Here’s What You Need to Know About Digging Yourself Out of A Depressive Rut

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.

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Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

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:

img_20190413_1510053730749488735731238.jpgIt looks like this:

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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.

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Photo by Timothy L Brock on Unsplash

 

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.

YIAYIA AND PAPOU – The Book! An Excerpt and a Quiz to Find Out if You Need to Read it:

I’ve been picturing the I finished book since I started this blog – using it as a mental image to keep myself going during the book writing process. The time has come and gone. The book is done!

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:

  1. Do you like memoirs and biographies? Do you like my style of writing? (How could you not?)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

An autograph

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.

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Tom tastefully covering the cigarette burn in his shirt with his prized Kirk Douglas autograph.

A Reminder of Being Whole

It’s a struggle
to let go
to step back and release
when I want to lean in
when I want to scoop up

It’s a loss
the emptiness
that resides in the void
once inhabited by small arms
wrapped around my neck

It’s a challenge
the balancing act
the delicate art
of being there
while tiptoeing back

It’s a sever
of a limb
an aching cavity
that doesn’t smart
only when granted permission

It’s the answer
to the question
younger me always had
about why my dad
always rubbed my back

The fleeting touch
of part of me
no longer mine
is not a chore
it is a reminder of being whole

Balancing Gratitude Amidst Grief

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.

They’re always our babies, no matter what.

She Found Herself

She found herself unable to breathe. It had been building up for awhile but today if felt tighter. Quite uncomfortable. It was more than uncomfortable, really, she felt stifled. Sweaty. Claustrophobic. She began to unbutton. It was a slow process because the buttons were tightly secured and they barely fit through the buttonholes. It took a considerable amount of effort to free each one and, just part way through, her fingertips were on fire.

There were so many buttons.

And this was after the zippers and the snaps and the knotted straps.

After winning the battle against the knots, the snaps, the zippers, and the buttons, she was looking forward to ripping off her insecurities once and for all and tossing them aside.

She thought she had finished with the hard part so she brusquely ripped off the last of it. Her eyebrows pulled together and she gasped in surprise when instead of feeling a heavy weight released, she instead felt a weighty jolt and searing pain. She ended up with bleeding wounds in several places from the parts that had been smashed against her being for so long that they had grown into her skin.

Eventually, she was able to throw it off and it landed in a wrinkled heap on the floor.

She found herself almost feeling sorry for it in it’s wretched state, all crumpled up on the floor. She had, after all, held it so close to her – treated it so tenderly – for so long. She looked at it for a long while trying to figure out why she had been so drawn to it in the first place. It was not attractive. It was less than attractive, it was hideous.

She found herself wondering why she didn’t realize how repulsive it was until now.

She left it there in a continued undressing. She slowly peeled off layer after layer of self doubt. She had learned her lesson and instead of jerking and ripping she worked slowly, gently. Sometimes she had to stop for awhile and come back to it. She kept at it, and after she was done she tackled the removal of her cloak of jealousy and her heavy chains of despair. Piece by piece, she undressed.

She didn’t realize how fatiguing all of her costumes had been until she found herself bare. She stood up straight and stretched out her spine.

She wrapped herself up in a coat of self worth. It was fuzzy and cozy and large enough to tuck around her thick thighs and pull up under her pockmarked chin. She slid on a headband of grace and a draped herself with a necklace of humor.

She looked at herself in the mirror and was startled by her reflection. She was not accustomed to seeing herself  in such garments. She questioned whether or not they suited her and what others might think about her distinctive change of attire until she reminded herself that she did, in fact, deserve to be comfortable in her own skin. Happy, even.

She pulled her shoulders back, stood up straight. She found herself automatically starting to put on a smile, until she remembered that she didn’t have to. That a fake smile was another costume she could leave behind if she wanted. She felt adequate without one at that moment, so she let her lips drop to a relaxed horizontal position.

She found herself skipping that one-last-look-in-the-mirror she was so used to taking. She just walked away content.

 

I’m Parenting Young Children and THIS is Exactly What I Was Afraid of.

Some people know they want kids and they’ve always known they’ve wanted kids since before they could remember. Not all of us are like that. Some of us were scared shitless about what becoming parents would entail.

SHITLESS, some of us were. I’m talking colon-cleansing-from-the-stomach-flu fear of the unknown. Because the only “known” we had before kids was listening to parents complain. And hey, that’s fine, I get it! I complain too. It’s cathartic. Parenting is hard. And the complaints are legit.

But to a scared shitless non-parent who isn’t sure if they’re up for procreating, those complaints can reverberate off our skulls and pile on top of our shoulders like an avalanche of doubt and anxiety and make us second guess whether or not it’s worth it.

Which is a shame, really. Because if you’re second guessing whether or you’ll be able to manage a daunting task like parenting, it very likely means that you will be great at it. Or at the very least not be too horrible. Which in the parenting world is basically the same thing.

Here is a small sampling of some of the things I was afraid of before having kids.

THE TANTRUMS

My youngest came out of the womb in the midst of a tantrum. Even the postnatal nurse raised her eyebrows when she heard her scream as I held her, rocked her, fed her. She handed me a few extra bottles of “sensitive” formula without me asking. Over the past four years, her tantrums have slowly and steadily subsided. She is now of the age that she can have a conversation about at tantrum after one occurs. Here’s one example of a recent one we had:

“Do you know why I let you watch a movie on the way to daycare today?”

“No.”

“Because the last couple of days you’ve been a very good listener and you’ve been acting like a big girl – no whining or screaming. You’ve been using your words.”

“What else?” she asks me.

“What else did I notice about you?”

“Yeah.” She nods and smiles. She’s used to me listing some of her strengths that I see.

“I notice that you’re strong and you can do hard things and you’re a reader and a nice sister and a nice daughter and a nice friend.”

“And a nice cat and a nice dog. BAHAHAHAHAHA!” she cracks herself up.

“And you’re funny,” I add.

“I’m hilarious.” She retorts.

“What does hilarious mean?” She wants to double check she’s used the word correctly.

I distinctly remember that only ONE person I know told me before I had kids that children are funny. ONE!!! And I remember being surprised since all I had heard up to that point were complaints. All I heard about was the tantrums. Never the conversations after. My kids make me laugh a thousand times a day.

THE TIME COMMITMENT

Before I had children, when I’d hear someone talk about the practices or the games they had to take their kids to, I’d cringe inside. When they told me they couldn’t attend a fun weekend excursion, I’d feel so sorry for them. UGH. What a pain in the ass! I worried about a time when I would be forced to sit on the sidelines, bored out of my mind, wishing I was somewhere more exciting.

But then I took my child to her first swim class. I watched her stick her tongue out in concentration every time she pulled with her arms. I watched her creep along the side of the pool, her shoulders shaking a bit out of fear, as she practiced crab walking along the edge. I watched her look at me, her mouth involuntarily turn down and I watched her hold back tears as she worked on floating on her back. She was afraid and she let it show for a minute. I watched her smile after she was done as she smacked a high five into her teacher’s palm.

I sat there enthralled, cheering her every step of the way, giving her a smile every time she looked in my direction. I watched her succeed and I felt victorious. It felt as if I had accomplished a great feat myself. Except watching her achieve felt even better.

THE BOREDOM

When I didn’t have kids and I looked at what parents were doing . . . it looked really boring. They weren’t traveling the world, they weren’t taking salsa dancing or art classes for fun, they weren’t going out all night chatting with friends.

They seemed kind of lame.

Before having kids, I was afraid of being bored. I didn’t realize that having kids meant never being bored again. I didn’t know that when we drove down the street my child would say things like:

“Moon. Moon. Moonie. Where are you?! Mom, where’s the moon! Oh! There it is! It’s following us! Mom, it’s following us! Mom – I want to eat the moon. I want to eat it. Mumm Mummm Mummmm Mum Mum! The moon is in my belly. HAHAHAHA!!! Mom. Can we really eat the moon? I really want to eat it.”

No one warned me that I’d ALWAYS BE LOOKING AT THE MOON. And that it is really beautiful. Always. Some days it’s skinny, some days it’s plump. Waxing, waning – doesn’t matter. Always beautiful. And it’s not just the moon. It’s the stars and the trees and the rainbow tinged bubbles that are blown out of wands. These conversations happen about every possible topic that exists.

No one warned me that I’d notice everything in the entire world, all around me, from a fresh pair of eyes.

THE MESSY DIAPERS AND THE CHANGING OF PEE-SOAKED SHEETS

Even though I tell my kids to stay in their beds because they, and I – need to get good night’s sleep – I also secretly love the nights when one decides to come up to the side of my bed and tap me on the shoulder to wake me up so I can lift them onto the mattress and put my arm around their belly and rest my head above their chin, sniffing their cinnamon-scented head.

Even when it’s at 4 am and they don’t stop tossing and turning until 5 minutes before my alarm goes off.

Even if it’s because they peed through their pajamas and onto the sheets. Even if I need to help clean up, re-dress, reassure that it’s okay, and then set the washer to cleanse on high.

Changing and cleaning, when it comes to them, just means taking care of them. Is nurturing. Is so, so, SO much different than cleaning or washing my house, or my things, or sort of mess my husband makes. When it comes to my children, cleaning a shit-filled diaper is less gross than it is concerning. Does it look like she’s hydrated enough? Is it happening often enough? How long has she been sitting in this? Do I need to change her more often? Do I need to apply A&D – is she red? Is she uncomfortable?

No one warned me that when it came to my children, changing and cleaning would not be chores – they’d be me not hesitating for one moment when it comes to these tasks because I’d be making sure my children were safe and healthy and clean.

That said, I still remind my toddler not to pee on me when she’s sitting on my lap. Because being soaked in pee after your child knows better is really, really gross.

I’m still a bit afraid of the unknown. Of the big kid problems that I know loom around the corner.The teenage years. The asshole friends. I already wake up a 3 am in the middle of the night and worry about a time, 15 years from now, when my girls are college freshmen walking around a dark campus at night. I fret over things that scare me to death. The difference between now and before I had kids is that I know all of the fears and worries are worth it. A million times over.

Inside Out and Blue and Yellow and Blue and Yellow

One of my favorite kid movies is Inside Out. The personification of the emotions in Riley’s head are adorable and – even though completely physiologically inaccurate – they are so realistically portrayed. My favorite part of the movie is when Joy figures out that Riley doesn’t just need HER, she needs Fear and Anger and Disgust and especially Sadness . . . it’s so, SO well done. If you haven’t watched it, you should. No matter how old you are. I love the image of the first core memory that is a mixture of Joy and Sadness – a swirl of yellow and blue.

Tomorrow I’m going to a student’s funeral. A boy who had sandy blonde hair and a toothpaste commercial smile – when he could manage to flash it. A boy who had intelligence and a caring nature that went above and beyond what a typical teenager possesses. A boy who had depression and his own demons he was fighting.

Depression is such a bitch.

It was a joy to watch him, to teach him, to know him.

Blue.

Yellow.

Blue.

Yellow.

The funeral is on my mind when I put my kids to bed tonight, and my heart feels a little heavier than usual. When I go into their room I feel down until they say things like, “Can you give us one more huggie and kissie?” and they ask it more than once. I oblige every time.

Yellow.

Yellow.

My youngest daughter looks at me and smiles when I tuck her in says, “I’m going to dream about princesses!” And I hope she does dream about princesses. I sort of hate princesses, but that’s beside the point – I just want her to dream of something that makes her happy.

Yellow.

They’re so young. Their little internal emotional dashboards are still so simple. So joyous, much of the time. So many yellow core memories. Right now, parenting is exhausting and brutal but exhilarating and rewarding. It’s hard in some ways but so easy in others.

It scares me, a little – a lot, actually – for when their emotions get more complex. For their memories that are all swirls of blue mixed in with yellow. For memories that don’t have any yellow.

Blue.

I know it has to happen. I know their Sadness is important. Logically.

Emotionally, it’s harder.

And the thought of something more than Sadness. More than blue – for my kids – it’s terrifying.

So many of us deal with depression. It’s in my genes and maybe in my kid’s. I don’t know what color true depression would show up as in Inside Out, but I know for sure that it is not the same blue that sadness is. I’m pretty sure it isn’t even a shade of blue at all.

I’m just about positive that losing a child isn’t a color. It’s a gouge in the orb.

I’m trying to take my cues from Joy. I’m trying to humble myself and acknowledge the fact that Joy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That the rest of the shit that exists is necessary. Is useful.

It is, right? It is.

Blue.

Blue.

Blue.

I’m sure it is. Logically. Emotionally – it’s harder to wrap my brain around.

When Birthing and Dying, Discomfort Prepares Us

I distinctly remember a certain point when I was no longer fearful of childbirth. Before getting pregnant, the thought of giving birth was a little scary. More than a little scary, really. It terrified and disgusted me in equal parts. I worried about the leaking and the tearing and the pain. When I eventually got pregnant, I wasn’t as disgusted, but I was still a bit afraid of the unknown.

But somewhere in that third trimester, things began to shift. Maybe it was the separation of my pelvic joint or the stabbing feeling I got every time I sneezed that brought me to my knees, or maybe it was the pee that ran down my leg while I was gasping for breath after that sneeze. It could have been my organs getting crushed inside of me, or perhaps it was my sore tailbone or the fact that my blood pressure got lower instead of higher like my doctor predicted, so instead of worrying about preeclampsia, like I was prepared for, I worried about blood pressure (and blood flow to the baby) that was too low.

Pregnancy does weird, unpredictable things to the body.

My point is, before that baby came, I was ready. My anxieties and fears were cast aside because of how uncomfortable I became near the end and all I cared about was GETTING THIS BABY OUT OF ME. I guess it’s probably the same when you’re the one coming into the world. Your arms squashed into your sides and your head is pressing against a hard place. You’re ready to get the eff outta Dodge.

I think it might be similar when you’re dying. So uncomfortable that you’re ready to move on to whatever the hell might be next.

My grandma is dying, as we speak. Not in the vague existential way that we all are, but at this very moment, her body is shutting down and letting go. She’s got a few days left, at most.

She’s been ready for awhile. Maybe it was the loss of her husband or the loss of her independence or the loss of her ability to use her hands, and then her legs.

She was able to make the choice to prolong her life by going through a risky surgery or opting out of the surgery and saying goodbye. She didn’t hesitate. When told she would not be going back to the nursing home she’s been in for the past year or so her response was an immediate, “Good.”

She’s been uncomfortable for a long, long time. The thing about pregnancy is you know an approximate end date. Not so much with dying.

Near the end, she watched her husband of 50+ years forget who he was. She watched him shrink down to a fraction of himself and eventually dissolve into dust. She quickly grew weaker and weaker, her head, her heart, her body. Her spirit grew thin as her body grew stiff and tremorous and unreliable. She transformed from an active, social woman to a bed-ridden depressive to a wheelchair-bound hermit within a matter of months.

Growing old does weird, unpredictable things to the body.

She had to be removed from her home and she removed herself emotionally from most of her friends and her family. She was weary. She was so very depressed. She was not her best self. She created more than a bit of discomfort to some of those around her.

She was done.

Is that how it always is? The discomfort? The GET ME OUT OF HERE?

Perhaps.

Maybe it’s the discomfort that gets us all ready. To come in, and to leave.

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Yiayia and Her Love-and-Feta-Stuffed Cheese Pita

My mother-in-law is amazing. I hit the jackpot with this lady and I know it. As her daughter-in-law, I reap all the benefits of her being my mother – she babysits my children (all the time), she has us over for dinner (weekly) and she sends over plates of her leftover homemade Greek food (every other daily) – plus I have the added bonus of not having any of that inevitable mother-daughter emotional baggage since she didn’t have to raise me during my early teenage years. She’s adores her grandchildren and she doles out lavish amounts of love and an even more generous quantity of chocolate chip cookies. She is a master in the kitchen and right now just thinking about her food is making my mouth water.

Today she taught my youngest how to make homemade phyllo dough. She put together the dough, took out a small handful and opened it up on the counter using a thin wooden dowel.

She rolled the dough out into papery sheets and then used a paint brush to swipe on melted butter before adding a cheese filling and rolling it up, turning the phyllo into a rose shaped cheese pie.

My daughter stood on a chair pushed up to the counter and watched her yiayia attentively. She doesn’t usually stand still, but when she watches her grandmother cook, she hardly moves a muscle, her eyes stay fixed on Yiayia, other than when she briefly glances at me, standing right beside her, to share her excitement with a smile. She helps Yiayia mix the cheese filling. Yiayia shows her how to roll out the dough.

After a tutorial, Yiayia hands over the paint brush and lets her add the butter to the phyllo sheet she has just rolled out.

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As I watch these moments my children get to experience with their yiayia, I am thrilled for them. I will them to remember every bit of love she dispenses, every word of Greek she utters, every cooking tip she bestows. Their yiayia gives them so much that no one else can offer – not even their own mother. Her love looks different than mine does. Her language is different than mine is. Her food is so much better than mine will ever be.

As I devoured my portion of the cheese pie I tried to savor each bite. There was no way I could make myself eat more slowly, but I tried to be as present as I could be while I enjoyed my dish. As I ate, I reminded myself that Yiayia’s cooking, just like Yiayia’s love, won’t be around forever. I try to think up ways to preserve her memories and preserve her recipes, but I know that no matter what I do, I will never be able to recreate this day, or this dish.

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