Friday, June 15, 2018

Words and Seeds and Stars

We got Landon's STAAR scores yesterday. That's the standardized test in Texas schools. I don't care much about the tests and one of the reasons we chose our neighborhood was because on our public school tour the principal walked what we felt was the right line between acknowledging that test scores matter for the school in ways they can't control while also talking about all the ways the teach their students well beyond the testing's bounds. Landon is bright and has no stress about these things so it's a non-event, but I went online to pull his scores anyway because he happened to give me the take-home sheet with the instructions on how to do so this year and I like to follow directions. Fourth grade is the first year they are tested in writing (along with reading and math they start in 3rd) and he got a perfect score and was in the 100th percentile. I didn't know the 100th percentile was a thing, but there it was, and in writing. That's so powerful, I told him. Not the score, but the ability to write. The fact that you enjoy it. That a blank page isn't intimidating, it's an invitation. He's always been like that. When we had our first Kindergarten parent teacher meeting, back when we didn't know if he was at all engaged in learning and had NO idea he already knew how to read (parents of the year, right there), we were shocked- genuinely floored- when his teacher turned over all their regular class work pages to show these long essays he was writing and then illustrating on the back of every page. That will help you your whole life, I said, the ability to clearly translate your thoughts into words.

Writing has always been essential to me. I love a blank page, so full of possibilities. There is a deep satisfaction in reading your own words and thinking, yes, that's exactly what I meant. I was surprised by the post I started writing Monday night. I was more surprised that when I finished long after James had gone to bed I read it through tears and thought yes, that's exactly what I meant. And so I pressed publish and went to bed, snuggling into James and feeling oddly at peace with baring my soul because I'd found just the right words to do it. I woke up in a panic 6 hours later and my first thought was ohmygodwhatdidIdo. I frantically grabbed my phone, checked my blog, and yep- there it was. All my words. Words that still felt right, but also felt so raw. People will see this I thought, heart pounding. People I know. Friends, strangers, my PARENTS. They will see and they will KNOW and it will be weird. Three separate times on Tuesday morning I almost pulled it down.

And then the comments came. Comments and emails and texts. It took me 20 hours and a "good stuff" margarita from our favorite taco place to publish the blog link on my personal facebook page. I normally publish a link to every blog post I write, but very nearly skipped this one. But, as I wrote in the facebook post- isn't that the point? I put the kids to bed and waited an hour to check facebook and when I did, I looked through squinted eyes, like that would help feel less exposed to comments that already existed whether I was reading them through blurry eyes or not. And there they were, these wonderful, supportive, personal comments, and you guys, if there's anything I learned besides "sometimes what you publish after midnight is not a mistake," it's that we need to talk about these things. I cannot tell you how many "me too" texts I got from people who surprised me. I still have many to respond to, but know that I read every single one, probably multiple times and they meant the world. And while I don't think anyone has any obligation to disclose that part of their life or confidential medical history, I do think there is quite a bit of power in doing so in a safe place or friendship. (Or very public blog post.)

Several people asked what they could do to be available for people in their life who may be struggling. And that's a hard one to answer because every one is so different- both in their actual struggles, how they perceive their struggles, and the balance between how welcome v. how necessary reaching out may be. So I don't know. In my case I had no idea I was in a hole so (1) I wouldn't have expected anyone else to realize it either; and (2) even if someone had I wouldn't have been receptive to help because I would have been surprised and probably hurt that someone thought I needed it. But as a backdrop I'd say (in my capacity as an absolutely untrained, unlicensed, non-medical professional), be someone who brings up counseling or therapy as a regular, even assumed medical option. Be someone a person who is struggling (even if they don't know it yet) knows they could mention it to. A few years ago a good friend happened to mention talking to a counselor at a tough time in her life while we were getting pedicures. It takes a leap of faith to bring that up and I felt honored by it. It also then sat in the back of my mind as a reminder that yes, people do that, along with the knowledge that this friend was someone I could ask about it. At the time I never thought I would, but still, the knowledge was there. And then six months ago, several years after our conversation, she's who I asked how she found her therapist. It's planting seeds. If a friend is talking to you about feeling frustrated all the time or overwhelmed maybe say, "have you thought of talking to a counselor about that? I have a friend who did that and it really helped." (Or even better, if it's true, "I did that and it really helped.") And then leave it. They'll ask questions if they want or let it percolate or reject it outright, but no matter what they'll know that you think that's okay to do and they'll know you're someone they could talk to later if they wanted to. It's little and it's fairly passive, but it's something and I think it matters to hear people in your life talk about mental health the way they might regularly suggest seeing a doctor or specialist for any kind of physical ailment.

But know also that mental health is just that- mental. It's complicated and distorted by our own reality and perceptions. Sometimes people won't get help who should and that isn't anyone else's fault. I don't think I would have listened to anyone except James that I needed help. And even though he is the person I love and trust most in the whole world, a person who I knew had benefited immensely from therapy himself, it was not a smooth or painless path for either of us in getting me to listen to him.

I guess would also say, for yourself and those close to you- depression and anxiety can look very different from what you think they are. Anxiety doesn't have to be "excessive worrying," the way it is often described. It can be about past hurts and triggers and vulnerabilities. Feeling things are directed at you when they're not, or that something should be about you that isn't. It might not at all be about stress or feeling overwhelmed or anything of the things I thought it was. It can be an inability to get over things. An involuntary need to keep score. It can be SO MANY things and you can still be genuinely happy much of the time you're also battling it. I didn't know that before. Anytime I thought "hey maybe this is a problem," I'd knock it down with "but I'm happy! I'm not a worrier. I feel joy, I don't feel stressed about my life, I actually feel really good about all the parts of my life right now." And that was absolutely true. But we're complicated creatures; we can feel lots of things at once. And sometimes there are feelings that get in the way of relationships or that don't make a lot of sense in the overall framework and maybe it's those that don't need to be there at all.

I need to move on. There are mundane life things to discuss like the fact that our new master bedroom floors erupted two days after they were installed and we now have a mountain range of peaks and valleys and broken wood all across our floor. And both our AC units tried to break two days apart but have now both been fixed. We had our first swim meet last weekend and it was so fun and toddlers in caps and goggles are a magical thing. Landon is at running camp and just discovered fanny packs and thinks they are the coolest. Claire is at Greatest Showman Broadway jazz camp and having the best week ever. James is being interviewed by the Fort Worth Star Telegram today for his work on the Drowning Prevention Coalition and I'm so proud of him. Cora has two "ear confections" and can't swim and it's been a struggle for us all. I have two weeks of meals to share. I fed a giraffe named Captain lettuce on Sunday and it needs to be discussed with MANY exclamation marks.

But I would like to say, before we get back to the everyday business of life, thank you. Thank you for your comments, your support, and for sharing your stories. I write because I need to, but a huge part of the joy I get from it is knowing you all our reading and knowing I can trust you with my words.


  1. I totally agree about the importance of being open about these things. (I meant to comment on your last post, but time got away from me.) I am personally very open about the fact that I have GAD/panic disorder, see a counselor, the value of therapy, etc. I cannot tell you the number of people who come to me as a result of this, both with mental health issues, but also just other life stuff, because they see a willingness to be imperfect. As hard as it can be to suffer from an anxiety disorder or other mental illness, I truly have come to see it as a gift because of the ways it has allowed me to care for and support other people. The more people who are open about these things, the better!

  2. I've been saying for YEARS how we need to handle mental health better in the US. I mean, could it be any more obvious? Yet it is still such a delicate conversation topic. Why?? We talk about broken bones and other medical issues with no problem. Thank you for opening up! Thank you for being real and honest and sharing your thoughts and feelings.

    Extra congrats to Landon! WOW! You are raising some smart kiddos!

  3. Very long time lurker here. I just have to say thank you so much for talking about your mental health journey, because this is the first time I have ever heard anyone describe anxiety like you have. I am also a lawyer, and one of the few I know not taking antidepressants. Everyone thinks I have my shit together, I am overall happy and not unusually or overly anxious. My marriage is on solid footing. I'm generally happy. But I take things personally, like if my husband forgets to pay a bill or do something he said he would. I can't get past it. He constantly asks why I'm taking it personally or making such a big deal out of stuff. And I'd started to think maybe I was just bitchy, and I couldn't understand why I couldn't just be more understanding/relaxed about some things. But this is the first time I have ever considered that it could be anxiety, and that maybe a therapist could help. So thank you for being brave and talking about it. I'm sure you've helped many, including maybe me!

  4. I couldn't think of how to comment last week, but I just want to say as a longtimer and frequent commenter, ;) that I'm rooting for you and happy you've gotten the help you need. I think you're a voice of reason in this mental health discussion, for all of us who feel okay but sometimes not really okay. Keep on keeping on. ((hug))