider between now and December 31. We’re probably going to end up enrolled in an ACA program. I’ve barely begun to think about this, but knowing I’m going to have to figure it out looms in my head a little.

We ought to meet with an estate lawyer and set up a living trust. I mean, while we’re dealing with thoughts of mortality, life insurance, and health insurance. Why not just get all the unpleasantness managed.

Last week Howard and I had a meeting where we laid out a timeline on the Schlock RPG, which is a project that requires a Kickstarter. Next year could be one that is completely taken over by running and fulfillment of Kickstarter promises. That’s fine. I’m excited by the things which we might get to make. This combined with everything else means that next year’s schedule is full. Already. Which is a daunting prospect when I’m only nine days into a month that promises to be packed to the gills all the way to the end of it.

Howard on our Anniversary

I love watching Howard talk and listening to him tell stories. He went to a convention recently and, when he returned home, we stood together in the kitchen while he told me of things that happened while he was gone. I watched his face and the gestures he uses to emphasize points or to make a joke have more impact. Howard in full-out mode is larger than his physical form. It is like he projects himself out into space. I saw all of that and realized, once again, why people are so happy to listen to him in presentations, on panels, or during podcasts. Howard is compelling. I had that thought, and on its heels was a feeling of deep gratefulness that when all the show, presentation, and signing is done, Howard comes home to me. I think that’s a good sign twenty-one years into marriage, that I’m glad to have him come home.

We went out to dinner for our anniversary. we don’t always. In fact our anniversary traditions have had more to do with forgetting to plan anything. Some years we’ve missed it altogether. This year we felt like we ought to do something, so we went to Bombay House and ordered our favorites from the menu. Howard was having a low energy, low mood day. We sat across the table from each other, mostly in silence. I am one of the few that gets to see Howard when he’s low. He trusts me with this, and I help him carry it, just as he helps me when my emotions get unruly. I had a hundred things in my head that we could have talked about, but many of them were related to business, which wasn’t ideal for his mood. Also, I didn’t really want to turn our out-to-dinner date into a business meeting. We have plenty of those at home in the kitchen. Twice or thrice daily, in fact.

“Are you still glad?” I asked Howard during one of the quiet times when our eyes met. He knew what I meant, on that day, on that date. Are you glad we got married? It was a question to which we both already knew the answer, but somehow the asking and the answering gave a tiny ceremony to a part of our lives that we often take for granted. “Yes.” He answered. Even on a low-mood day, we are both still glad.

A mere day later, Howard and I drove together to Salt Lake City to visit a friend from out of town. We talked quietly, about business, about things we saw on the road, about our kids. Howard was not in performance mode. We sat with our friend for hours talking about all sorts of things. We ate more food than we needed, but all of it was delicious. When time came to depart, Howard and I drove home together, mostly in silence. Sometimes there isn’t much that needs to be said, it is enough to be together.

Yes, I’m still glad.

Clearing out the Closet

I ran my hand across the row of skirts. They were things I’d worn, things I still wear, and things I might wear. I began grabbing those in the bracket categories and pulling them off the hangers. It was time to let go of the skirt which could be really cool if only I found the right match for it. It was time to bag the skirt which I used to wear, but no longer feels comfortable. When the skirts were thinned, I did the same for shirts. Anything uncomfortable or stained came off the hangers. My closet had more space. I removed the red shirt I don’t like to wear, but kept because having a red shirt is useful. Now I can see a red shirt gap in my wardrobe and perhaps I’ll look to find a shirt I like to fill that gap.

The closet purge was triggered by a conversation with Howard that clicked into my long-term dissatisfaction with my appearance. My body changed shape in the past few years and I guess I kept hoping it would revert. It was only a shift of five pounds. I’ve had that sort of shift before without needing to adjust my wardrobe. So small a shift seemed like it should be easy to back track. It used to be easy. Or maybe it was denial that let me make do with only two pairs of pants that fit comfortably. I filled in the space between wash days with grubbier-than-usual clothes because elastic waistbands don’t remind me that I can’t zip the pants I used to wear. There was also some stubborn denial in the fact that I don’t want to be a person who complains about getting older or gaining weight, particularly in so small an amount. I know that I have less cause to complain than many women. In fact, I know that I’m very fortunate and that the weight I’m mentally grumbling about is one that women with health issues would be delighted to achieve. My current body shape is socially acceptable and is right on the border between normal and overweight for my height.

The truth is that human bodies want to add weight as they get older. I’m going to have to learn to dissociate my feelings of personal attractiveness from my memories of my twenty or thirty year old body. Even if I do manage to shed five, ten, fifteen pounds, my body will be different than it was before. Also, I think my dissatisfaction with my appearance has far more to do with things going on in my head than with the shape of my body. The things going on in my head were reflected in my closet and drawers which were full of clothes that used to be wonderful, or might be lovely if. I had to clear out all of that, so I can see what really is useful. I don’t need all of my clothes to make me feel pretty, but I certainly need to get rid of the ones that contribute to making me feel ugly. It will take me awhile to fill the gaps in my wardrobe. Money is tight this year and that has led me to hang on to stained clothing because I didn’t want to pay to replace it. Part of what I had to set right in my head is that sometimes I’m allowed to spend clothing budget on me instead of always on Howard or the kids. I always forget that when money gets tight.

I’m not going to give up the fight for those five pounds. I’d like to plant myself firmly in the normal range because I believe that is best for my long-term health and well-being. But I’m going to stop believing that losing weight is the quick path to feeling better about myself.

Updates

My neck/back has continued problematic ever since I injured it last Tuesday. (While sleeping. Cosmically unfair that.) It is steadily improving. Regular stretching, heat packs, ibuprofen, and ointments have given back a range of motion that is almost normal. It is to the stage where I think it doesn’t actually need much more treatment. It just needs to stop being mad about being out of joint. I’ve picked a day next week and if I haven’t hit “all better” by then, I’ll go ahead and spend money to have it looked at. Less fun is the fact that I think the “out of joint” point on my back is also a hidden anxiety button. Not my favorite, but that is coming back into control too.

Gleek is home from camp. She arrived dirty and glad to be here. She gave me some hugs, but was far more interested in changing into short pants and getting on the computer than in sitting down to tell me all about camp. I do have a report from a leader that she was fine at camp, so that’s a relief. I’m just really glad to have her home. I missed her.

Stage one of Link’s Eagle Scout project is complete. The project has been approved. Papers are signed. We did the site clean up this morning to prep everything for a shed to go up. Stage two is more paperwork and drumming up donations to pay for the materials to build the shed. We have some leads, but follow up is necessary. Stage two is also more paperwork, because of course there is more paperwork. We plan to have the shed fully installed and the project complete by August 30th. After which there will be more paperwork.

I’ve completed a draft version of the Challenge Coin PDF. On Monday I commence emailing the contributors to get their approvals on the copy edits of their words. Howard will take a copy on the plane to GenCon so he can write the intro and create some cartoons for the interior.

Kiki’s final art show of the summer ends tonight. She’ll bring home all of the unsold pieces and put them up for sale in her etsy shop. Once they’re all in place, then Howard and I will both blog links to that shop. Though if you want a head start, she does have a few things there now. All of those proceeds will go directly toward her college tuition and living expenses while at school. She leaves in three weeks, but I’m not quite ready to think about that yet. I’ve really enjoyed having her home for the summer. She will be missed.

School starts in two weeks. I’ve paid most of the fees, got the schedules set up. Filled out the beginning of school forms. While Howard is at GenCon we’ll probably have the traditional end-of-summer family outing where I drag my kids someplace and then make them stand together for a photo. I do try to pick locations that I think they will like. Though it is possible that I’ll be so tired that I just make them stand together in the back yard. Or maybe I’ll just catch them at a moment when they’re all watching the same movie or playing a video game all together.

We’ve not done any further work on the dirt patch which used to be our deck. I do walk out there occasionally and look at the leaky sprinkler pipe I dug up. I was going to google sprinkler pipe repair and get it taken care of, but then there was an Eagle Project instead. I suspect this will continue to be the case throughout the rest of August. That’s fine. The cooler weather of September is probably better for fixing up the yard anyway.

While writing this post I scanned back through my blog to see if there were any other loose ends that I ought to update. It is funny how the events I chronicled in May, June, July seem simultaneously recent and long ago. August has barely begun, but it feels as if summer is pretty much over. Part of that is because once school starts, my brain assumes it is September. I’ve got two weeks left. I need to remember to stop, breathe, pay attention rather than rushing from one project to the next.

A Movie for Patch

Howard goes to lots of movies, particularly in the summer months. He averages about one per week. This is mostly because Howard loves to see movies, but he also reviews the movies on his blog. When schedules allow, Howard likes to take kids with him to see movies that the thinks they’ll enjoy. Thus it was planned that Howard would take Patch to go see Guardians of the Galaxy, which looked to be a film that Patch would love. They invited Link to go along, but he declined. Kiki and I had a conflict and Gleek is at camp. So it was going to just be Howard and Patch. Then the conflict evaporated, so Kiki and I gleefully bought tickets to join the trip. I was glad to get out of the house and go do a thing.

When Patch found out that we were coming along he was quite sad. He likes us, but suddenly his cool solo trip with Dad had turned into something else entirely. Patch is our youngest. He’s the only one who is still a kid rather than a teen or an adult. Though judging from the way he’s shot up the last few months, that won’t last much longer. He’s headed into sixth grade and I expect this to be kind of a rough year for him emotionally. It’ll be even more rough because he gets his heart set on things and then is honestly hurt if they turn out differently. I could tell that this was one of those times. He tried to be kind and considerate. He understood that Kiki and I hadn’t meant to intrude. He didn’t throw a fit or even get angry, but I could tell that part of what he’d looked forward to was gone from the trip.

We left early for the theater because we had to stop and pick up a prescription. I suggested that Howard drop off Kiki and I to do the pick up. Then he took Patch to McDonalds. We haven’t been eating out much in the past six months, so this was a real treat for Patch. It also gave him a bit of solo time with his Dad. Food and prescription were both picked up, then we headed to the mall where the theater was located. Once again Kiki and I took off, leaving Patch and Howard to eat their food and wander the mall separately. Since we’d bought the tickets in two batches, it was easy to say “See you in the theater.” We actually saw each other before that. We passed in the mall and I caught Patch’s eye for a moment. Then I looked away quickly and used my hand to shield my face, pretending I couldn’t see him at all. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his grin.

So Patch got solo time with his dad. I had some time with Kiki. Then we all had a fun time at the movie and talked about it all the way home. In the end Patch admits that he’s glad Kiki and I came because now he has a sibling with whom he can quote movie lines. I think he’s also glad for that time with his dad, where we all acknowledged that what Patch wanted was important. Also he’ll get to remember all of us pretending not to see each other in the mall. It was a good evening.

One of the Realities of Uneven Year-to-Year Income

We had a financial boom year last year, which means we had a big tax bill this year. It also means that our estimated tax payments for this year are recommended at a rate that would cover us having a boom this year too. In theory this is setting us up for a tax return next year, but I don’t count that money until I see the paperwork that says I get it back. I’m certain that there were financial moves that I should have taken last year to smooth all of this out. Last year I was also dealing with major family transitions and mental health issues for multiple family members. I did not pay attention as I should have. Howard and I have had many conversations about this and we’ve taken steps to readjust the ways that we manage our emotions and anxiety surrounding money. I still feel bad about about it. It was my job and I feel like I didn’t do it right, but I’m doing better now and will continue to do so going forward.

All of this means we’re being careful about spending this year. We’ve built in more accountability, more reports, and less avoidance. I probably won’t feel confident about my financial skills until after next tax season. The new structures have us headed in the right directions, but far more slowly than I would like, because so much money is getting sucked into that quarterly estimated tax payment. It also means that this year, when federal financial aid for Kiki’s college tuition would be very helpful, we’re unlikely to get it. Because they’re looking at the tax records for last year, the boom year. I filled out the FAFSA anyway. Now I’m off to do things which will earn money.

I Don’t Think this is the Tuesday I Ordered

I’m certain that I did not request to be awakened at 5am by a cracking sound in my neck followed by pain. An hour of stretching, laying on rolled towels, and using a ball for pressure point therapy, all failed to fix whatever it was. So I had a morning of pain, smelly lotions to loosen muscles, and slow movements. Fortunately Howard was able to help me reset some of the alignment, which means I remain stiff and sore, but the pain will subside when my muscles decide to unlock.

Also on the not-entirely-expected list, Link picked an Eagle Scout Project. He’s working with Habitat for Humanity to build a tool shed for a community garden. It is an excellent project, well suited to Link, and obviously needed. Yet suddenly the next few weeks have an array of project related tasks to complete. Many of them have more to do with paperwork than with the actual project. BSA runs on paperwork. I think one of the hardest parts of the project for me will be keeping my hands off. I can picture all of it in my head. I can make it happen. But this is Link’s project, not mine. He is the one who has to make it happen. Not me. That is the point. My role should be limited to asking “Have you thought about this? How do you think you should handle that?”

Related to pain and loss of sleep, extra napping was necessary and stole some work hours.

I knew that today was the day I sent Gleek off to Church Girl’s Camp for five days. I put it on the calendar months ago. I’ve seen it on the calendar many times since. Yet somehow I arrived on Sunday and thought “Oh. That’s this week?” She packed up all her things yesterday and I helped her review them this morning. We went to the church and I lingered for a bit because I need to make sure that a leader was aware of Gleek’s daily medications. I watched Gleek as she joined with the other girls. Last year I spent two months with lots of attention focused on Gleek and camp. I wasn’t certain she could handle it or I wasn’t certain it was fair to the leaders to impose her particular bag of troubles on them. I didn’t know what the stresses of camp would do to Gleek’s anxieties. I had to skip out on half of the writer’s retreat I wanted to attend because I needed to be the one who sent Gleek off to camp. Last year camp was hard and full of anxiety, which is why it surprised me that it sneaked up on me this year. It arrived and I hadn’t been thinking about it. That in itself is a huge measure of progress from last year to this year. Gleek went off to camp happy and I feel confident that whatever difficulties the leaders have with her will be within the range of challenges that are normal with any thirteen year old girl.

After the pain, sending Gleek to camp, the nap, and the eagle project paperwork, I really thought it would be time to sit down and get some focused work done. Unfortunately my brain decided it needed to do 1500 words of writing first. Not writing on my fiction project, nor writing in a blog post. Nope. It was pages of dumping out the contents of my brain just to see what is in there. I have to do that sometimes. It helps me figure out where the anxiety is coming from. Today’s fun anxiety symptom is heart palpitations. Haven’t had those in a while and they seem directly related to the pain, so I know they’ll go away. Yes I’ve had them checked by a doctor. I wore a heart monitor and everything. There is no physiological reason for them. They’re caused by anxiety, and in this case, pain.

I’ve now reached 4:30pm. This day was similar to what I thought it would be, though I’d hoped to get a lot more work done by this hour. Life can not always be executed as planned and I just have to roll with what comes instead.