Depression 2.0, Now With Fun New Features

I haven’t written here in a while – longer than a while, really, but let’s ignore the specifics. I haven’t written because the words have been gone.

I’ve reached for them, certainly. I could show you all the drafts I’ve half-started, all the snippets scribbled in an optimistically blank notebook that promise this time I’ll truly Start Writing Again, this time the words will be back for good.

But I’ve been busy with other things.

Shortly after finding gainful employment that fits beautifully with my past experience and skill set, I entered another major depressive episode. Except it was different, so I doubted myself. It didn’t seem like Last Time, more like a vaguely distant cousin of Last Time, and I wasn’t sure if I should be worried yet. Then my counselor announced she was closing her practice, and I burst into tears in my new boss’s office, and I had to leave church because I was shaking, and I thought perhaps I should be worried.

I found a new counselor relatively quickly, whom I am still seeing, and in my intake appointment she asked the usual series of questions. I told her I had depression, I already knew that, and she said she would ask anyway.

Turns out I also have anxiety and a touch of a panic disorder. Neat.

I’ve been learning what my new symptoms look like, what works for me in this season of life, and what old coping methods I can no longer lean on. One thing was the same, though. I wasn’t reading. And with me it’s a short distance from reading to writing.

So I’ve been absent here, not because there’s been a shortage of things worth writing about (in fact I tried, many times, to write about the things I was feeling, suspecting that if I could pin them to the page I might process them better, but they slipped out of my grasp) but because my brain did not want to give me that option.

I think I’m back now. We’ll see. But this post came easily, and that’s a start.

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Found on Pinterest from The Paris Review. It expressed the sentiment well.

 

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It’s Always Once Upon a Time in New York City

2017-10-27 19.41.54The Engineer surprised me back in May with tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway for our anniversary this October.  (If I hadn’t already known, this would clinch it – he’s a keeper!)  So last weekend we flew up to New York for an anniversary weekend trip.

For me, New York as always been something of a mythical place.  It’s the setting of so many stories, from Disney’s Oliver and Company (where astute readers will note I got the lyric to title this post) to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and it’s a place where so many stories get their start, with all the publishing companies and magazines headquartered there.  I’ve read about it and seen it pictured so many times it felt almost unreal.  But as I was absorbing all those different versions of New York City, I failed to realize just how much actually visiting it would mean to me.

It hit me when the Engineer leaned over my shoulder and pointed out the lone statue I had somehow missed as we flew in.  “There’s the Statue of Liberty!”  And then I saw that iconic skyline, and I felt a swell of emotion I haven’t felt since seeing the Tower of London for the first time in person.  Without my noticing, New York had become something of a dream destination – and now we were here!

2017-10-27 11.56.40Like the Tower, which was so steeped in history I could feel the air thicken, New York seemed filled with palpable stories.  Actual stories of buildings gave a visual representation of the tales upon tales that have piled up here as people live their lives and visit and go away and set their novels and memoirs and children’s books in this city.  I wanted to roll down the window of the cab and hold my hand out the window.  I was sure if I did I would feel the texture of all the narratives floating around us.

Immediately, I felt at home.  I felt I could slip into the same stream and feed off the same energy as all these people surrounding us.  Part of this is my weird ability to navigate cities; I hate driving, and I can barely remember certain routes through my own hometown, but if I’m walking around a city or figuring out a train map?  Easy.  I led the long-suffering Engineer (he hates cities) on walks through Bryant Park where they were setting up the Holiday Village (complete with ice rink!) to the stone lions at the New York Public Library, then down 6th Avenue to find the Macy’s where they hold the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Some iconic places we just stumbled upon, like the Chrysler Building on our way to dinner before the show, and Tiffany’s with its own diamond necklace draping its facade.  We sought out the Empire State Building and the Plaza Hotel (though I didn’t go in to see where Eloise lived).  I took a picture with the statue of Balto, and when I read the plaque below it a little girl’s voice surfaced in my memory from the introduction to the animated movie.

Everywhere I looked in the city, I noticed a fragment of a story slipping by.  If it wasn’t a lyric from “N.Y.C.” in Annie, it was a line from From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  And when I wasn’t thinking of my favorite fictional characters, I could so easily imagine the narratives taking place in the little diner where we went for breakfast, or among the people meeting their friends on a street corner.  Sometimes I didn’t have to imagine – the Engineer actually saw a couple get engaged next to the boathouse and overheard the whole story!

The Engineer liked wandering through Central Park, even going so far as to rent a boat so we could row about on the lake.  “We’re in people’s Instagram photos!” he joked as we glided past the Bethesda Terrace.  Sure enough, many of the tourists at the water’s edge were holding up their phones to capture the ridiculously picturesque day.  The leaves on the banks around us were in varying stages of turning color, lending some wonder to the buildings rising above them at the park’s horizon.  There was just enough sun to tempt some turtles to clamber onto the rocks near the lake’s edge – we spotted six in one cove, lined up by size like Dr. Seuss characters.  The air was crisp, a perfect temperature for Pacific Northwest natives like us.  Fall in New York City – in fact, New York City itself – was everything I had ever imagined it to be.

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Reminders of Robin Hood

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nottingham, randomly remembering the curve of our street between the park and the cemetery, picturing myself suddenly there at random moments throughout the day.  I miss it.  I miss the Left Lion at the courthouse, my nondescript little room in our flat, the tea places tucked into every spare shopfront, the wide sidewalks around the university, the way the castle was just suddenly there when you turned certain corners.

This could be partly because the neighborhoods around here are full of streets named after various British Things – Robinhood Road, and Guinevere Lane, and Sherwood Forest Elementary School.  Then there are the fairytale names, like Fernhaven and Friendship Circle (not joking), which somehow don’t seem too saccharine because of the stately mansions lining both sides of these streets.  With every turn onto another Yorkshire or Greenbrier Farm, you think Yes, that makes sense here.

In Notts, I never knew where I was going to spot another beautiful, astoundingly ancient building.  Our flat was in a boring block of similar brick buildings, but it only took a short walk to reach the historic part of town.  The castle, of course, was the most obvious, stumbling into the old moat where the Robin Hood statue stands, which made me feel like a villager living in the shadow of Castle Rock way back when.  But there were also the pretty neighborhoods where our architecture tutors took us walking, the twists and turns (our new town isn’t laid out like a grid either, and I can’t quite make sense of it yet).

Here, in North Carolina, our house is in an early-aughts subdivision sandwiched between two parkways.  It’s pretty enough, especially compared to our old apartments, but a few minutes’ drive from us is a castle-like hotel with sweeping grounds, a mews, a stable, and guesthouses that look like mansions in their own right.  When we were house-hunting, when we got tired of the depressing reality of homes within our budget, we would get lost in the Robinhood Road neighborhoods, oohing and aahing over the columns and wraparound porches.

So once again, I’m living on the edges of grandeur.

I’m happy that this new place in which I know no one reminds me of another place in which I knew no one that turned out to be one of the most wonderful places I’ve been.

(No matter how long I live in the South, however, I will never be able to pronounce it Notting-HAM.)

Security Questions Make Me Examine My Life

Due to, apparently, Wedding Thieves, I had to choose a security question for one of our registries this afternoon.  As I scrolled through the options to find my usual choice, I noticed a new one: what was your first concert?

I haven’t been to one, I thought.  Concerts weren’t something I thought of spending my money on.  For one thing, I was raised largely on Disney and Broadway soundtracks, so the closest thing I had to seeing those songs in person was Beauty and the Beast On Ice or going up to the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.  For another, I didn’t notice advertisements for bands.  In high school, when two of my friends got Death Cab For Cutie tickets, I was utterly baffled by the idea that a band whose name I barely recognized would be nearby.

Then later this evening I suddenly remembered sophomore year, when I was helping the Engineer unpack his new apartment and dancing around to the Love and Theft album I had just bought.  A few days later, the Engineer said, “So do you want to go to CampusFest?”

“W…why?”  (This was not a normal activity for him to suggest.)

“Love and Theft are playing.”

In that case, sign me up.

It was actually pretty fun, crammed onto our campus mall with a bunch of other students, dancing around to the songs (one of which is still “our song”).

And then there was last year, when the Engineer’s sister came to visit because Chase Bryant was coming for a concert.  The Engineer bought our tickets and entered a raffle for a meet-and-greet.  “There are only five people entered right now, so you’ll probably win,” they told him.

He did.

The meet-and-greet was rapidfire and not that fun, but swing dancing on the edges of the room till we were breathless was great.

And I just now remembered that the Commodore and some friends and I went to a One Republic/Sara Bareilles concert at the beginning of sophomore year for a friend’s birthday.

So my initial response to the security question was wrong.  But considering I can’t seem to remember any of these concerts, it still wouldn’t be a great password protector.

Home Part II

the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered

(in games) the destination or goal

The Engineer has lived in the same house his whole life.  I have lived in five – the one in Ohio where I was born, our first house in Washington (the “old old house”), the house that was great for pretending to be Cinderella (the “old house”), and my mom and dad’s current respective houses.  That’s not even counting Dad’s apartments while he looked for a more permanent house.

I dismantled my old room when I went to college, since Bird wanted the big room for her high school years.  I pared down my belongings even more when I moved to our Small College Town full time last year, putting mementos and old school projects into plastic totes for storage in the basement and cramming the rest into Bird’s and my cars to drive across the state.

Fitting, then, that she also accompanied me last week to move the last of my stuff out of that apartment.

I have transferred my affections from one home to another several times.  The Engineer’s childhood room is still exactly as he left it.

But this weekend we’re packing all our now-mutual belongings into a truck for him and his brother to drive to North Carolina.  The Pacific Northwest will still be home even in that gaming sense, because our ultimate plan is to move back here.

So the two definitions for “home” at the beginning of this post are comforting to me, because while we wait for our “domestic affections” to catch up with us and recenter on the opposite coast (at least for a few years), our pretty new townhome and all that goes into it can represent our new goals.  It will be our home base while we explore a new part of the country.  It will be a sort of home for Bird, who plans to take advantage of our presence in her university’s timezone to visit often.  It will be our first home together.

And honestly, though I know we’ll both be homesick at first, the Engineer himself has been “home” to me for a while now.

Move

to go from one place of residence to another
to advance or progress
to arouse or excite the feelings or passions of; affect with emotion
Someone had to drive across the state to move the last of our stuff, so Bird was nice enough to accompany me on one last road trip.
We’re gathering our boxes, mine and the Engineer’s, in my mom’s basement until he and his brother take everything cross-country to our new home in North Carolina.  It’s been a lot of back and forth – it took multiple trips to get all our belongings from our little college town to our respective homes, and we’re still consolidating boxes.
It’s mostly lateral movement so far, both literally, east-west on the map, and figuratively, in that we’re shuffling stuff between impermanent housing options.  But in just a few weeks we’ll be advancing instead of just snuffling.
And our new house is so pretty!
It’s not super fancy or anything, but it’s somewhere we can both see ourselves starting a new phase of adulthood, starting a marriage, and making a home.  I’m in love with the windows – despite it being a middle unit townhome, the big windows let in so much light that nothing feels squished.  Thinking about arranging it, about hanging those two pictures in the blue and silver frames at the landing of the staircase, is exciting.  (And doing laundry.  We have an in-house washer and dryer.  They don’t require coins to operate!)
So although the process of moving has moved me to tears at least twice – I can’t wait to move forward.

Is This Really the Story We Want to Keep Telling?

When I first saw the trailer for Split, I knew I wouldn’t be going to see it.  For one thing, the scene shown in the teaser where three girls are abducted in a parking lot marked it clearly as Horror, and I hate scary movies.  (Not to mention that I already check under, behind, and around my car before I get in, lock my doors, and immediately drive away from any given location, so thank you Hollywood for reinforcing my paranoid safety check.)  Then there was James McAvoy’s character, who apparently is yet another example of Hollywood’s fascination with (and frequent mistaken representation of) dissociative identity disorder (DID).  It seemed unlikely to me that situating a person with mental illness as a kidnapper and probable villain could involve tasteful representation of mental health problems, so that gave me another reason not to bother.

Last week, two of my coworkers began discussing the movie.  They expressed their admiration for the apparent “twist” ending, praised James McAvoy’s acting, then turned to me and asked if I’d seen it.

“No, and I don’t plan to.”

“Why not?” one coworker exclaimed. “It’s awesome!”

“I don’t like thrillers,” I started, “and even more importantly,” louder over their protests that it wasn’t that scary, “I think it’s contributing to social stigma surrounding mental illness by continuing to portray people with those illnesses as automatically dangerous or monstrous.”

They looked at me.  “It’s actually sooooo good!” one of them said, but her voice was quieter.

“I’m sure it’s an interesting story,” I said, “and I’m sure that as far as movies go it has all the drama and suspense that it needs to.  But I don’t agree with perpetuating damaging stereotypes to do that.”

There was a slightly awkward pause.

“His acting was, like, insane, though,” the other coworker finally said, and they were off again.

I have no doubt that McAvoy’s acting in this movie was impressive; just watching the trailer, I was amazed by his ability to differentiate and fully inhabit even the few personalities shown there.  I have no doubt that the writers constructed a compelling enough storyline to accomplish all the goals of the genre.

My problem is with the priorities that this movie represents, the priorities that keep allowing movies like this to be made instead of giving us popular culture filled with realistic and non-shameful pictures of mental illness.  My problem is that even this article in The Guardian outlining cinematic misrepresentation of DID through the years ends with praise for McAvoy’s acting.  We keep putting “It’s a good story!” and “It’s a chance for the actor to show off their talent!” above the damage done by shoving mental illness into the same old categories.  And mental health deserves better from our popular culture.

Individuals with illnesses other than DID suffer from this idea of the “mentally ill monster” too.  Schizophrenia is the most directly affected, since it is often mistakenly conflated with DID and therefore seen as farther along on the “crazy” spectrum.  Depressed people are often assumed to be suicidal, even though the reality is that symptoms vary widely in intensity and depending on the individual.  As for anxiety, our society already mistrusts people who cannot conform to the Extrovert Ideal, so sufferers of anxiety are often watched as though they might “snap” at any moment.

This isn’t just me over thinking things, either.  The American Psychological Association has done studies interpreting the link between media and the perception of mental illness as dangerousness.  While conclusions vary, the researchers agree that this link does exist and that it is actively contributing to continuing stigma against mental illness.

Given all these perceptions and pictures of mental illness surrounding us, no wonder few people seek help when they need it.  Who would want to seek out a diagnosis or admit to having one of these problems?  Who would voluntarily categorize themselves as a monster?

I congratulate James McAvoy on his talent in his chosen profession.  But I refuse to pretend that admiration for a complete stranger is more important than the work we need to do to alter the perception of mental illness in our popular media.  Now, a movie about a man with DID figuring out how to live everyday life despite the society he lives in constantly viewing him with fear?  That’s a movie I’d go see.

Gallivanting Between Grad Schools

The Engineer and I are trying our hand at the travel side of adulting: namely, booking our own flights and transportation to all the grad schools he plans to visit before making the final decision about where he (and I) will live for the next five-ish years.  So for most of the month of March, we’ve been traipsing around the country.  For the week before spring break, we visited two schools in five days:

Purdue

At my boss’s urging, I scheduled a visit to the Purdue Writing Lab, from whence came the amazing resource that is the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) that we use for virtually every tutorial involving MLA, APA, or Chicago style citations.  Needless to say, I nerded out a bit.  Although I plan to find a job off-campus after this year, it was interesting to see how another writing lab operates.

The student union building is basically a castle.  There are stone arches and stained glass windows and double staircases and a hall where people nap on couches that look like they belong in a museum.

Also, we found the not-at-all-sketchily-labeled “Tunnel to Phys. Bldg.” on a door that looked like it should lead to a bomb shelter.  Sure enough, despite some pipes sticking out of the ceiling and a few random sets of stairs that led straight into walls, we found ourselves in the physics basement!

Though I spent most of the days in the hotel or at the Panera next door, the Engineer brought me along to the final dinner with a few professors from the physics department.  One of the profs asked each of us at the table about our area of study.  “Astrophysics.”  “Nuclear.”  “Creative writing…”  He was a tad confused.

The Ohio State University

The day after the Purdue visit ended, we rented a car and road tripped to Ohio (which was weird, since we’re used to much longer trips just to cross our single state, and also when did we get old enough to rent a car unsupervised?).  I was looking forward to this visit even more than the Purdue OWL tour, because I got to hang out with Bird!  The Engineer was whisked away on physics department activities, so I met up with my beloved sister for the evening.  She bought me chocolate covered coffee beans and we talked for hours, as we tend to do.

On our second day, after a slow start thanks to our travel-related exhaustion, Bird and I got breakfast while the Engineer saw the physics research building.  When we went back to her dorm, Bird was shivering and yawning, so I sent her to take a nap while I got some work done at her desk (leading 2 of her roommates to greet me with Bird’s name when they came in the door…for some reason people think we look alike).  Turns out she had a fever, so the Engineer and I told her to go straight to sleep and just got dinner ourselves.

The Engineer and I explored while Bird was in class the next day (she had slept for 16 hours and her fever was gone, so that was good), and then he flew home.  Bird wanted me to go with her to Bible study and a praise and worship thing at church that night, so I stayed an extra night.  It was great to meet everyone at her Newman Center – one of her friends actually ended up giving me a ride to the airport at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, having extended the offer after 5 minutes of conversation!  Sleeping on a dorm room floor for about 4 hours isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was well worth it to spend time with my sister.


The next week was spring break, so I actually saw Bird a few days later after a brief return to our own college town.  The Engineer had gone to North Carolina right after Ohio to tour another school without me, so his spring break was a bit abbreviated.  Our vacation was lovely (more on that in another post), but at the end of the week we flew straight out for another round of visits:

Santa Barbara

We’ve agreed that the next time we go to Santa Barbara, we’ll just fly straight in to their airport rather than taking the cheaper-but-much-longer-and-more-headache-inducing route that involves LAX and a 2-hour shuttle ride.  California was pretty, but I was under the weather during our one full day there, so I didn’t get to do much exploring.  On most of these visits, the Engineer and I have sort of tag-teamed it: he goes on the academic, scheduled tours, and I try to get out and get a feel for the surrounding area, since I hope to live and work off-campus for the majority of the time he’s in grad school.  Then we compare notes on our general impressions.  Santa Barbara was fine, I guess, but I am not a warm-weather person.  (As Bird once put it, “We are of strong Norwegian stock.  We were built for 6-month winters and icy fjords.”)  Since the visit was only one day, it was most whirlwind of our visits.

And then we had another 2-hour shuttle ride to get back to LAX.

Boulder

After one full day at home (well, my home, the Engineer’s being 3 hours away), my dad dropped us off at the airport yet again for our final trip: University of Colorado, Boulder.  I got a tour guide of my own on this trip, too, since the Commodore lives in Colorado!  She was kind enough to shuttle us around, bringing us from the airport to our hotel and meeting up with me while the Engineer was busy even though she lives an hour away.

The Commodore and I being bookworms, we spent our first two days wandering around the downtown area of Pearl Street and perusing multiple bookstores.  I limited myself to only two books this time, despite the Commodore being a blatant enabler when it comes to spending money on literary pursuits.  (To be fair, I was equally encouraging of her desire to get yet another book about Tolkien.  But it was one she hadn’t read before!)  We also just hung out in our hotel room and talked, which I’ve missed doing with her since she moved.

Our departure from Boulder was weirdly scheduled, thanks to the Engineer realizing that he had to be back at school on Monday for an unavoidable commitment after we had already booked separate tickets.  My flight was Saturday night, so the Commodore came to pick me up and took me to see her new apartment, where I finally got to meet her guinea pig, before taking me to the airport.  The Engineer stayed in Boulder one more night before I picked him up Sunday morning and we both drove back to school.

The visits were definitely beneficial and will help us make our final decision, but for now both the Engineer and I are just excited to stop hopping time zones and stay in the same place for more than 3 nights in a row!

Review(ish): L.M. Montgomery as Unexpected Mentor

I’m not really sure how to categorize this post, because the extent to which I identified with Lucy Maud Montgomery throughout the first volume of her selected journals had an enormous impact on my impression of that collection. From her opening entry declaring that she had burned all of her childhood diaries (I have more than a few I would like to shred) to her descriptions of the “melancholy” that seized her when she was older (and sounded hauntingly like my experiences with depression), I felt like this woman was my “kindred spirit,” as her most famous character would say.

Anyone who loved Anne of Green Gables will essentially find bonus material in this collection of the beloved author’s journals from 1889 to 1910.  It’s easy to find the places where Montgomery drew on her personal experiences to create Anne’s world, using her own memories and sometimes brutally honest depictions of her own feelings to remember what the emotional turmoil of childhood really feels like.  It’s also easy to see her writing style as it grew into the L.M. Montgomery we know and love.  I could recognize phrases she used directly or in altered form in the Anne books, as well as general sentiments that Anne would later echo.

I could also recognize myself in Montgomery’s inner life, as I said before.

It wasn’t just the melancholia that gripped her in the winter, leaving her without the motivation even to get off couch, as the worst of my own depression has done to me.  It wasn’t just the way she felt about books as friends, the way my own bookshelves act as a comfort when I feel lonely.  It was little things, little dislikes for irritating classmates and frustrations with unseen obstacles to her dreams.  Reading her journals even went so far as to comfort me for my own sporadic entries (I cannot seem to maintain a daily habit no matter how good it is for me).

Maybe I just connected to her as a fellow woman writer.  Maybe this is just one of those things among writers, to seek out a mentor version of yourself in the ranks of those who have gone before.  Maybe it’s just a more generic writer thing (it’s well known, for instance, that many writers have struggled with depression).  Maybe I just felt close to this real person who had created one of my favorite childhood characters.

Whatever the reason, I was not expecting such a personal level of connection when I picked up these journals on a whim at Half Price Books – but I’m glad I did.

Review: People of the Book

This is a book-lover’s book.

The Commodore gave me this book for my birthday/Christmas (the pain of not seeing each other for months now that she lives in another state slightly assuaged by meeting up for a day of gift exchanging and talking and coffee) because she read it and thought I’d like it.  It’s a biography of a book, an illuminated haggadah found in Sarajevo, that the (initial) narrator, Hanna, is hired to examine and preserve.  The tiny clues she finds in the book’s binding and on its pages, like a wine stain (that also turns out to hold some blood) and a cat hair, send the reader into flashbacks showing the book’s history.

Anyone who enjoys that old book smell will love living vicariously through Hanna’s examination of the book, and anyone who enjoys picking up used books with mysterious inscriptions in the flyleaf and marginal notes from previous readers will certainly get a sense of delicious satisfaction from knowing the full story behind the haggadah.  Honestly, the worst part of the story was knowing that Hanna didn’t learn everything the reader did.  Knowing where the blood came from, where the silver clasps had disappeared to, I felt bad for Hanna’s frustration.

With the haggadah as the sort-of protagonist, the surrounding characters need only be developed enough to explain what they do or don’t do to the haggadah.  This meant it was easier to connect with some characters than others, and while sometimes I wondered why particular events were necessary to include, for the most part I enjoyed each piece of the haggadah’s history.

Overall, a well-written, enjoyable read.

4/5 stars on Goodreads.


What book do you wish had a biography?