Life Wellbeing and Family

Once and Future Blog

More than 365 days have passed since I last posted to this site. There is no catching up. So let’s just begin from now.

I sit in my father’s comfy chair. The gentle clink of dominoes carries the prattle from two tables of moon players. They tease. They banter. They plead with the dots to change formation and number. Every so often a gale of laughter leads a lively melody.

I’m where I adore being: nearby my people with words on my fingertips and chatter rising like mists. My head holding above the water line.

Lately, I have felt very out of my depth. This phrase means “in water too deep to stand” and “beyond one’s knowledge or ability to cope.” [Oxford Dictionary online] I’d like to propose a slightly more complicated definition: a situational influx that overwhelms one’s present knowledge and engulf’s their ability to cope using the previously gained skills.

Four-and-one-half years ago, it occurred to me on an airplane over the Gulf of Mexico that out of my depth is precisely where I’m meant to be. It was an important moment in a whelming flood of needs and expectations attendant to moving across the country. The flash of truth pulled me out of self-pity and into a plan. Or at least a kernel of a plan. I needed new knowledge, new skills, new abilities.

Several times since that initial realization, the words have flowed through my mind and prompted a renewal.

As discussed on this blog in the past, I have dealt with mental illness and a sleeping disorder for years. At the very end of 2019, I finally got the right treatment for oversleeping. Twenty-twenty started strong with a joy-inducing plan. That the pandemic shortly consumed in whole.

I found myself working full-time for the first time in years. While my sleep was less than it had been, I still found naps during most lunches and between work and dinner. Throughout last year and pretty deeply into 2021, I worked with medical providers to adjust medication, I faithfully participated in therapy, and I discovered a consequence of mental illness that caught me completely unawares.

Naively, I had believed that when I “fixed” myself, I would rejoin a family and world that functioned well. Spoiler: Both my family and the world fell into disrepair while I was “gone”. I’ve spent the better part of 2021 trying to understand the trauma my kids experienced due to my mental illness and all the restless threads trailing behind us.

Every single time I am standing in the water, a new deluge hits and I find myself out of my depth so completely that I am lost. For a moment. Then I remember that out of my depth is precisely where I am meant to be. To level up. To stand in the water again. In other words of metaphor: it’s the cycle of growth.

And it’s so easy to envision the flood as devastating and the growth of a plant as renewal. They are, I think, largely the same. A flood is initially devastating but washes nutrient-rich silt onto land, enabling new life. A seed must shed the hard outer coat that protected it for months, years, even centuries; otherwise, it will not grow. Imagine the intensity of losing that outer shell, unfurling in the dark earth, and still finding the sun.

Seeds await a signal to shed their outer coats. The signal for me is being knocked off my feet by the swelling waters. That’s the moment I go deep, shed the hard protective shell of complacency, and summon all my resources to find the sun, to stand in the water, to be more rich than I was before.

This year has tired me. It’s been an almost constant cycle: swept off my feet, dragged deep, and standing again. I’m not naive enough to think the new year won’t bring more floods. Nor to think I will be ready when they do come.

I only hope to skip the panic more often as I remember that out of my depth is precisely where I am meant to be.


The Reinvention of Me: Music Dies Slowly

They sing about a day the music died, but music doesn’t die all at once. It dies little by little, so fractional that you might not notice until it is long gone.

As some new mothers, I was hypervigilant in the media my precious little one consumed. I eschewed popular music, and there’s only so much instrumental music I could stand. I began singing. All the time. I sang when rocking to sleep (no, we did not cry it out; no, I have no regrets about it). I sang when driving. I sang all the time.

During that first brush with postpartum depression, I even used singing to recenter myself. No matter how scared I was that I might hurt my baby, I believed I could never hurt him while singing, “baby, mama loves you, baby, mama cares for you, baby, mama loves you more than you’ll ever know.” And I never did hurt him, though I don’t recommend that as a primary method of healthcare. Past that months-long depression, I kept singing it. I added all the people in his life who loved him.

As he grew and a little brother came along, I sang. We sang our address for Eldest to learn it. We sang our phone number. We sang about creation. We sang the books of the Bible. We sang about our love. We sang all the time.

While pregnant with Third, a new and dangerous depression settled upon me. I didn’t think of it having anything to do with the pregnancy itself. Postpartum depression is post partum, right? My boys were younger than four and two. My pregnancy was huge. I had a terrible cold that turned to bronchitis and separated my ribs by coughing. The pain. It seared when I inhaled, when I lifted a boy, when I reached for anything, when I rested in bed, when I stretched. The pain impacted my depression, which I didn’t yet call depression.

Then Third emerged into this world, bouncing at 9 pounds 9 ounces. While we were still in the hospital, our long-time babysitter was diagnosed with cancer. I mourned her, though I had no idea how much I would need to mourn her in the months that followed. A number of months after his birth, I planned a suicide thwarted by the same babysitter calling in sick one day. That day I called my obstetrician’s office. I needed help.

The triage nurse instructed me to go to the ER. I laughed the most derisive, hateful laugh and said, “I cannot do that.” And I couldn’t. Load my three children younger than four years old into my van and drive myself to an emergency room alone? It was what I should have done but what I could not do. What if they took my kids? What about my husband at work, who knew nothing of this and had no transportation? It was too risky.

My obstetrician got on the phone and said, “I told the nurse, I know Amanda. She would never hurt her kids or herself. You’re not going to do that, are you?” By this time, I was loading the car so that I could pick up my husband from work. I lied to her and said, “No, I guess.” She prescribed the minimum dose of an antidepressant. I picked it up that night and then called my sister.

“You can’t ask me any questions because I can’t talk about it, but my doctor prescribed 25 mg of this antidepressant and I’m scared to take it. Will it make me worse? Will it hurt my baby?”

She told me we’d be okay. That if we needed it, it would not harm us. So I took it.

I remember so clearly the day, a few weeks later, that I felt the scales falling from my eyes. That was what I said to myself in that moment, while driving across town. Scales falling from my eyes. Colors were more colorful. The sun continued shining. But my fight was far from over.

Through our move to a new house and the abrupt termination of our once-beloved babysitter, my depression deepened. My prescription increased under the care of a primary care physician. But I feared sleeping. I feared I might harm my kids while I slept, and that was my worst fear – harming my boys. I should have been hospitalized. Instead, I took medicine to help me sleep.

Just as I thought things were leveling, Eldest began pre-k and I began falling. Syncope, they called it. It was two years and many doctors before conversion disorder became my diagnosis. I began a blog called The Disease is Me. But so much had happened.

During the worst of it, my parents moved in to take care of me and the boys so my husband could work. I don’t know how Middling potty trained. I don’t know when Third began sleeping on his own.

It was months of recovery before I realized that Third was silent. He didn’t babble. He had no words.

In time, I connected his quietude with my own. At some point I had stopped singing. No alphabet. No address. No loving lullabies. The music had died. And I hadn’t even noticed.

My tough climb back from that darkest of places has been intervened by life. Death of a nephew. Mother’s liver transplant. Father’s quadruple bypass surgery. Uncounted other near misses and struggles.

Finally. Finally. Finally, I wanted to be well. I wanted to give up my old selves. I wanted to give up anxiety. I want to be whole.

That’s when the music reanimated. When I wanted to be whole. I’ve worked with meds and counseling. I’m reinventing myself. I’m reinventing my music.

I’m singing in the car. I’m singing at my desk. I’m singing in the shower. I awake with song on my heart. I catch myself singing at odd moments.

The music died slowly. It’s come back just as slowly. Both without my noticing until it was completely gone or nearly completely back.

Perhaps I didn’t reinvent music. Perhaps it reinvented me.

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