I am living the happiest and most fulfilling life. I feel like the luckiest lady in the world. I also have major depressive disorder and that juxtaposition can be hard for some people to understand. Sometimes when I share information about how my depression manifests people are surprised. Others pity me, tell me they’re sorry, or get annoyed “hearing about how sad I am” (sidebar: Depression ≠ Sadness).
I’ve been riding this same horse for over 25 years and – just like I am aware of my physical strengths and weaknesses – I am deeply attuned to the fitness level of my brain. I know that depression lies. I know what I need to do when I get into a depressive rut.
I know that it’s okay to be a person with depression and that in some ways it makes me stronger than those without it. My experience with the darkness translates into me appreciatiating every single teeny photon of light that hits my face. Most people do not have the luxury of experiencing extreme joy and gratitude almost every second of every day that isn’t A Bad One. I have that.
So this was a low week. A dip. Whatever you want to call it. This is just a normal little dip. I’m used it it. I know I will always have ups and downs and that some days are just rougher than others. I can sometimes feel myself sinking before I get too low. And I’ve been feeling it for the last couple of weeks – each day my body felt heavier and heavier until I sunk deep enough to have A Bad Day. Here’s a few highlights of how I felt and how my asshole brain lied to me:
My family and I go sledding. I struggle walking up the hill. I steer my us into the weeds. I lean on Older Daughter’s leg and she says it hurts. I push my youngest down the hill and her saucer goes over the single gigantic jump that exists. She flies like a ragdoll into the air and she bounces to the right of the jump while her boots bounce down to the left. The little energy I had seeps out of my boots and into the snow. My failures pile up until I can’t take it anymore and I’m ready to leave. I feel like I’m hardly even there anyway.
I’m just making things worse by being here.
My husband and I decided a few months ago to reduce our spending and start saving more. He’s been doing a great job not spending anything. Me? Not at all. Have I really been trying? Nope. He calmly brings this up to me and I appreciate his kind approach. I feel myself sinking down inside my own body. I’m disappearing into my own skin. I am not only failing my children, I’m failing my husband.
I’m just making things worse by being here.
I’m sinking lower and I’m so…..tired…..I am moving so slowly, I have trouble walking from the office, to the kitchen, and back to the office. It’s hard to lift my legs and it takes me a long time to muster enough energy to take the dirty laundry from the second floor to the basement. My children keep asking me for things I do not have the energy to do and I snap at them. I yell. I’m a puddle on the floor. I am a terrible mother.
I’m just making things worse by being here.
For decades, I didn’t talk about these kind of thoughts. I didn’t know that other people didn’t have them. Whenever I get this low my brain lies to me and I truly believe that I am a worthless pieces of garbage who makes everything around me worse. I am dead weight. Sure, my loved ones might be sad for awhile, but I know that I would be doing everyone a favor in the long run by not being here anymore.
I love them so much, I want to lessen their suffering. I know that their hardship is ME. I am the burden.
It’s really hard to talk about this when I’m in it. When my insides are getting sucked into a black hole that randomly opened up deep inside my stomach. When I’m falling further into myself and am flipping top over tail inside of my body. How do I explain what that even means? How do I explain to someone that after I went to get the pizza and before I sat down to watch the movie, I thought about how I would end it? Even if I wanted to try to explain it, it would take too much energy. Talking about it takes so….much…energy. I almost never have that kind of energy, to be honest.
If I AM able to talk about it, it means I am totally okay. This is often the opposite of what people think. Sometimes after I write about depression people reach out and ask if they can help. They don’t realize that by sharing my experience I am pulling some of the dark thoughts out of my chest and handing them to you. I let you take a little bit of that weight so I can breathe easier. Feel lighter. They don’t realize they’ve already helped so much, just by listening.
Ups and downs like this are just a part of having depression. Years ago I used to think I’d never fall into a depressive rut again during the times I felt great. And I’d feel like I’d never feel good again during the times I felt awful. Now I know that up and down and up and down is just how it is. I’m able to recognize my asshole brain is lying to me. I’m able to tell my brain that I know it’s a liar and do something about it.
I’m a high school teacher and a parent of elementary-aged children. All of us have been participating in school 100% online since March. Every day is an adventure. But some adventures are more exciting than others and today was an exceptionally interesting experience.
The day started out well, because the night before I made sure that the kids got all of their school materials ready. This happens with a regularity on par with how often Halley’s comet can be seen from Earth. I patted myself on the back. “Today’s going to be a good day,” I thought. I was testing the universe.
The girls grabbed their computers, sat down, and logged themselves in. “Ah, I have such good kids,” I said to myself. I smiled as I filled my cup of coffee and started sucking it down while I walked to my work station – where I discovered my earbuds were missing. The universe had started responding to my call.
I have two identical pairs of buds that I leave next to my computer and every so often one of my daughters borrows one. Or both, apparently. I cannot handle teaching without them – it is way too loud in my house, and my earbuds serve the same basic function for me that Ritalin does for an ADHD brain. I searched until I eventually found them.
My kids always start their school day seated at the kitchen table – but it is inevitable that one or both of them will end up migrating over to my classroom (a.k.a the dining room) later. It wasn’t too long before Older Daughter sat next to me in my dining room office. She was not wearing headphones because despite starting the school year with four pairs, three have broken and she can’t find the fourth. Clearly it is too much to ask for her to take care of them – after all, she didn’t even notice the earbuds she stole from me and didn’t put back, even though she must have had to lift them up in order to grab her laptop this morning.
I was working with my students and trying very hard to tune out the classroom conversations blaring out of Older Daughter’s screen. Her class was receiving full group instruction. I heard the teacher say, “I’m just waiting for Student Z and Older Daughter to enter their answers in the chat”. I turned to face her.
“She said your name! Send her a chat!” I demanded.
“No, she didn’t,” my daughter insisted. “She said Elsie.”
I heard it again. “She said your name again!” I said. Then I second guessed myself. “Didn’t she?”
“No,” my daughter assured me.
The third time I heard it there was no questioning. Her name was called out AGAIN. It happened three times and I’m sitting RIGHT NEXT TO HER! “Oh My God,” I said. My voice was louder this time. “SHE SAID IT AGAIN! SHE SAID YOUR NAME! DO WHATEVER IT IS SHE IS ASKING YOU TO DO!”
I return to my Zoom screen and notice that Student A, who had joined class and started working a few minutes ago, has turned off his video and is no longer responding to me.
I called home (this is a common occurrence, she knows my number). While the phone rang in my right ear, through my left ear I heard her through his zoom, “Student A! Why is Mrs. Grouch calling me???!!” I hear a door open and her voice, louder, “Student A!! Get yourself up! (he fell asleep apparently) It’s 9:00!” She may have added some colorful language. Slam! I heard rustling around and a moment later he got back to work. She never answered her phone.
The whole day was like this.
Older Daughter had to go to the bathroom during class time. I asked if she couldn’t wait until the break. She said she couldn’t and then informed me that she always records the class when it goes too fast or when she has to leave to use the bathroom so she can watch it later.
Um, WHAT? Holy crap, students can do that??! Yes. Yes, they can. The video recording only showed her face, not her teacher or her classmates, but all of the audio was recorded. As a teacher, I find this more than a little creepy.
At one point I saw Younger Daughter lying on the living room floor watching a video of herself that based on her clothing and appearance she must have recorded today.
“WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE DOING RIGHT NOW?” I yell across the room. She rolls her eyes at me and closes the video. I’m not sure if she immediately went back to her Zoom tab because I unmuted myself and went back to working with my class. At some point later in the day I saw that she had painted her own nails and also painted the outside of her chapstick container. No clue if that was immediately after I reminded her to do what she was supposed to do or if she waited five minutes before not paying attention again.
Is there a cut off age when students are no longer capable of learning how to write lower case letters? Like, it’s just too late? Because some children learn it in kindergarten, but other children have a substitute for the first half of kindergarten and global pandemic virtual instruction for the all of first grade and still haven’t learned how to do this because her parents suck. I’m asking for a friend.
My students were in rare form. In one of my class periods we sometimes play a fun game where everyone predicts how many tabs Student B has open on his browser. The winner is the one who guesses the closest and the number is always A LOT. So, we all made our bets and then I asked Student B to share his screen with us. Sure enough, SO MANY TABS. I asked if someone in the class will count the tabs out loud for us. Student C starts counting – only instead of his normal voice he is talking in an autotuned voice. I had not expected that little twist. We all died laughing. I laughed until he hadn’t stop speaking like that a full 20 minutes later and I had to threaten to move him into a breakout room by himself if he didn’t turn that crap off. I gave a social communication lesson about how a joke is only funny once and after that it’s just annoying.
Student D came to class on time but within five minutes he told me he was so tired and he left. So, I marked him absent. He didn’t show his face until thirty minutes into the next class period – and when he entered the room he shook his head at me (perhaps disappointed I marked him absent) and gave me the dirtiest look. I said, “Welcome back,” and asked if he was okay. Without saying anything, he kept giving me the same dirty look until he logged off a few seconds later. He literally came back on the Zoom just to give me a dirty look! That was a first for me.
Between that hour and the next I got up to refill my coffee and use the restroom. As washed my hands I looked up at my reflection in the mirror and grimaced. I’m so used to seeing myself at my “good” angle, all day every day in my Zoom meetings – the left side of my faced turned to the side since I’m always looking at my second monitor. Nowadays, I am constantly startled and disgusted when I look at myself in the mirror straight on. It has become an unfamiliar angle.
I didn’t leave the bathroom right away because for some reason the toilet doesn’t flush right. I flush it again, holding the handle down longer this time. I watch as the water in the bowl starts to rise. And then rise some more.
Sure enough, that damn thing started overflowing. I yelled out one curse word for each basement stair I ran down until I reach the drawer of rags. Water was already pouring in through the drop tile ceiling. More curse words were uttered. Inside my brain I screamed to myself, “I WOULD NEVER HAVE TO CLEAN UP AN OVERFLOWING TOILET DURING THE SCHOOL DAY IN THE BUILDING!!” I furiously soaked and mopped and wiped so I could get it cleaned and sanitized before my next class started. Maybe this will be good practice for when we return and I have to sanitize my entire classroom between class periods. This thought does nothing to improve my mood.
In the next hour things were going okay, except I had three students who I had to keep asking, “Are you there? Hello? Helloooooo? Student E and F and G, can you hear me?” And one of them responded. Student H has three dogs. Today they were all barking in the background, loudly. I muted him (nice Zoom feature!). He unmuted himself pretty quick (flaw to said feature).
Throughout the hour, my attention shifts from my classroom to the sounds that surround me in my house and back again. It is impossible for a mother to pay absolute full attention to her work when they hear their children need us, get hurt, or do something wrong. Teaching requires full attention. Parenting requires full attention. My brain is regularly in the middle of a tug of war match between my competing responsibilities.
At one point, Student I had a huge smile on his face. He was clearly NOT working on Chemistry. “Student I! Time to refocus!”
I heard one of my children walk to the pantry and rustle through the processed food drawer. “Whoever is in the pantry – get back to class!”
I asked Student J if he was doing okay and he unmuted, said nothing but gave me a thumbs up, and remuted. I laughed.
I heard kid footsteps go in and out of the bathroom three times within a 6 minute timespan. “Stop going into the bathroom to avoid class!” I yell.
I helped Student K understand the difference between a chemical compound and a mixture. He got it! I smile.
I edited Student L’s paper.
I emailed the parent of Student M about a concern she had about her child and penciled in an appointment on my calendar to meet with her.
I texted back and forth with my parapro, who was in another class providing 1-1 support.
I coached one of my autistic students (Student M) through the process of maintaining a conversation once it’s started. I sent him into a breakout room with other students to practice.
I told a kid, no, I couldn’t take his phone from him to reduce distractions like he asked me to but a) that teleportation technology really needs to become widely available and b) someday in the hopefully near future I’d be able to take his phone away all the time when we’re in person. And I told him he’d be SO thankful for that help and to remember that.
I became livid when Youngest Daughter accidentally called me through Facebook messenger. I got up, walked over and grabbed the Kindle out of her tiny, conniving little hands. I hid her Kindle in a very hard to reach cabinet and told her to get back to her class. For the 153rd time. a few minutes later she came back and handed me a picture she drew – of a stinking pile of shit. With a mad face. She also gave me a dirty look (second one of the day!) and stopped off. I won that battle in the end though because I framed the personified piece of shit and put it up on the wall. She tried really hard to stay mad at me but I did see a bit of a smirk break through her angry exterior.
Student N joines the Zoom well after class started, “Sorry I’m late, he said. “The couch is soooo comfortable. He was still laying on his coach in the dark but there was just enough light for me to see his half-opened eyes and disheveled hair.
“You can’t lay down during class!” I told him. “Go run around your house twice and get some water and come back.” e got up to do his laps. He actually returned not too long after.
Another teacher popped into my Zoom to discuss Student O. We went into a breakout room for privacy. While I was talking with the teacher I heard a LOUD BANG coming from somewhere in my house. I gave myself a moment to decide whether or not I was planning to find out what the hell that noise was or not. I didn’t hear anything else, so I decided not to investigate.
Moments later I heard a loud bubbling sound coming from the kitchen, where Younger Daughter was working. “Stop blowing into your drink with a straw!” I screamed. The noise drives me batty. “I will throw all of the straws away if I hear you do it again!” I remembered immediately after the words came out of my mouth that, no, I won’t actually do that because we got rid of plastic straws ages ago so she must be using my husband’s special metal straws. There’s nothing a parent hates more than doling out a great threat she can’t actually deliver.
Older Daughter got out the Scotch tape. She placed a strip over her mouth and started talking to me. It totally gave me the creeps and made me think of The Scarecrow in Batman, and I told her so. She moved the piece of tape up, over her upper lip.
“This is my waxing strip,” she told me.
“Do you know what a waxing strip is?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve seen it on Youtube. People cry because it hurts.”
I feel the need to educate her because our family is a Hairy Family.
“Have you seen me get waxed at the hair salon??
“No,” she replied.
“I get it done every time I go there.”
“Yep. Moustache and eyebrows.”
I wanted her to know that’s an option for her. That information will be like gold in a few years.
Older Daughter got kicked out of her Zoom. This happens. My 6 and 8 year old are both Zoom experts, they have literally taught me things I didn’t know about how to use Zoom. Older Daughter opened Zoom to get back in and she clicked on something (no clue what) and it pulled up a list of all the Zoom meetings she has ever attended. She read through the list and started questioning when certain Zoom meetings occurred based on the name of the meeting. Then she saw one meeting that had her name spelled wrong and she asked, “Who spelled my name like that?” She was trying to rope me in to help her figure out who had created that meeting. I got very annoyed with how long this was taking her and sternly reminded her to get back to class, and thought we’d both be quickly moving on with our own meetings.
Except she didn’t move on. She interrupted me yet again and told me she didn’t know what the meeting password was.
I lost my shit.
“OMG, WHAT? You literally have logged in to the same meeting link every day since August. And you’ve gotten kicked out of Zooms before. HOW DID YOU LOG IN ALL OF THOSE OTHER TIMES?! Whatever you usually do, do it! NOW!”
I looked back at my classroom Zoom and realized I was not muted during this exchange. I seized another opportunity.
I turned away from my daughter to face one of my students and said, “See Student P? You know how I always tell about you that I harass you because I care about you? And how if I didn’t care I’d let you sit peacefully and keep doing things that are not healthy or productive? Well, now you KNOW I care about you because you just heard me with my daughter. See how I nagged her? And obviously I care about her because she’s my daughter. Now do you understand?”
He laughed and told me he got it now.
“Plus, I’m way nicer to you than her,” I added. When it comes to schoolwork, I have so much patience helping my students but so little with my own children.
“I can see that,” he stated.
I turned back to my daughter and followed up on a lesson I gave her about a week ago. About how she comes from a long line of yellers. I reminded her that Papou used to yell at Baba and Grandpa used to yell at me, and now we both yell at her and her sister. “And someday….” I said, tears welling up in my eyes at the thought, “…someday you’ll yell at your own children.” I smiled tenderly. She gave me a quick double-punch in the shoulder.
Youngest Daughter walks into the dining room. “I’m done with school,” she tells me.
I glance at the clock. It’s way too early. “Did your teacher say you were done with school?”
“GET BACK ON!” I scream. I remembered to mute myself this time.
I continued helping my students navigate prioritizing work and making plans for work completion. I sent a couple of emails to parents. I filled out a bit of paperwork requested by the school psychologist. I checked one of the 40 Google Classrooms I am enrolled in to find out what the assignment is for U.S. History. I added 8930582 to my to do list for later. For when I can focus.
Oldest Daughter was still sitting next to me and was working on a math problem during large group instruction. She stared at the problem at the screen. “It don’t know how to do this,” she told me.
I heard her teacher say to the class that they might not know how to do this yet and that’s okay. This time I didn’t yell, I calmly looked over to see the problem. It was a subtraction problem that involved a couple of large numbers. I cocked my head. I was confused. It’s subtraction. She’s been working on multiplication and fractions. The weird thing is that even though her teacher said she might not know how to do this, I know that Younger Daughter does know how.
For awhile I tried helping Younger Daughter with a specific math problem set every day, and every day I would get so frustrated because she was struggling to do what I was asking her to do. We’d both raise our voices and turn red. My husband started to step in and this became work he completed with her. I heard them calmly completing the math each day, and neither one of them ever ended up crying. I wondered what was he doing to make everything sound so easy and wonderful when they did those problems together. I never knew what his trick was.
I have since learned the trick. My husband had no idea how to teach the Common Core method for subtraction so he taught her the old fashioned way. You know, lining up vertically, subtracting, borrowing if needed? Yeah – that was his trick. She mastered that method quickly and painlessly and now those problems were all rainbows and sunshiney. I never once considered that my older daughter wouldn’t know how to do that by now. I showed her how and she picked up the strategy immediately.
It was finally time for lunch. And in this online version of school we get a whole one hour lunch break. The joy of this extravagant luxury has not worn off yet even though we’re six months into the school year. Ahhhh. I push my shoulders away from my ears and took a deep breath.
And then I heard a very loud crash. This one was much more scary sounding than the mysterious bang from earlier. I walked into the kitchen and discovered that Youngest Daughter had dropped a large glass bowl, and on impact it had broken up into 8435 pieces that were now scattered across the entire kitchen floor.
Youngest Daughter was perched on top of the kitchen counter, like a vulture that was waiting to peck me to pieces after I died from an extreme case of annoyance and exhaustion. While she was up there I carefully swept every square inch of the floor. She patiently waited on the counter until I cleaned up the glass. I taught her to stay off the kitchen tile when glass breaks last week – when she broke a different glass bowl.
I got the vacuum to get the little dusty bits and turned it on. “CAN YOU DO THAT LATER?” my husband yells from his office down the hall. He’s on a conference call. He’s always on a conference call. Every day is Groundhog’s Day – me telling the girls to stop running around the house because their dad is on a conference call. Him opening his door and yelling at us to be quieter because he’s on a conference call. Me telling the girls to stop laughing so hard because their dad is on a conference call. The girls turning music on too loud and getting yelled at by both of us because dad is on a conference call. Me getting shushed because I excitedly yell yell out to my students things like, “You did it! Everybody unmute and give a round of applause!”
Their noises aren’t really not even that loud. On a Kid Loudness Scale, they’re totally normal, at least eighty percent of the time. All the shushing that goes on means the only place they can really yell is when they’re outside or when we’re in the car. And by “we” I mean me and the kids. Their dad can not handle screaming in the car, especially when he is tired of talking or listening to people after his full day of conference calls. What he probably doesn’t realize is how much those kids need to let out a certain quota of shouts every day in order to support their well-being. And how many quieter interruptions I’m dealing with every freaking moment of every single day.
Tonight the girls are spending the night at Yiayia and Papou’s. They’ll be doing school there tomorrow. I am going to purposefully delude myself and forcefully tell my brain that everything will go so much better than normal over there and that my kids are not just going to Zoom with each other from different rooms in the house all day (except when they’re playing Minecraft or watching TikTok on Papou’s Kindles, of course) instead of going to class. I am telling myself I will not even need to check their work because I know all of it will miraculously get done. I’m putting that plea out to the universe. We’ll see how it goes.
We’re on week three of online learning. Me, as a high school teacher, and my children, as 1st and 3rd grade students.
Everything is crazy and takes longer than usual as all three of us are utilizing every possible mode of technology during every single minute of the school day. I’m Zooming, screensharing, document cameraing, backchanneling, emailing, snapchatting, texting, recording, creating, saving, and feedbacking all at once. We’re all clicking and dragging, and unmuting and muting. We’re getting kicked out and logging back on, we’re freezing and then repeating. We’re snacking while sitting and atrophying.
Someone is always on mother-loving MUTE who shouldn’t be.
Even though we’re all working in the same room, keeping an eye on what they’re doing while I’m working is almost impossible. Today about half an hour after school started my husband walked into the kitchen and looked around and said, “Aren’t the girls supposed to be in school?”
Usually they set an alarm on Alexa to let them know when to log in to their computers but apparently today they forgot and I didn’t think to check. And I didn’t notice when they didn’t show up in our dining room classroom. The silver lining here is they (we) are getting some real-life training about time management and using tools to remind ourselves of tasks.
They log on and back to work I go. Every once in awhile when I look away from my screen I can catch a glimpse of at least part of one of them. That’s about the extent of my involvement in their online education.
Sometimes I do have to teach one daughter how to add a browser tab, or the other how to toggle between her Zoom video and her online reading program in the web browser. They might not be making a whole lot of gains in reading and writing quite yet, but their technological literacy is SKYROCKETING.
Today I got a frantic, “Mom, where’s my writing journal?”
“Which one?” I ask. “This one?”
Or this one?
She doesn’t know.
“WHAT COLOR IS IT?!” I scream at her, probably loud enough to make her teacher flinch. I’m starting to regret emailing her from my work email last week. Maybe it would be better if she did not know I’m a teacher in the same district.
I tell my daughter to go look at what color journal the other kids have in their hands and figure it out (this should have been my first response). I point to her pile of school materials in the corner and remind her that her pile is the one on the right.
I go back to my own classroom. I’m in between class periods so I check some emails and listen to a few student video submissions. I close a tab and OH MY GOD my class is STILL THERE! Ten minutes past when class was supposed to end. Apparently I didn’t say goodbye like my ADHD brain thought I did before I got distracted by the writing journal fiasco. Even though 99% of the time I’m ignoring my own children, the 1% of the time I am focusing on them everything else in the world goes out the window.
All of my students’s faces were right there in their own little rectangles, waiting for me to tell them they could leave. Bless their little rule-following hearts. I apologize for cutting into their lunch period and say goodbye and off they go. Blip. Blip. Blip.
In the meantime, my oldest daughter starts asking, “How much longer do I have to be on here?” and adds a few minutes later, “I want to get off now!” followed by “Uhhhhhggghhhhhhhhh”. When I ask what feels so difficult she tells me, “I never get to talk at all. I need to talk to learn!”
I try to teach her how to self-advocate in an online classroom. “Unmute yourself,” I suggest.
“Action disabled by the host,” her computer responds.
“Send her a chat,” I try again.
“Action disabled by the host.”
I’m starting to get agitated by this computer’s tone.
“Is there a raise your hand button?”
The computer ignores me.
“Hold up a sign,” I give a final suggestion. She writes a note on a piece of paper with a purple marker and holds it in front of the camera. Her teacher doesn’t see it.
My daughter probably isn’t even visible on her screen. I don’t know what the maximum number of people is who can be seen in gallery view on Zoom but apparently it is less than 27. I teach her to set a timer and take a two minute break.
Later on, my 1st grader shuts her computer and told me school was done for the day. I look at the clock and she still has an hour left until school ends. I have her log back in and lo and behold all of her classmates are in there doing something!
She has no clue what they’re doing, obviously.
“Ask your teacher what you’re supposed to be doing,” I demand sternly. “Unmute yourself,” I suggest.
“Action disabled by host.”
I don’t waste my breath, I check myself to see if she can chat. Nope. Is there a raise your hand button? Nope.
Now I equally frustrated with technology and my daughter.
Through my teacher lens, I get it, because this is the kind of message a 1st grader sends her teacher:
“Wave your hand back and forth in front of the screen until she sees you,” I hiss.
The teacher doesn’t see her.
My daughter starts complaining that her arm is getting tired. I have no sympathy.
“I don’t care if you have to wave your arm back and forth the whole time, you’re going to keep doing it until you get an answer or until this activity is done!”
She waved and waved until the activity was done.
It’s not all bad though. There are actually quite a few things going well.
Like the flexible seating.
Like small group Flipgrid video conversation groups where my students are having back and forth conversation with each other and with me. They’re not LIVE conversations, but we are still listening to each other and responding to each other. One of my students today said she enjoyed those videos because it really did feel like we were having a conversation. She enjoys that connection hasn’t talked much with some teachers this year, at least so far.
This site where I’ll send my 4th hour kids a personal video telling them I’m sorry they heard me yelling about what color my daughter’s writing journal was when they were watching a youtube clip and thanking them for being so amazing. This is also when I’ll remind myself to give them grace for showing up late or not getting an assignment turned in on time.
Like giving my students a short video clip to watch and being able to watch them watch the video while watching them write notes from the video live on a Google doc. It’s also being able to pull a kid aside via breakout room who is struggling to stay awake and arrange for them to go take a nap and complete your assignment later.
Like helping a student figure understand the next step to solve a math problem by writing it on a sticky note and holding it right up close to the camera and having that work just fine. It’s faster than adding the phone as a document camera and just like in real school, in online school every minute counts.
Even better is having this kid – who complained EVERY SINGLE DAY about having to come to school when we were in person, show up online and even stay after the non-existent bell dismissed class so he could finish learning how to solve that problem.
Like watching my first grader work on her reading with her online program and being able to give her a high five when she gets through the whole thing. I’m pretty sure she’s still going to learn to read, you guys.
Like being able to put kids in breakout rooms to work in small groups and being able to take a 30 second breather before you enter one of the groups.
It’s amazing how breakout rooms work just like pulling a kid aside or talking to a kid 1-1 in the regular classroom – but maybe even better because there aren’t a million other students who are able to hear the conversation – making real honest and open connection with students very possible.
It’s crazy, but we’re doing it. And I’m pretty sure we’ll all come out the other side. We might even all gain a ton of valuable new skills and ideas and become better teachers and students because of it.
She saved the smell of bubble gum breath and cinnamon-scented hair, of coconut detangler and Vicks Vaporub. She stockpiled the feel of soft, tiny toes pressed gently against her lips. Of monkey-like legs wrapped around her waist.
She had a impressive collection of uppies and lay-with-mes and an infinite number of one-two-three-whees. She saved snippets of tiny tea cups clinked and plastic swords clanked. She saved bits of superheroes saving the day and puppet animals saying goodnight. She treasured her savings of sounding out words. Of listening to decoding, while praising and celebrating.
She held on to a handful of magical moments when elfs delivered and unicorns pranced. When fairies flew and night lights protected. She pocketed those times when the moon was bewitching and all of the rocks and shells were exquisite treasures.
She continued to make room for her growing conglomerate, clearing space for the feel of a small back underneath her fingertips. For the rinsing of strawberry shampoo out of long brown hair. For the tug in her chest that happened every time she noticed an indication of growth.
She squirreled away giggles and super silly faces. She kept her favorite misnomers and mispronunciations. Buckle seat instead of seat belt. Libary instead of library. She kept a lake full of tears and an assemblage of carefully bandaged wounds. She had a special place for small fingers that gripped her hands and skinny arms that wrapped around her neck.
She cherished her collection, even those things that were beginning to grow dust. She moved them around at times, brushing off some of the grit, yet she was aware that many of her goods were soon-to-be antiques.
Even when her stock appeared to be full, she continued to squirrel away more and more moments. She couldn’t help it. She was a hoarder.
Today I walked around my neighborhood – not the entire thing, but a circular loop around two blocks of houses. I knew it was a longer stretch than I can go without being kept up later tonight from nerve pain, but this morning I decided it was worth it. I needed to walk. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Campus Walk was scheduled for today – and a few years ago I committed myself to walking these events.
I walked around the loop as I sipped on a cup of coffee and I thought about Ross, David, and Evan. The people I know who have died by suicide. I thought about their families and their friends.
I thought about how depression is such an absolute shitbag.
I thought about my grandma (who coincidentally – died the same day that David did) and how she suffered from depression. I thought about when she was in the nursing home and I would visit her every day that I could. I would brush her hair, rub her back, or just babble on about this or that. Anything I could think of. She had her okay days – when she would answer my questions and give my kids hugs, and sometimes even bark out a little laugh – and she had her bad days – when she was almost non-responsive and my daughters asked why she was acting like that.
I knew why.
My grandma didn’t need to explain to me why she wasn’t talking, wasn’t responding, was hardly looking at me. Since I understood, I didn’t take it personally. I hugged her and kissed her cheek and told her she was beautiful and I loved her more. On the bad days when I did this, she’d make the this sound that only some of us understood – a grief-stricken, apologetic moan. She didn’t feel like she deserved that kind of love. She didn’t feel worthy, even though she so was.
Depression is such a bitch.
My grandma really wanted to die. Who knows for how long – or how many times her depression bubbled up to that point, and then sunk down to a manageable level, only to resurface later. But once she was in that nursing home, her husband already passed away, and she really, really, wanted to die. She spoke that aloud, often.
I was torn. I selfishly wanted her near me. I selflessly wanted her to be free from the pain.
An unexpected health ailment led to her death – earlier than expected. She was consulted with – asked what her wishes were – to attempt a life-saving surgery or to do nothing and know that she would die in the hospital.
She didn’t have to think twice.
I wonder if Ross, David, or Evan did.
Probably. They were younger.
So, when is the cut off for when it’s okay for someone to want to die, and when it isn’t? Or when other people care that it happens? Is it only when your parents are dead that it is acceptable to want to die? Or is there an age cut-off? Does it matter what you were doing with your life or what your potential was?
Is it ever okay?
Even if it isn’t okay, it happens. To a lot more people than people with normal brains realize.
When I walk for Ross, and David, and Evan, I also walk for myself.
Four years ago I had hip surgery for a torn labrum, and while that issue was corrected, I’ve been pretty much in a post-surgical nightmare ever since. A new problem immediately emerged, nerve pain that runs down the front of my thigh – and I’ve been getting the run around for the last four years – juggling hip surgeons, physical therapists, osteopathic manual manipulations, pain clinics, orthopedic surgeons, physiatrists, x-rays, MRIs, more pain clinics, more physical therapists, more orthopedic surgeons …. and the saga continues. I’m getting an EMG soon and the current hope (there have been others in the past – so lets not get too excited here) is that the nerve pain is originating from some sort of obstruction from scar tissue or a ligament or something pushing on my lateral subcutaneous femoral nerve and I can get that nervy bitch just zapped off the map so I don’t feel that shit anymore. The downside is that I would also lose sensation in that area on my outer thigh. I’m at a point where there is no question in my mind – I’d absolutely rather feel nothing than feel electrical fire tearing apart my thigh every time I take a step.
After 4 years of trial and error, I know I should not be getting my hopes up at all – yet I am so excited for the possibility of comfortably numb.
The timing of this hypothetical/potential medical cure strikes me as a little weird.
I’ve heard over and over about how depression often manifests as numbness. Feeling nothing – no highs, no lows, but I’ve never experienced it. For me, depression has always very much felt like something. Something awful. Worthlessness piled on top of anxiety on top of shame and hopelessness and loss. It has always felt like something that could not be continued – like it was an inferno that wouldn’t just tear a small piece of me apart, but would quickly consume my entire being whole.
So it seems almost interesting, in a scientific sort of way, that lately I’ve been feeling that nothingness I’ve heard so much about. Just….blank. Just – wake – eat – sleep – avoid talking – avoid doing – avoid being – sleep – sleep – sleep – repeat.
It’s kinda bad.
But, knowing what I know, I find myself grateful in this nothingness. I know nothingness is not the most healthy state of being – yet it still feels like relief. Like I am not frantically trying to put the fire out that is about to overtake me. Like I am not nearing the point of submitting to the smoke and the flames that surround me.
When you’ve got major depressive disorder, or a nerve disorder, nothingness can feel like floating on a raft, like hanging in a hammock.
A few days ago, my daughter asked if she could go with me to my doctor appointment. Even though I had fantasized about a silent ride, maybe with a stop on the way to pick up a coffee, I agreed that she could come.After checking my weight (too high) and blood pressure (also too high), the nurse handed me two slips of paper. I started circling numbers on the rating scales in front of me. “Read it to me, Mom.”
She understood weight and blood pressure and she wanted to know what I was doing next.I showed her the numeric scale on the top and explained the difference between a 1 and a 5. I started reading her the questions.
“In the past two weeks, how often have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?”
“Oh, you NEVER feel like that, Mom!” she interrupted me and laughed at how ridiculous that question seemed to her.
She, like most people who meet me, can’t fathom that I was born with storm clouds in my head and blackness in my bones. That there are times when sludge seeps from my marrow and oozes out my pores. That it coats my skin like a clinging rotten mold that I can’t remove, a sick syrupy mess that I can never wipe off no matter how much I try.
Depression lies and tells me I feel like shit and I behave like shit because I really AM shit. Depression tells me I should just be happy because I have such a great spouse, and great kids, and a great life, so SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP. Sometimes people tell me this, too.
It’s hard not to listen to your brain when it tells you that NOTHING WILL HELP, SO THERE’S NO USE TRYING. It’s impossible to ignore the idea your brain plants in your head that MEDS WON’T HELP – THEY’LL TURN YOU INTO A ZOMBIE. It’s hard to tell your brain that YES, I REALLY AM STRUGGLING when your brain says, No, actually you’re being weak.
JUST do the dishes.
JUST be nice.
JUST get out of bed and workout.
JUST be happy.
Depression scares me and tells me that the doctor is going to look at me and tell me that nothing is wrong with me.
Depression scares me and and tells me that the doctor is going to think something really is.
I know depression intimately, so I’m grateful for all of the days I DON’T feel trapped by my own mind. Like today. Today is a glorious day.
“Actually,” I tell her, “sometimes I DO feel like that and that’s why I’m here. I go to the doctor to check on these kind of feelings.” I continue reading her the questions on the list as I circle them.
“In the last two weeks, have you felt irritable or annoyed? So much so that others have noticed?” I circle a 2. A low score for me.
“Oh, THAT one is definitely a two.”
Now she’s getting it.
I hesitate on the last question before reading it to her, “In the past two weeks, how often have you had thoughts that you would be better of dead, or hurting yourself in some way?” I am thankful that my rating for this one is currently a zero, particularly since my daughter is watching me circle my responses. Because it’s not always a zero.
I’ve had to learn how to deal with these kind of thoughts when they ultimately return and resonate. I’ve had to figure out how to keep myself healthy even when my brain tells me to do the exact opposite of what it is that I need to do.
“Make an appointment with your doctor TODAY,” I need to tell myself. I need to remind myself that if it makes me uncomfortable to tell the receptionist why I’m making the appointment – it’s okay to LIE. To tell her I want to discuss allergies. I need to remind myself that it’s okay to lie to the nurse too, if I need to. That no, they will not kick me out for doing this. I need myself to know that I can tell the doctor that my friend or my mom or my child or my coworker told me that I needed to go. That I promised that person I’d check in and report back. I need to remember it’s okay to tell the doctor if I’m feeling uncomfortable talking about this with them.
Once I go to the doctor, I know I immediately need to make a follow up appointment. Before I leave. Every single time. I need to constantly follow up. Follow up. Follow up. PROBABLY FOREVER. Because treatment, at least for me, doesn’t look like this:
It looks like this:
I need to remind myself that I don’t have to feel worthless and hopeless. I need to be reminded that those aren’t normal feelings. That other people aren’t thinking about how they’d do it if they ended it. I need to remember that when my brain starts thinking any of those things that I am not alone and I AM NOT WELL.
So, how do I do it? How do I make my brain recognize what I need to be healthy when my brain is at the same time telling me I’m a piece of shit and should just give it all up?
I do the same thing other people who successfully manage their depression do. We plant messages and reminders for ourselves when we’re in a good place. We leave notes up on our bathroom mirrors that say, “You are worth it.” We leave printouts of Pinterest quotes on our bulletin boards that tells us, “DEPRESSION LIES.” We wear jewelry on our wrists that remind us to keep going. We get tattoos on our arms that remind our brain that we can, in fact, feel better than we do now.
We get tattoos on our feet so we’re absolutely positive there is no way we can miss this important message.
We remind ourselves that we are no different and no better than those we know who lost their battle.
People like me need multiple reminders to try the counseling, or the app, or the yoga, or the workouts, or the meds, or the other meds, or the other meds, or the increase in meds, or the inpatient treatment, or the transcranial magnetic stimulation, or the any of the other things that are available to us. We need a reminder that what works at one point might not work later. We need a reminder that what didn’t work before might work now. We need reminders to keep trying. And trying. And trying.
People like me find ourselves wading through the muck so much that when we have an opportunity to feel a ray of sunshine on our faces WE BASK IN IT. We add to our gratitude journals and our acts of kindness every opportunity we get. We practice self-care by reading, doing yoga, creating art, writing, or doing whatever it is that keeps us sane. Because we know these kinds of things are impossible when we’re not in a good place.
My daughter and I left my appointment and when I looked at her face in the rear-view mirror I wondered if she’s inherited the darkness genes or not. If she’ll battle with depression like her mama. If she does, I hope I’m giving her a path to follow so she always gets the message that she is worth the effort it takes to seek out the help she needs.
I’ve learned, however, that whenever I say the book is done, I find more things to fix and then it’s done again and then I fix again and then it’s done again. But I’m going to push that little tidbit out of my mind right now because right now it is ABSOLUTELY DONE in the sense that I have an ISBN and people (you! and all of your friends!) can. buy it online or order it from most bookstores.
Here’s a short quiz to determine if you’ll connect with this book:
Do you like memoirs and biographies? Do you like my style of writing? (How could you not?)
Have you ever met someone and thought that their life adventures should be written down by someone someday? Yiayia and Papou had adventures I could not let go unheard.
Do you connect with stories from the Old Country? Crazy tales of how things used to be? Yiayia and Papou have RIDICULOUS STORIES, you guys. They lived as goat herders! They sheared goats and made yarn out of that goat hair and turned that goat hair into clothing and blankets. And that’s the normal sounding stuff.
Do you appreciate family? I extricated stories from Yiayia and Papou’s past and wove in the current-day version of them as parents and grandparents. They are hilarious and loveable.
Do you love good food? Yiayia gave up several recipes and they’re the real deal.
If you answered yes to any of the above, you’ll like the book. Pretty damn sure. You might as well just order it now.
In case you’re still on the fence, here’s a short excerpt from the book and a bonus picture that I didn’t include in the book itself. I tried to choose something that would give you a feel for what the book is like without giving away all of the juicy bits. So here you go:
LEAVING THE VILLAGE
After several years working for Papa in his caffeneios, Tom got a job at a restaurant in the Plaka, near the Acropolis. “This place was a five-star restaurant; it had great food.” The clientele at the restaurant was elite. “I used to get great tips from Prince Constantine before he became King. I also saw Kirk Douglas. He signed quite a few autographs. I got one autograph my whole life. I gave him my tablet, that I used to take orders on, and he used up the entire tablet with his signature. I still have the autograph he gave me somewhere.”
“I definitely want to see that,” I say as I sip on a glass of wine in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. If she ever wants a glass of wine, she always asks me to drink with her. She knows I’ll accept. She doesn’t want to drink alone.
“There was a photographer from the local paper there,” Tom continues, “and I asked him to take a picture of me with Kirk Douglas and his wife.”
According to Tom, he was standing a step or two above them and the photographer, so he wouldn’t appear so short in comparison, and the photographer ended up cutting off the top of Tom’s head in the picture. “I thought if I went up one step we’d be even,” Tom says, holding his hands up to indicate that their heads would be the same height.
“What kind of photographer cuts off the top of someone’s head?”
“He working for a big newspaper, too!”
“He really didn’t care about you in the picture.” I point out the reality of the situation.
“No, no, no.” Tom acknowledges this is probably true.
“Yea, I’d love to see that.” I tell him.
“Pou einai?” Glykeria asks Tom. Where is it?
“I have no clue, mori, I never look for those things,” he says. “Up until recently, I had it in my wallet. The autograph. Until I came here, a few years ago,” he says. “Kinda worn out.”
“Until you came HERE?” I ask, pointing to the floor. “Here” as in the U.S. forty years ago or “here” as in this house I’m standing in that you’ve lived in for four?
“Here, yeah,” he says, copying my motion and pointing to the dark wood floor.
“You carried his autograph around in your pocket all that time?” For decades?
“Yeah. Since 1969. Since I got the original card. I mean my social security number card. It’s in my wallet.”
His social security card and Kirk Douglas’s photograph. His two prized American possessions.
“I took it out two, three times maybe,” he says, referring to the social security card. “Once I memorized it, never take it out,” he says before adding, “I hope that’s still there.” He laughs, takes a sip of his coffee and turns back to his book.
“Now she got me think that,” he says a minute later, putting his book down.
“She got you thinking about what?” I ask him.
“My pictures.” He stands up and walks out of the room.
“Pege nah vre ti photographia,” Glykeria says. He went to find the pictures. “I knew where they was before, but when we move here, I don’t know where he puts it,” she says.
Glykeria and I sip on our wine and from the kitchen we can hear him rummaging through boxes.
“I gotta go get a new one before he dies.” Tom enters the kitchen, laughing and holding a small piece of paper in his hands.
“No way! You found it?!” He’s been talking about this autograph for years but I hadn’t ever seen it, so I figured I never would.
“Get some tape! Get some tape!” my mother-in-law shouts, as she runs to get the scotch tape herself.
“Worn totally out,” Tom says, inspecting it. It was folded in half, and then half again, and when he opens it up the paper rips across the seams and there is a hole in the center. “Worn totally out,” he says again as he scans it. “9-11-1964,” he says.
“I got it! I got it! Let me tape!” Glykeria says. I move the wine glasses out of the way so they don’t get tipped and stain the paper. “That’s okay, mori. That’s okay. No big deal. But it’s worn out. I better get Kirk Douglas now. I think he’s still alive yet,” he snickers.
Glykeria grabs the autograph, turns the paper over and lays a strip of tape along the back seam.
“Wow,” I say. “That’s awesome.” I’m still amazed that he has this after all those years.
“Wait, 9-11 . . . on your birthday?” I look at Glykeria incredulously. September 11th is her birthday.
“No, months are backwards,” he says. Ah. November 9th.
“Well, let’s take a photo of it,” I insist. My husband snaps a photo of the front and back of the paper that once lived in my father-in-law’s pad of guest checks.
“Take a picture with it, Tom!” I hand him the autograph. He’s got a huge smile, something rare when a camera is being shoved in his face, and he holds up the paper.
“No, no!” Glykeria yells out.
What the hell? She’s been just as excited as I am about his autograph until this moment.
“You got a hole in your shirt!” A cigarette burn, it looks like to me, on the side of his stomach.
“I’ll cover the hole,” Tom appeases her. “I’ll cover the hole with the autograph. The only one I ever got!” He puts the paper with the hole in it over the hole in his shirt and his smile gets even wider.
It was my daughter’s 4th birthday the other day. I still can’t believe it, she’s already 4!
My baby, who was born what seems like maybe a month ago, has been with us for four years! It was a rough start when I was pregnant with her – coming off of a miscarriage, and losing two more babies within a couple of months. Her whole beginning was a roller-coastery up and down of hormones and emotions.
But it all worked out. She’s here. And she’s awesome.
Her crazy loud cry has been causing long-term damage to my eardrums since the day she was born and she’s been saying, “NO” without explanation basically since birth. But, she’s still snuggly and giggly and tiny enough to carry around on the side of my hip. She’s learned how to smooth over any ill effects her loud cry or her loud NO might impart with a silly face, an infectious giggle, and a coy little bat of the eye. She is a fiercely strong person, independent and mighty, but who still looks up to her mama so much that when asked what animal her patronus would be (she loves Harry Potter and got a wand for her birthday) she replies, “you, Mama!” In case you weren’t aware, the patronus is the animal spirit that protects you. So, it makes sense that it’d be me.
Because she’s only 4.
Before her birthday party, we went to church. The girls took communion and after the liturgy the Greek school students were awarded their end-of-year certificates. It was a proud moment for our oldest, who has been doing her best to learn Greek language and Greek culture, even though she is only exposed to bits and pieces in her mixed-heritage home.
She’s almost 6.
Everyone was at church on that day, but not to watch her get her certificate. Our family had another reason to be there. A forty-day memorial for our cousin who died. Way too young. Suicide. My husband’s cousin’s baby who had a wide smile, an infectious personality, and a giving nature. I don’t know what animal his patronus would be because I never got around to asking him. Even if I had asked him, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a serious answer, it would’ve been just be for fun.
Because he was 23.
It’s chilling to realize that parenting doesn’t get easier with time, it gets harder. Sure, we get to sleep in a little longer on the weekends as they get older, but like my friend Jane always says, “little kids, little problems . . . big kids, big problems” meaning the hectic minute by minute demands that make raising small children so profoundly difficult is nothing compared to the less frequent but more intense issues that arise with parenting older children.
It doesn’t always work out. It isn’t always awesome.
Her birthday felt surreal. In the morning, I was rocking my baby while the church choir sang a beautifully haunting, “Memory Eternal” for our cousin. I held her in my arms and inhaled her cinnamon-scented head, clutching her to my body and etching her skin with my fingertips as if this were the last time I would ever touch her.
Because you really never know.
Our little family of four found time to celebrate as a small unit, a few moments amidst the chaos that was celebrating with extended family. We sang, “Today is Your Birthday” by the Beatles. We bounced together – just the four of us – in the rented bounce house, and we cheersed with plastic forks as the four of us ate the leftover cake straight from the platter before bed.
That same day as 40 days since death.
Throughout the day our family laughed and we cried. We passed around bracelets with our cousin’s name etched in the band, a memorial we could wear. We sang to my daughter before she blew out her candles – a tribute we could hear. We celebrated together, we mourned together, back and forth so many times it felt more like a lifetime than a 24-hour day.
The minutes pass and the moments are counted from birth until forever. There is no end date to parenting. There is no greater joy, there can be no greater grief.