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A NEW BLOG

IMG_5406It has been fun writing for That Girl Who Reads Books, but I decided to create a new blog, Polarized Parenting. What does this mean for That Girl? I’ll keep the site up until the end of the year, but I’m not sure how much posting I’ll be able to do. Please follow my other blog at PolarizedParenting.com. There’s a dropdown menu in the right hand corner where you can type in your E-mail address. The new blog is a funny take on parenting and mental illness. I’m going to re-blog a couple posts from That Girl, too.

I know it’s pretty anti-climatic, but thanks for reading and commenting. Hope to see you on Polarized Parenting.

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ISBN: 987-1-4424-0893-7

IMG_5130I loved this book.

I don’t know that I’ve ever started a blog post with that. Maybe my writing style is transitioning to soft and sentimental. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, has both a movie script and a journal quality. The short paragraphs and dialogue between Dante and Aristotle move the story forward at a rapid pace, which is contradictory to the glacial pace of the fifteen year-old narrator’s depression. His morning lament, “As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was,” is a powerful arm tug—strong enough to yank someone out of bed.

Only this book isn’t about depression. It’s about love and shame and a type of uncertainty that is certainty. I piece through the story in my mind, trying to figure out what it is I want to say about the characters while avoiding divulging the plot or honing in on the popular “we need diverse characters” hash tag.

Three hundred and fifty-nine pages encapsulate over a year of Ari’s life with milestones that move him from that depressed fifteen year old to someone who truly does understand the secrets of his universe.

Which is more than I can say for me. I’m not even sure where avocados come from. The universe? I can tackle that in my next blog post.

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ISBN: 0-8050-6986-0

frost

 

Last weekend at the farm, there were gun shells and dead flies on the windowsill. Sounds depressing, huh?

I’ve been thinking a lot about depression. How it’s different for everyone. How for some it lasts moments and others days, months, years, even a lifetime. Depression for me comes and goes. Some days there are just little doubts and insecurities about myself—mistakes I’ve made in the past that I have a hard time forgiving myself for and anticipating the worst-case scenario of the future.

When I started this blog, I never intended it to be about mental illness. I just thought it would be a space to open conversations about books I’ve read, so to be clear, I am honest about my experiences with mental illness, and while it may seem like every day I’m charging forward at this spectacular clip—always remembering to take things a day at a time, to use DBT skills, to use talk therapy, to never forget a dose of medication—I have slip ups. I have had times where, yes, I contemplated suicide.

The important thing is that I’ve always been able to pull myself back from that dark place with the help of friends and doctors. My depression peaked during my pregnancy, but Husband and my OB, Dr. S, kept me on track. I understand the warning signs and reach out to others so that they can help me untangle what really bothers me and how to address those problems, instead of speeding ahead at that fast clip in the wrong direction, an early end to a beautiful life.

This is easy to write when you’re in a good place. Right now it’s easy for me to remember how much I have to be thankful for—Husband, new Baby, family, friends. A career I love. A home I adore. And then there are happy moments, small ones that are easy to overlook in a busy day.

A few weeks ago, I made the conscious effort to reflect on my day and pull out two moments that make me happy and grateful. One was watching Baby touch snow for the first time. Last night, it was falling asleep in Husband’s arms. The shift in thinking helps combat depression so much that I decided to turn the happy moments into a life letter. When talking about depression, and the darkest part of it, all everyone ever mentions is a suicide letter. But why write that? Why not talk about pulling yourself out of that dark place with love and happiness?

Now I try to talk to Husband and Baby each day, sharing the best moments. At first I started with just two thoughts. Then, gradually, I got more. If you stop to think of your day chances are you can find way more than two happy thoughts. You can find as many as you want to look for, and get lost in a beautiful life, one that you would never, ever want to leave.

Happy thoughts: Parties. Slow dancing, barefoot. A phone conversation with a good friend. A hug from someone you love. Sitting in a patch of warm sunlight. The smell of wood settling into ash in a fireplace. The smell of rain after a storm, how the world is slick and silver. Clouds that roll over the parries. Sliding across the floor in new socks. Kissing your baby’s hand. Flickering candles, and the smell of pinecones and pine needles, and cut grass. Why not circle in these times and use them like a ladder to climb out of depression?

The only true cure to depression is a commitment to life.

All of this fits perfectly with Robert Frost’s collection of poetry because it reminds me of his most famous poem, The Road Not Taken. I like to think about life as having two roads, one that is happiness and one that is depression. I commit to the happiest path, looking beyond the windowsill and out into the yard where hay bales and snow lie.

 

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ISBN -10: 0-316-14347-2

IMG_2827

Do me a favor. Time yourself as you read this post. Start the clock. Right…now.

Aside from the title, this post has nothing to do with When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. He just happens to be coming to town this week and I am overly excited to see him.

This post is about suicide. I know, it’s not a thing most people feel comfortable talking about. That’s because there’s a stigma surrounding the issue of mental health, and it’s also because it’s heartbreaking.

What we talk about when we talk about suicide: depression. Most people can at least partially understand a sadness so raw one would do anything to make it stop. Sadness akin to being set on fire in the middle of the desert where there’s no water, and baby, you just got to watch your flesh burn.

Most people are all—Yikes! Get a therapist and some antidepressants. Problem solved, right?

Back to the desert, burning alive, now you’re given a shovel and told there’s a water table below. How fast can you dig? There’s no way to know if the water will be ten inches down or one hundred feet. You can barely grip the shovel’s handle after hours of digging and there’s still no water in sight. The hole you’ve created looks more and more like your grave, a comfortable resting place. This is when a stranger pulls up in a motorized swimming pool. They lean over the edge, slide their shades down their nose, and inform you what a big fat quitter you are as they drink a tall glass of ice water. Half your thighbone is exposed. The flames ate away the muscle. You used to be a runner.

Now a well-meaning third party hands you a garden hose. Feeling hopeful? It’s gonna take three months for the water to flow properly. You’ll get a trickle at best in a week.

If you stop digging BECAUSE YOU ARE ON FIRE AND IT IS TOTALLY NATURAL FOR YOU TO WANT TO STOP, the a-hole in the pool will tell you they’re ashamed of you, and you’re horrible for not thinking about the other people in your life, and how you shouldn’t be having any more problems because you now have hope of water.

Here we pause for a moment.

When we talk about suicide, we talk about depression. I’ve never heard anyone talk about anger—rage so concentrated you want to bash the a-hole in the head with the shovel and jump in his pool. Then kill yourself because of it.

When I was younger we used to sing this song, “Momma had a baby and its head popped off,” while holding a dandelion and flicking its yellow top off with our thumb. Earlier this summer, I had such blinding rage that I wanted to rip everyone’s head off just like those flowers. Standing in line at the grocery store took too long, as did the sleepy gas pump that clicked over twice as slow as usual. The TV played shows about armadillos. The radio played songs that reminded me of ex lovers nonstop. And Facebook…how I imagined punching a hole through my computer screen and not stopping until my fist blew right through Mark Zukerberg’s scrawny chest—then I’d send round house Chuck Norris style kicks to Moskovitz, Saverin, McCollum, and Hughes.

I’m not a violent person. To clarify, I’d never ever hurt anyone on purpose. I love Facebook and its creators. So all that anger went inwards and got bigger. My psychiatrist said this was increased irritability. Therapist agreed. Husband said it wasn’t so noticeable. Psychiatrist asked me if I didn’t want to consider taking boxing up again. Therapist questioned how I was taught to manage anger as a small child.

Therapist: What did your parents do when they were angry?
Me: Grab anything within arm’s reach and beat us with it.
Therapist: And you know it’s wrong to beat people, don’t you? It must be very hard and confusing not knowing how to manage that anger.
Me: You’re head is looking an awful lot like a dandelion right now.
Therapist: Do you think you can use a skill when you get angry like that? Let’s try taking a deep breath.
Me: Ever been hit with a block of government cheese?
Therapist: (who’s good at redirecting) Now, breathe away that anger and imagine eating the cheese.
Me: Should I imagine constipation while we’re at it?

Breathing sort of took the edge off of the small things, but it didn’t touch the fire that was burning inside. I wanted to get in my car and drive as fast as I could until my car exploded. Every day my mind replayed the glorious explosion—where I burst apart, one of my arms flying a hundred feet and landing slow motion in a grassy field. Rarrrrrrrhhhh. A leg here. An eye there.

I told my Sassy-Polish-Chain-Smoking-Best-Friend about it. About genuinely wanting to die, and more seriously, about knowing I could take my own life.

Me: I could do it. I really could. Because I’m not afraid like I used to be.
SPCSBF: So what do you want? A medal? Anyone can die. I could choke on gummy Lifesavers tomorrow. Air hole closed. Dead. Now pass me that second funnel cake. We’re eating our feelings today.

And people wonder why I feel so alone.

I have a list of well over fifty skills to employ in case I catch on fire and there’s no motorized swimming pool in sight. I stop and identify the thought. Drop it. And roll, and rolling looks a lot like distraction—take a bath, take a walk, watch a movie, paint my nails, pet my cat. In the meantime, I do what anyone who sees a fire does—I call for help. I have a list of ten people, friends, family, and a therapist that I can call at anytime. When one person doesn’t answer, I move right down the list, sometimes texting four or five people at a time.

Rarely, have I ever told someone that I felt suicidal when I called them, and that I was calling them to be distracted from those thoughts. I just pick up the phone and chat about the weather or gas prices or how I’d like to be a rock in my next life so I can work on my listening skills. To be honest, I’m ashamed of the thoughts. They make me seem so ungrateful.

A few times now, I’ve gone all the way through my list and no one answered until the next day. I didn’t urgently call two or three times in a row, or leave messages that said this was an emergency please call back. I called or texted casually and got no response. You don’t want to know what depression tells you when this happens… no one really cares about you… it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t exist…

Am I still a quitter if I’m on medication, seeing a therapist, recognize the thought, try to distract myself, utilize an emergency action plan, and I still am blazing? Even with all of this help there are still times when I just. Want. To. Die. I want to quit the therapy. Stop the medication. Say enough with the skills. And die. Because I’m hanging on really hard, and some days I don’t even know why.

What about people who don’t have access to all of those resources, let alone a network of ten caring people they can call day or night? What if all they can manage is a lonely social media status at two am?

Will you offer them a lifesaver?

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Krisin Brooks Hope Center 1-800-442-HOPE (4673)

http://www.hopeline.com/

Maybe mental illness isn’t the most comfortable thing to talk about. But perpetuated stigma’s and silence costs lives. Suicide takes the life of one person every forty seconds—that’s one million people globally each year**.

You can stop the clock now.

*For the record I love SCSPBF. She’s saved my life many times. That conversation should have been with a trained therapist. It was unfair of me to put her in that position.
**Health Research Funding. Org http://healthresearchfunding.org/many-people-commit-suicide-year/

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BREAK TIME

I’m going to take a break from the blog for a bit. I’m rebalancing my life and taking a slower approach to reading at the moment. I will be back when I finish a book, but that won’t be weekly. Some new ideas are forming in my head that need to make their way on paper.

 

Thanks for understanding.

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ISBN-13: 978-1-59308-336-6

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin

The world reminded me of my thesis, a project I had set aside. There were a lot of things wrong with the draft, mostly the story was locked inside my head and I hadn’t yet figured out how to get it on paper. I’m used to stories falling out of me, but this one was different, bigger, and more complex than my usual work. This was to have an element of love.

I’m no good at capturing the ewe-y gooey, but I gave it a shot. The result was disastrous.

What’s a girl to do when she gets stuck? Look to the masters.

I read somewhere that Edward and Bella’s love story was based on Victorian novels that SM had read. Say what you will, but I believed in Edward and Bella’s love. I also read Pride and Prejudice in high school and still swoon over the thought of Mr. Darcy. I hoped that by reading Sense and Sensibility I would better understand how to capture romance.

Most of what I found made me laugh out loud.

She [Marianne] spent whole hours at the piano-forte, alternately singing and crying; her voice often totally suspended by her tears. In books, too, as well as in music, she courted the misery which a contrast between the past and present was certain of giving. She read nothing but what they had been used to read together. 

Or

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensations have I formally seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from sight.”

“It is not everyone,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.”

“No; my feelings are not often shared; not often understood. But sometimes they are.”  

I’m not sure if I turned bitter or older, but this sort of romance seemed trite*. I couldn’t concentrate on the book. I only made it to page 109. I liked it, JA was on point with her humor, but my thoughts kept wandering. They orbited around a dog I once had named Buddy.

I was fourteen and it was summer. I sat at the kitchen table eating a Freeze It popsicle**. I was thinking of how I would roll up the wrapper and blow it out like a party horn when I happened to glance out the window. A yellow lump of fur lay in the next yard over. This was B, a puppy my stepsister, D, received on the heels of having a new baby.

He didn’t seem like the B I knew. Instead of wobbling around with ears too big for his head and a constantly wagging tail, he just laid there, unmoving. I knew it was hot, but something wasn’t right. Surely he should have been panting, or scratching, or sniffing, or doing any manner of puppy things like eating grass and puking it up. He didn’t even seem to be breathing.

I called my stepmother. She looked out the window.

SM: That dog has been out there all day with no water. I’ve been watching.

Me: Shouldn’t we do something?

SM: He’s D’s responsibility. He won’t take water now.

Me: What should we do?

SM: He needs an IV. I’m not paying for it.

She walked out of the room. I went outside, jumped the fence, and filled B’s water bowl with the hose. I spent a few minutes trying to make him drink, but he couldn’t lift his head. SM was right. B needed medical assistance.

I worked at a veterinarian’s office part time after school. Mostly, I cleaned kennels and fed the animals that were boarded there. The doctor gave me duties slowly: grooming, prepping and cleaning the examination room, answering the phone, taking payments. He upped the responsibility. He asked me to bring the bagged and euthanized animals to the freezer. Next to bag the animals. Then one day he asked if I wanted to watch. A family dropped off a cat and they couldn’t bear to stay.

V: Would you like to try? You can’t mess it up.

This was a rare attempt at a joke, but something inside me knew he would let me practice. I declined.

Paying for B’s bill wouldn’t be an issue. The doctor would take payments out of my check. Maybe it’s not worth mentioning, but SM worked there, too.

B was heavy, an easy thirty pounds, but he felt heavier because the weight was lopsided and I wasn’t that strong. I carried him a mile in the summer heat. It was the longest, hottest mile I ever walked.

The doctor saw us right away. I laid B down on the examination table. He pulled back the scruff of B’s neck. The skin did not flop back into place.  He looked me directly in the eye.

V: This is dehydration.

His voice was flat. At the time I thought it was angry, but now I hear only his knowledge and the cool distance he needed to maintain.

V: There is not a good chance he will make it.

An IV was started. He carried B to a cage in the back. I was told to go home.

Now I wonder if my stepsister lacked common sense, or if it was it love for her new baby, that made her leave B outside without water for so long? She simply forgot about him.

What made me carry B the mile in the heat? Where did I find the strength?

Why did the doctor give B an IV if he didn’t think he’d make it?

Why didn’t SM at least give me a ride to the vet’s office?

Why is it that questions like these keep me from becoming engrossed in a novel I would ordinarily love?

I received a call the next day and found out that B was fine. He had a full recovery.

When I heard the news, I didn’t play the piano-forte, but I did cry.

Her sensibility was potent enough! Well played, JA, well played.

*This new notion alarms me. I’m becoming jaded.

**the generic brand of Fla-Vor-Ice.

 

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ISBN 0-385-49081-X

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale

I had to eat two pints of ice cream and several chocolate bars to get though this book. That means I needed to flood my brain with serotonin to cope with the portrait of inequality Margaret Atwood created in The Handmaid’s Tale.

This is what happened for me this week:

1.) I watched Kakenya Ntaiya: A girl who demanded school  on ted.com.

2.) Gay marriage + Prop 8 + Supreme Court flooded my Facebook.

3.) I remembered my father’s stories, an echo from the past, of race riots at Kennedy High School. Martin Luther King was shot at age 39.

4.) I looked up when women earned the right to vote: Amendment 19, ratified in August 1920.

5.) I saw a pile of baby shoes at an Antique store. It reminded me of Auschwitz.

6.) I thought that if this book were from the point of view of Moira I would physically throw up.

7.) I went swimming. I went to yoga. I read the covers of glossy magazines in the checkout line at the grocery store (Go For It). I watched TV. I existed.

I lie in bed, still trembling. You can wet the rim of a glass and run your finger around the rim and it will make a sound. This is what I feel like: this sound of glass. I feel like the word shatter.   

This is how I feel when I read my banal list of the week’s events. Like shatter because even though we know about the mistakes of the past, somehow, we keep falling back into them.

What does any of that have to do with The Handmaid’s Tale?

Sometimes I read books to better understand the world in which I live. Sometimes I read books to escape the world in which I live. I have an unbelievable amount of privilege being white, middle class, educated, and American. Day to day, I tend to forget this. That is dangerous. I think it’s as dangerous as being close-minded. Power can easily be transferred. A single generation of people who don’t remember those who fought for their privilege and freedoms will lead to an oppressed generation.

How is a handmaid anything like a gay couple wanting the right to marry? Someday both will be fiction, because on that day America will understand that defining a person by their sexuality (or limiting their rights) is as ridiculous as defining them by their gender or race. On that day everyone will be allowed the right to marry.

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