Lifting the veil

For most of the past year, I was stumbling. I was lightning-quick to anger, slow to warm after misunderstandings, generally unpleasant even when I tried really, really hard to focus on all that is good in my life.

I was tired of trying so hard. But I was also too low to work my way out of it.

For months, CG's gentle efforts to get me to consider medication went nowhere good. One night in the fall, he finally sat me down and strongly suggested I see a doctor. At first I lashed out at him, defensive. Then I shrank in fear of him not loving my worthless, angry self, defenseless. Was he saying something was deeply wrong with me? Did he not love me? Was he thinking me weak, incapable of working through my issues on my own?

No. What he said was out of love and respect for me. I see that now. I had to take that on faith then, a faith in him and his goodness.

In some perversely irrational way, I was worried that taking an antidepressant would magically make it all better. This would prove just how wrong our pill-popping culture is! You shouldn't be able to magically fix your sour moods or medicate away parts of yourself. It should take hard work and time and strenuous effort! I didn't want to turn into a medicated zombie incapable of feeling anything.

But I know now that that's not how it works. I'm still the same person. The medicated me still has the same flash points, the same triggers, the same issues. I can still get angry; I still cry; I still have bad days. I still have lots of work to do making my life the way I want it to be, one day, one thought, at a time. But medication has helped in subtle, pervasive ways. My fuse is noticeably longer. When I cry it's for a good reason. My bad days pass quickly and aren't filled with feelings of worthlessness.

For me, medication doesn't take away parts of me. It softens edges, and makes everything just a little easier.

Medication lifted the veil.

The other day, I realized with a start that I am enjoying, really enjoying my girls lately. Many times a day I smile and laugh and think "I am so happy to be right here".

Which makes me realize that, for too long, I wasn't.


It gets better.

Dear Friend,

I am picturing you right now as I sit down to type. You are on your couch, feet tucked up under you, belly suddenly, strangely, soft and small. You hold a squirming, scritching, sucking universe in your arms and you stare at her in wonderment from time to time. Your awesome husband is in the kitchen, preparing dinner (you lucky beeyotch) and you feel he is miles away, other family and friends light years further. There is only you and this wee babe. The one whose face you can't believe you haven't always known. The face that astonishes you every time you see it for the first time (that hour). The face you see when you close your eyes.

When we spoke today you sounded different, as I knew you would. Since the last time we spoke, you officially became a mother. Your child left your body and was placed in your arms and the whole world changed. There was a depth to your voice, a weight and gravity to your questions now that you are a mother and have a little girl to take care of.

Talking to you, I was taken back in time to a morning in April a few years ago. I was still in the hospital, staring at Z who was just a few hours old when a friend called and asked what I was doing. I told her I was "staring at my daughter" and that was when it hit me: "My daughter". My daughter. And I burst into tears. Tears of joy and fear and recognition of the enormity of this change in my life.

I hear all that in your voice, too.

You are struggling with nursing and I could hear your concern and confusion. This is so hard, you said. "I knew it'd be hard but it's REALLY HARD." And I nodded and sighed and said "I know" because I do. I really know. I couldn't say much to help you but I had to say this: "It gets easier. It is so worth it. I know you don't believe me but it's true". I can't help but think of all the other new mothers out there, feeling alone, struggling, wondering what they've done to their lives, wondering if it'll ever get better.

So I hope my gay friends will forgive me for stealing this phrase but I have to say it: it gets better. It gets so much better. You are not alone. You are part of a universal sisterhood of tender new mothers that stretches across miles and cultures and generations. The sleeplessness will pass. The baby will smile someday soon, just in the nick of time, and look at you like you are the sun and moon and the very best chocolate cake rolled into one. You will someday refer to yourself as a mother without blinking or stuttering. You will someday look back on this time and think: "That was hard. I'm glad we're here now."

I wish I could be there to bring you coffee and homemade muffins, to hold your baby and hold your hand, to rub your shoulders, rub your feet, and rub your back as I envelope you in a hug. Since I can't be there, I write this instead and send my love through time and space.

Welcome to the wild ride of motherhood, dear friend. Nice to have you here.


Your Clueless but Hopeful Friend


If I wrote a holiday letter (which I didn't)

Dear Friends and Family (and Facebook “Friends” who I should send one to since we're so close now, I mean, I know what you had for lunch! And just how good you are at Farmville!)

Happy 2011! We hope 2010 was a good year for you and the next one is even better. (Since our 2010 royally sucked, there seems no where to go but up!)

We’ve been in Virginia for a full year now and are finally finding our way around. (We’re still getting used to it. Honestly, we’re not sure we fit in here, what with the plethora of football fans and the glaring lack of fabulous gay people. But moving was so hellish on our family’s collective psyche that none of us want to think about moving again anytime soon. So here we are! Virginia!)

Unfortunately, this year we lost both CBHM’s cousin M and CG’s father T within just a few weeks of each other. Both are missed and mourned still. (How, exactly, does one talk about untimely deaths in a holiday letter?)

CG is enjoying the challenges of his job as a project scientist at Scientific Workplace (when he’s not stressed, sleepless and fantasizing about quitting his job to fly planes full time.) (This gives CBHM heart palpitations.)

CBHM is home with the girls, a challenging full time job if ever there was one (what with the hours of searching for missing Polly Pocket shoes and trying not to go cross eyed reading the same books over and over and OVER again. But hey! Pr0zac is a lovely thing. I’m on it now. So no worriesssssss.)

Z, age 4, is in her second year of her Montessori Preschool and continues to amaze us with all she’s learning. (Though, really? Math in preschool? Wasn’t I just learning to not eat paste in preschool? Where’s the dress up? Where’s the FUN?) She loves books (especially Barbie books. GAG. When OH WHEN will she move onto to something else or at least learn to read them herself? Forget math, Montessori, please deliver us from having to ever read a Barbie book EVER AGAIN), macaroni and cheese (buy stock in Annie’s Organics), her ballet classes (CBHM is trying very hard not to freak out about this. Go Team Pr0zac!) and being a big sister (until E dares to look at her toys and then SHE’S GOING DOWN.)

E, age 18 months, is moving fast to try to catch up to her big sister. She is truly a bright light; her smile and energy could power a small island nation. (Just don’t get anywhere near her after she’s had a. raisins, b. kiwis or c. more than one clementine. If she has by some poor meal management ingested d. all of the above, just kiss your sense of smell, and possibly your lunch, goodbye.)

We hope you have had a great year (or at least better than us)! Here’s to health and happiness in the new year!

The Clueless But Hopeful Family
CG, CBHM, Z, E and Sweet Dog (who didn’t even get her own paragraph but that’s okay. She’s a dog in a family with small children; she’ll take being ignored over being harassed any day.)


Child observation

Dear E,

When your older sister was an infant and toddler in California, we participated in what I can only assume is a uniquely awesome program through our local community college: a parent education class. It is free (FREE) and meets in a local park or school for 2 hours, every week. There is time for free play with tons of toys and crafts as well as a parenting presentation/discussion. Each week, parents are encouraged to fill out child observation sheets, noting new and interesting things about their children. At first I thought of these child observation sheets as an afterthought, and used them mainly as a crutch, something to do whenever I felt shy around the other moms.

Now I realize these observation sheets did more than give me something to do when I felt too gawky to chat up the other moms. Since some weeks I had to stop and watch her and think what's she doing that's new or noteworthy?, they taught me to pay attention. They taught me to just sit and watch and notice and they made me write down what I saw.

One day, I imagine you might find a folder jammed with these sheets, a thick roster listing specific, weekly touchstones of your sister's early life. I noted everything, sometimes with pride (usually followed by an exclamation point), sometimes with concern (always followed by a question mark). As a result, there is a precise written record of her first two years: which hand she preferred at 4 months old, the date she began scooting around on her behind and the first time she snatched some other kid's toy.

Now, of course, I never filled out any of these sheets for you. For one thing, we moved to Virginia when you were 3 months old and there is no free Parent Education class here. And, well, you are, after all, my second child. Your life, and our life together, is just different.

I felt bad about this for awhile. Shouldn't I make an effort to give you all the same experiences as Z? Will you look back on these lopsided recorded memories and see favoritism or unfairness?

It would be impossible for me to mother you girls in exactly the same way. I am a different person- I am a wholly different mother- than I was when Z was a baby/toddler. I'd say you're both lucky, in your own way. My mothering of Z was exacting, thorough and exhausting, for us both. My mothering of you may be more scattered and less precise, but it is also more open and easy-going. Gone may be the exactitude in record keeping and specific written observations. But also gone is the hyper-vigilance, the anxious milestone checking, the first-time-mother intensity.

Luckily, not gone is the lesson behind those child observation sheets. Pay attention. Sit back, watch and be curious. What are you interested in? What catches your eye? How do you chose to interact with blocks, the play telephone, other children?

I learned so much from those classes, everything from how shaving cream makes a fun, messy activity (for someone else to set up and clean up) to why community support is paramount to surviving stay-at-home motherdom.

But mostly I learned to notice you, my girls. And to write it down, when I can. But I want you to know that even though I didn't write it all down for you, the noticing is still there.

I've noticed you, E. I'm curious; I pay attention; I see you. I'm sorry there isn't the thick folder with written records to show it. But it's here, in me, in us. And, sometimes, in this blog.

You like to try to catch the snowflakes as they fall. I like to watch you do it.


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


I am not "depressed".

I am not "depressed".

I am "struggling a bit".

I am "having a hard time".

I am "in a down phase".

I am "dealing with a lot right now".

I had a baby, moved across the country, lost two loved ones, and I am in year three of my dad's battle with cancer. Feeling sad is normal in any one of those stressful circumstances. Try adding up all four at once. So I'm a little cranky? I can still get out of bed and live my life.

But I'm pissy and over-reactive, all the time.

It seems the world is always against me.

When I don't feel an undercurrent of sadness, there's an undercurrent of pissiness. When I don't feel an undercurrent of pissiness, there's an undercurrent of sadness.

Okay, but I don't need an antidepressant. I'll take more fish oil. I'll exercise more. Sleep more. Drink more water. I'll go to therapy more.

Yes, do those things.

Those things are helpful.

Those things are not enough.

Antidepressants are serious drugs that should be reserved for people who are mentally ill or suicidal. Even at my worst, I've never felt suicidal.

At my worst, I felt worthless.

At my worst, I felt unlovable.

At my worst, I lay in bed at night and fantasized about running away. I never thought about where I'd go or what I'd do; I imagined how much better off my husband and girls would be without me. CG would get over me and marry someone nicer, happier, prettier, better than me. The girls' new mom wouldn't ever yell or cry or need her own time-outs. This fantasy brought me relief.

But I'm afraid antidepressants will turn me into someone else. I don't believe we should medicate away our bad moods, temporary life-crises and uncomfortable personality traits.

If you don't like who you are right now, would it be such a bad thing to change a little?

If you're going through a particularly rough time in your life, don't you want to make it easier on yourself if you can?

If your bad moods and uncomfortable personality traits make living with you less than pleasant, don't you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to try something that might help?

But I'm scared I'll start taking the antidepressant and find I have to take it for the rest of my life.

Let me get this straight: Now you're worried they will work so well, you'll never be able to go off of them?



I have depression.

Major or minor, clinical or sub-clinical, episodic, circumstantial, fleeting or permanent, intrinsic, here to stay, it doesn't matter.

I have depression.

I take an SSRI.


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