Category Archives: Depression

My Teaching Voice

Since leaving Lake Arrowhead three years ago I’ve been having trouble hanging on to my voice. And not just my voice really, but also my words. Sentences and paragraphs and pages of text I should be writing but that I push aside for a good novel or a movie or a great new recipe involving bacon, sweet potatoes, rigatoni, mascarpone cheese and fresh sage (this, a recent distraction—the dishes are still soaking in the sink).

I’m sure it’s not only that I am in mourning.

Some of my writing inertia could be due to a mind busy with other things—new things, like teaching college speech and all that entails… learning innovative technologies, tackling a new curriculum, slugging through online faculty required “teaching”courses, trying to lacquer my wild mane into some semblance of what my imagination believes a professor’s hair should look like…oh so many time consuming diversions.

Still, I know I should also be writing creatively.

I’m sure it’s not only that I am in mourning.

When I left Lake Arrowhead, a pain planted itself firmly behind my breast plate and I can’t shake it. I can’t walk it off, though my dear husband and I take many beautiful nature walks every single week. I can’t read it off, though I take time to immerse myself in many an enjoyable book. I can’t yoga it off, or massage it off, or wine it off. It is sewn in, gorilla glued, bolted; it is chained to my heart.

But that cannot be the only reason I do not write.

I did, in fact, write quite a bit a year and more back. (The book is about Lake Arrowhead.)

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Lake Arrowhead, CA

But I’m sure it’s not only that I am mourning.

I adore Wisconsin, and the weather here suits us perfectly. The vast greenness of the place in summer, the orange-red-yellow-green autumns, the take your breath away white frozen winters. A lake so big it looks Pacific. Lake Arrowhead, amplified.

Mourning comes to some of us for a visit. For me, without my children and my grandchildren, it stays. It has moved in to the quaint little Cape Cop home on the tree-lined avenue where we now live. It’s here to stay.

There, I’ve said it.

Missing Lake Arrowhead means missing a million moments that can never be regained—with my kids, with my grandchildren, with my friends, with all the people I was so fortunate to know. And as much as I love the cardinals and Canadian geese (and I love them a lot!), there is something sad about knowing that I will never happen upon a bear or be awakened in the night by the ungodly howl of a pack of coyotes closing in on its prey.

So, my voice began to falter a while back and has gone somewhat quiet of late.

My husband began to worry, so I finally forced myself to sit and write tonight, but as little as this accomplishment is, and as much as I love him, I cannot give him much of the credit for bringing me to my chair, for opening the blank page, for placing my fingers on the keys and letting them speak for me, expose me, help me… nor can I take any of the credit myself.

It came not from knowing that I should do it, it came instead as a magical gift from a miraculous profession.

Teaching.

Thinking I needed more family photos on my office walls, I drove over to Walgreens this afternoon to pick up some photographs I had ordered. They are beautiful photos of our newest granddaughter, Adaline Lorene, and her big sister, Jasmine, who visited us here in Wisconsin this past June.

As you can see, they are worth the ache. My girls.

     Anyway.

On my way back out to the car I stopped to ask a young man (who was coughing uncontrollably as if he might be choking) if I could help him. Just a simple, “Are you okay? Can I do anything?”

The young woman next to him, obviously his companion, said, “I recognize that voice! Do you remember me?”

The coughing continued, but she ignored it. She walked toward me. “I heard your voice and I said, ‘That’s my speech teacher!””

Of course, I remembered her, a lovely person and a good public speaker, animated and organized. We hugged. Her manfriend, ignored, coughed his way unaided to their car.

“Does he need help?” I asked. “Does he need the Heimlich? Because I’ll do it.”

“He’ll be fine,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see you.”

She recognized my voice. Here, in Kenosha, a town of roughly 100,000 people. She recognized my voice.

It seems silly, perhaps. To place so much value on recognition. But I do. I suddenly felt a little less alone. The sharing of a past. In Lake Arrowhead, a teacher never goes out without encountering a former or present student, which sometimes unnerved me. I never realized how important it was to my self-image, to my belief that I was connected to the community. I knew that I loved my students, but I didn’t perhaps understand how much I needed them.

Today I was given back a small piece of my voice, reflected through a young woman’s memory. I still feel the pain, I still crave the everyday closeness of my grandchildren, and I still miss the bears, but I can write, and that’s a soft and soothing salve for my soul. I’ll take it.

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Filed under Depression, Gratitude, Lake Arrowhead, Nature, Reading, Teacher, Voice, Wisconsin, Writing, Writing Advice

Random Sammys

Sammy was a truck driver stuck in my husband’s place of work, a truck fixing place—what’s that called anyway—a really big garage I guess. Anyway, it was Christmas Eve and Sammy was supposed to be home with his wife and children in Georgia, but instead he was stranded in Wisconsin in a cold garage. He was leaning against the service counter with his head down when I arrived to pick up my husband from work. I’d brought our two dogs into the shop as a special Christmas treat for everyone. Merry Christmas, Guys! Time to get home and celebrate. Atticus, the schnauzer, promptly lifted his leg on one of Sammy’s tires, unleashing a steamy stream of urine that left an impressive puddle. It was kind of fitting really because Sammy’s truck wasn’t going anywhere for some time. I guess it was super broken. It had let him down, and on the most important night of the year. Atticus must have sensed that.

 

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Atticus likes to hide in bed, too!

I’d been feeling pretty blue, but had been trying to hide it in public for quite a while by then. I found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and impossible to stay away from that same bed with its heating pad and two willing dog companions as each gray day unfolded. I mean, it was Christmas and I was going to be with none of my kids or grandkids, not for months. Granted, I had just gone to visit them the month before, but I already deeply missed them and I’d never been away from the little ones, who really aren’t that little anymore, on Christmas. And I was living in a state I loved but that was 2,000 miles away from the state where I’d built a life for thirty-eight years.

I was missing all kinds of things and people I had loved and many that I had taken for granted. I still planned on making a big Christmas dinner, but it would only be a dinner for three: my husband, his father, and me. And it had rained for weeks in a state that should have been a winter wonderland by then. My roof leaked. The yard was a mud hole. The holding tank had filled up just that very morning, setting off an alarm almost as offensive as the smell in the mud hole yard, and nobody likes to call Pat’s Crap Pumping Service on Christmas Eve. My solar Christmas lights obviously wouldn’t turn on because there’d been no sun forever. My pink fudge didn’t set. I wasn’t writing. What was there to get up for?

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I took this picture at the Kenosha Museum, but it represents my dilemma quite well I think.

 

 

And then came Sammy, and Sammy wanted to get home for Christmas. He hadn’t been able to rent a car with his out-of-state driver’s license. My husband suggested the airport. Could he get a flight? We would drive him. Sammy didn’t know if he could get a flight, but it was his best chance. Soon, Sammy, my husband, Atticus, our other dog, Diesel, and myself were all crowded into my little blue Beetle headed for the airport. It was about a half hour drive going in the opposite direction from the mud hole, making the round trip to pick up my husband something like two hours.

I’m a nervous driver when it comes to driving on freeways or anywhere near a city, but I found myself relaxing as Sammy told his story. He had left Africa at twelve-years-old, alone. He was the only member of his family who was able to emigrate. He lived in a small town in Utah and attended high school there. He loves America. He said that “the father Bush was the president when I came, so I liked him. He let me come to America. I couldn’t understand when Clinton suddenly got the job. How can someone replace the president?”

He said the president in his former country had been in power for twenty-five years and there was nothing anyone could do to change it. His family was afraid when Sammy would visit because Sammy had learned about free speech and they thought he’d get killed for speaking out about how bad things were there. He said, too, that Americans are the nicest, most helpful people in the world. He said that in other countries people won’t even give you directions, much less a ride to the airport. I think Sammy is a little partial to America and that there are lots of nice people everywhere, but it was still nice to hear.

writestamp

I love stamps, and writing, and letters…

He teared up when I asked him if his children believed in Santa. I cried, too. My husband was in the back seat with the two dogs, but the car is so small that his face was only a few inches behind us. I glanced back at him and his eyes were bright blue with tears. Suddenly, it was starting to feel like Christmas.

Sammy got a flight and Mike and I headed home. By this time we too hungry to go home and cook the special dinner we’d planned just for the two of us so we began searching for an open restaurant. We stopped at two places that had their lights on and doors open, but they were having private parties and weren’t serving the public. It was Christmas Eve, sorry. So we did the unthinkable and drove through a MacDonald’s. We got cheeseburgers for the dogs, too.

When we arrived home, we waded through the mud and entered the front door. We both remarked on how cozy the little cottage looked. We each poured a glass of wine, his red and mine white, and Mike checked his phone. There was a message from Sammy.

Merry Christmas and Thank You. I’ll talk to you soon. It was a pretty good Christmas. Wishing all of you a good New Year with lots of random Sammys to bless you.

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This may be an old New Year’s hat, but it’s a Goody.

 

 

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Filed under Christmas, Depression, Gratitude, Humor, New Year's

My Body

Winefiction 002Last night in bed, I started thinking about my body. About how it aches. About the way it doesn’t move anymore, not in the ways it used to. About the way it gives me very little pleasure anymore. I mean, I still get up every day and put clothes on. I even walk my dogs most days. There’s some pleasure there. My body takes me up and down the street, along the river, and if I so choose, into the woods. The dogs definitely derive pleasure from these walks and I, too, am grateful for them.

I also still very much love hugs. And kisses, especially on the back of my neck.

I love the cool touch of the wind, and the warm caress of the sun.

I love the sound of laughter. And music. And falling water. And birdsong.

I still love the taste of good food and drink, but only late in the day after my tummy settles down from its angry-cramps-in-the-morning routine. Still, I do get to eat and enjoy doing so, which is a big part of the enjoyment of having a body. Oh, and a lovely chilled glass of chardonnay served outside in a garden—that’s pretty blissful.

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

Field Recordings, Paso Robles, CA

It’s not that I am particularly decrepit for my age. I guess it might just be that I haven’t been this age before, and I am realizing how much I took this amazing body for granted for so long.

My skin, for example. I was never much enamored of my skin—too pink, too blotchy, too many freckles—and those moles. I covered my forearms throughout my entire puberty and adolescence, thinking that if anyone knew I had two moles on my left forearm, well, I’d never be loved. But my skin was amazingly sensitive. It buzzed with life and reacted to everything that touched it. Quite spectacular, thinking back.

My joints were supple. I could wrap my legs around my ears!

I ran. I ran for fun. I ran to cleanse my mind and change my emotions.

I was a sensual being. My body, well. All bodies, really, I hope. Electric.

My womb carried two babies, my breasts fed them, and my arms held them. Those were exhausting times, I remember, but oh so incredible. There was no end to the tasks needing to be done and no end to the hugely blossoming love that encompassed every simple movement. Ah, those nights rocking my baby in the dark, singing an old lullaby, afraid to get up and tuck the baby in the crib, afraid to lose the magic

.My body took me on camping trips, road trips, plane trips, and a few trips of another sort—like when I fell down a flight of stairs. What a crash. And what a healing. My body always healed.

My body brought me to my beloved classroom and allowed me to teach for many years. I remember when I could hop up on the counter while reading the scene from The Call of the Wild where the man in the red sweater breaks Buck out of his crate and all of the men in the yard jump up on the fence to watch. I remember replaying that scene in the classroom for years, and then one year, I just couldn’t make the jump. I landed on one of my eighth-grade students.

My body survived numerous surgeries, cancer, and chemotherapy.

My toes have been numb for several years now. Neuropathy from the chemo. My joints ache, especially those on the left side of my body. My skin is wrinkled. My hair is silver. I wear bifocals. I can’t hear out of my right ear. A one-mile walk leaves me exhausted. I find myself longing to go to bed with my heating pad early in the evening, and I basically never really want to get up.

My body likes to rest, and I like to try to forget about it altogether. Meanwhile, my mind considers other things. Like, maybe this is a normal part of aging. A stage of getting ready to let go of this old body and move on. So I pray, and read, and write, hoping to figure out what it is that is happening, and even if it is in fact, a real experience, or maybe it’s just a new and interesting facet of depression.

IMG_1192I look for articles about anything and everything connected with this sense of disconnectedness, wondering if anyone else feels this way, too. And then, today, my friend Stephanie posted an extraordinary article from The Washington Post about a rare illness that makes people think they’re dead. Timing is everything. I mean, it does seem that you attract what you think. Last night I’m thinking about being dead and today I’m reading this article. You can read it, too. It’s quite fascinating:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/zombie-disease-makes-people-think-they-have-died/2015/10/30/ca8ab52c-532f-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html.  Though it doesn’t describe my experience, in particular, it does contain some familiar aspects of what I’m trying to describe.

I remember, for some reason, right now, something my brother told me after our mom died. He said she came to him and said, “It’s okay, Billy. It’s ok.” That’s all.

I was sort of miffed. Why didn’t she come to me? But I guess she knew Billy would tell me. And maybe that’s all I need to know.

It’s ok.

What do you think?

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Filed under Aging, Depression, Writing