The following is a guest post from Melissa Howard, Head of Prevention Outreach StopSuicide.info. This piece highlights methods for recognizing and combating early signs of depression.
Photo Credit: Pixabay
Identifying When It’s Time To Seek Help:
4 keys to emotional wellness
Do you spend most of your days feeling content? Are you able to relax and enjoy your life? Is there a strong support group that rallies around you? Do you feel good about who you are? Can you say “no” when you need to without feeling a sense of guilt? And finally, can you easily share your feelings with a friend or loved one? If you’ve answered “no” to one or more of these questions, it’s time to consider ways to improve your emotional wellness.
According to the Office of Health Education and Promotion at the University of New Hampshire, these indicators determine your emotional wellness. They break down your emotional wellness into four categories: Stress Management, Mental Health, Communication & Relationships, and Sleep. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Everyone experiences stress, but the degree to which we successfully manage it tells us a lot about our emotional wellness. If you’re unable to cope with life’s stressors, you need to start to focus on stress management.
The American Psychological Association reports there are five keys to eliminating stress, they are:
Unresolved mental health issues are a major source of emotional wellness problems, so it’s extremely important to seek proper treatment for these conditions. And, when a person with a substance use disorder is also suffering from a mental health disorder, it is critical that they carefully manage both disorders to ensure that a relapse from one to the other does not occur. Once both disorders are fully active, the person’s condition can turn life-threatening.
Communication & Relationships
If we’re unable to clearly communicate our intentions, for example, turning down a drink if we’re struggling with an alcohol addiction, we leave ourselves open to emotional instability. So as we look for meaningful ways to heal, it’s important to establish healthy communication techniques.
Nothing can harm emotional wellness quite as much as being in a bad relationship. Any journey to emotional wellness will rely on your ability to have healthy relationships.
Emotional wellness can be greatly affected by our sleep habits, as poor sleep causes irritability, emotional sensitivity and a decreased ability to handle stress. And according to medical experts at Harvard University, chronic insomnia can increase the risk of developing anxiety or depression. If you’re experiencing sleep issues, work on some ways to get yourself back to waking up on the right side of the bed.
If you’ve made a committed effort to work on each of these and you’re still experiencing any of the following warning signs, it’s time for you to reach out for help.
● Talking about wanting to die or searching for ways to die.
● Feeling hopeless or as if life has no purpose.
● Experiencing unbearable pain.
● Feeling trapped.
● Increased drug or alcohol use.
● Feeling like a burden to others.
● Heightened anxiety, anger or recklessness.
● A sense of isolation or loneliness.
● Experiencing extreme mood swings.
Our lives are precious gifts meant to be enjoyed and lived fully, but each and every one of us encounters roadblocks. No matter what your obstacles are, it’s important that you personally focus on overcoming them. For some of us that’s a committed solo effort, for others it’s working with an experienced professional. Either way, remember it’s OK to ask for help. In fact, by doing so, you’ll not just be putting your life on track to returned happiness and joy, but who knows you could be sharing your story of hope and recovery to motivate others to get well, too. Imagine the precious gift you’d be sharing.
Notes from the Road
Part Five: Boston
It’s snowing again.
It’s snowing. Again.
It’s. Snowing. Again.
I think I may be living in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Like, the punishment I get for booking a great job is that I have to do it for the rest of time and the rest of time will be snowing.
When I was pregnant, a woman I didn’t know except on social media (we’ll call her Jess, because that’s her name) approached me with the idea to have a “Mommy Blog.” She thought that my voice and perspective would be good to add to the infinitely increasing din of women yelling into the void about their experiences raising Cody and Conner and Braden and, I don’t know, Ralph. Or whatever. There was potential to get paid in advertising dollars and free crap that the baby industry would throw my way so that I would blog about how great the newest baby monitor is that not only tells you if your kid is still breathing, but also tells you what their aptitude for math will be and what colleges to start applying them to. At the time I was pregnant, procrastinating on writing a show I had been commissioned to write, and worrying that I would never work again, so I thought the blog thing was a great idea.
Jess very generously set up my website (I paid her a little), and I think maybe we had an agreement that she would get some portion of my advertising revenue. We launched the website, I put out a couple press releases, wrote a pretty stellar piece about finding out I was single and 10 ½ weeks pregnant, and then basically blogged once a month if the mood struck. Jess explained that if I wanted to get anywhere with my Mommy Blog, I was going to have to increase my output to at least two entries a week.
I have this thing where I don’t really want to share writing with the world unless it’s thoughtful and has, like, a point? I know that’s not necessarily obvious by looking at some of my output, but I try. I looked at other Mommy Blogs and I wasn’t really sure I had anything to add to that conversation. I’m not interested in being another opinion in the “which smart stroller is best for your Mommy and Me Walk-Off-The-Baby-Weight classes” debate, or in barking about whose fault it is that a baby fell into a Gorilla habitat (It’s the zoo’s fault because animals shouldn’t live in confinement.), or being another voice in the outcry for sensible gun-control, LGBTQI2 rights, or against racism, etc. (there are far better and more informed people already doing that.).
One of the annoying things about success is that you’re supposed to exude an air of success while you’re trying to become successful. We love hearing about people’s struggles only after they have come out the other side of it. It’s rare that we take a journey with someone in real time through the shit and end up on the red carpet with them. And the truth is, despite a hormone high for the first five months of Monty’s life, I was going through the shit. I was a full-time mother which was something I never wanted to be. Monty, it turns out, was really easy, but no baby is easy while you’re going through it. And I was immeasurably lucky that I had a co-parent who understood and respected my biological need for sleep. My brain short-circuits if I don’t get enough sleep (“enough” is a relative term…). And about five months in to being a new parent, I had a massive hormonal crash and needed to get back on the anti-depressant I had gone off of during pregnancy and nursing so Monty wouldn’t grow fins or a second head or something. I remember sitting in the glider (The Super Deluxe Great Gilder tm from Gliders R Us! Only $8000 if you mention this blog!) one evening, waiting for Kurt to get home, trying to get Monty to go to sleep, singing “One for my Baby”, and crying because I was sure that no one was ever going to cast me again because all of Broadway thought that I had a baby just to cover up the fact that I was an untalented has-been (this is your brain on baby). But I couldn’t share that in a blog. Firstly, I couldn’t muster the mental acuity or will to write a blog at that point, and secondly, we are all supposed to have the next five years of our lives completely mapped out with one job after the other, right? And we're DEFINITELY not allowed to admit publicly that we feel like a fraud.
And we all know that none of us has the next five years of our lives mapped out with employment (except maybe for Audra MacDonald because she is a literal queen.), but we can’t admit that. And we all know that we all feel like frauds at least some of the time (even, I bet, Audra MacDonald, who, despite being a literal queen and a goddess, is also a human being), but we can't admit that. Yes, secretly, when we run into each other at Rite Aid on 8th avenue we say things like, “Trying to figure out how to pay the rent!”, but publicly we’re supposed to act like the walking embodiment of talent and unavailability.
And then there’s this thing where I don’t want to be like, “Oh, my god, you guys, my life is AWESOME! I’m working and creating, and having all the sex, and I never go to the gym and my body is slamming, and Monty is the best kid that ever existed, and my skin is clear!” when those things are happening (which, believe it or not, they do happen to me…), because, gross.
And, as we all know, I suffer from depression and anxiety, which is another thing we’re not supposed to share while we’re going through it (nor, really can we, because... depression). I have plenty of times where I’m not going through it and life looks something like that last paragraph (to varying degrees of awesomeness), but I tend to be more of an Eeyore than a Tigger (to use a metaphor from a book I never liked. I know, I know, I’m the only one on the planet that doesn’t like Winnie the Pooh.), and there’s only so much belly-aching one can share before their audience is like, “Uh, you suuuuuuuuuuck.”
So, for those of you keeping score, I’m not sure how to generate two blogs a week between the not wanting to lie about how successful or happy I am, not wanting to brag when I am successful and happy, not giving a shit about which brand of baby bottle warmer you should buy, and not wanting to weigh in on the latest garbage mess our country is in. And it's not that I want to make money from my blog, necessarily, but I would like to publish more often (and I'd like to get a book deal...) Also, to be fair, I spend time writing other things that aren’t for immediate public consumption. Maybe there’s a way to do that? Ideas and suggestions are welcome.
Meanwhile, Jess has gone on to create a successful company and doesn’t need my Mommy Blog revenue. Thank “god”. ‘Cause there ain’t none.
Hey, what do you know? It stopped snowing.
As per usual, I haven’t been posting new blogs because I want them to be perfect. Perfection is the enemy of creativity. So, I’m lowering my own bar and trying to just get words out.
I’m in an in between place right now, having just spent a day on set, filming a small part for a TV show I’m a fan of, and waiting for my next gig to start in a couple weeks. Here's a picture of me on set:
I can’t say what gig I’m about to start as they haven’t announced the cast officially yet. I’m just waiting to suddenly get a bunch of texts and Twitter notifications to tell me the press release has gone out. They won’t even tell those of us who are already cast who else has been cast. So, I continue to wait.
I’m finally getting my room unpacked and set up. It’s stressful because I’m painfully aware of my lack of design talent. I bought red curtains in an attempt to add color to my room and I think it was a regretful choice. The good news is, I’m leaving in a month for nine months, so the curtains will hopefully be someone else’s problem.
Yesterday was the first cold day of the season. After weeks of summer-like weather; swampy, soup weather, it was suddenly fall. Cold and a bit blustery. I spent the day in-doors battling a headache and depression. I had plans with a friend that I bailed on. He’s annoyed with me. But I did get some work done on my room which I’m seriously behind the eight ball on. Walking in here for the past couple months and sidling past boxes and bins has been making me insane. So, it has to be done.
I have always been really bad at unpacking. Suitcases are left untouched weeks after I return from trips. I moved to Los Angeles in 2003 and unpacked my last box in 2005, after moving in to my fourth place. I moved this box from New York, into a house I bought in North Hollywood, into my last apartment I shared with my ex-husband, and finally into my first place by myself and when I finally got it together to unpack it I found half-burned candles wrapped in newspaper. And not expensive or sentimental candles. Just random shit you can buy at Rite Aid.
Worse than the tangled-up mess of cheap Christmas lights that don’t work anymore, and the empty notebooks, and the bottles of expired vitamins, are the notes and letters. I have learned at least to not open old diaries (that trap will have you sitting on the floor until four a.m. crying and eating Entenmann’s cake right out of the box). But I have hundreds of postcards from when I worked at a university for a few years. I asked people to send me postcards for my office wall and I got an enthusiastic response. I have held on to nearly every card and letter I have ever gotten. I have old cigar boxes full of them. But I made the decision that I didn’t need to carry most of these postcards around with me anymore. They’d served their function when I had an office, but for the past eight years they’ve been sitting in a box. So, I went through them with a largely indiscriminate fervor. I kept the ones whose images spoke to me and the ones loved ones sent and tossed the rest.
The hardest part was reading the ones Kurt sent. And he sent dozens. I had nearly forgotten how funny he was. His sense of humor was one of the things that drew me to him in the first place. He sent postcards that were images of random street scenes from the past and ascribed dialogue to the people in the photos. He wrote of the fates of the subjects of the photos. He gave horses punchlines. I sat on my floor, pouring through these, laughing and feeling tremendously sad.
He and Monty have moved into their own place near Seattle. I Skype with them twice a day on good days. At breakfast and dinner. Monty shows me the latest thing they’ve added to their apartment. They have a map of the five boroughs over their kitchen table with pins marking where Monty’s important people are. Monty is, as always, happy and well-adjusted. Kurt is shouldering full time work and parenting on his own and he never complains. The most I’ll hear is “Weekends are hard.” I tell him how terrible I feel that I’m not there and he tells me that they’re proud of me how important what I’m doing is. Is it? It’s not like I’m saving lives. I’m not doing embassy work. Or even teaching. I’m just… being an actor. But Kurt is endlessly supportive.
And I’m sad that we can’t be together anymore. I’m sad that we can’t make it work. Sometimes I think we can try to fix things, and then I remember that even if we could work out whatever emotional wrinkles we had, I’m not attracted to men. That, as far as I can tell, some switch has been flipped in me and I generally find the thought of being physically intimate with any man akin to licking the bottom of a shoe. But I’m reading these old postcards and laughing and crying and wishing things could be different. Wishing I could be different.
Maybe the upside to all this is that because there’s no possibility of a romantic relationship anymore we may be able to find a way to live together platonically and co-parent. We certainly like each other enough to make something like that work. Or, at least, I like him. I assume he likes me, too…
I want to write here about the relationship I had over the summer – with the woman who flipped my switch, as it were – but we have mutual friends and I want to be respectful. I loved her (and still do, I think?) and think about her every day, even nearly two months after it’s been over. The relationship was unhealthy for a host of reasons; we triggered each other enormously. Ultimately, I think our major error was moving far too quickly. We tried to build a house without putting down the proper foundation. So, when the house came tumbling down it did so hard and fast and we were both badly bruised in the process. I still think I’m digging my way out of the rubble.
I am overwhelmed by what’s happening in our country politically. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is doing unspeakable damage. Every day we all seem shocked at how much lower he has managed to sink, taking us down with him. The situation is Puerto Rico is devastating. I feel helpless. I don’t know how his party allows him to remain in office. I keep thinking they must have some kind of plan. Nefarious though it may be, and it most likely is, they have to know what they’re doing right? How can they just be letting him dig himself and his party (and the entire country) into this hole without some reason for it? Are they just willfully destroying their party? Are they trying to set the stage for some kind of Tea Partyesque take-over?
Honestly it feels trite to even address any of this. There are others doing it much better than I ever could. I have nothing significant to add to the discourse.
But, I don’t know how pushing policy that kills poor people is helpful to them. I understand they think poor people are detestable, but they do know they can’t continue to benefit off the labor of the poor and struggling if they kill them all off, right? Isn’t there some fine line they have to walk between keeping us sick and barely surviving and out-right killing us off? Doesn’t it seem like their policies are designed for the latter? Who’s going to clean their toilets, serve their food, and raise their children if they kill us all off?
Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now. Mostly because I still need to unpack it. It’s probably filled more junk I’ve been dragging around with me for 38 years.
Several times now I have posted a blog here declaring I would begin posting more often, only to then fail to keep my word. I’m like that friend who keeps saying, “Let’s tooooootally get together soon!” but never actually makes a plan to see you. Yeah, I’m that guy.
I’ve been trying to figure out what’s keeping me from posting more often, or even, in truth, from simply writing more often. (I say “simply writing” as if writing were ever simple. As if sitting down to write wasn’t excruciating.) A conclusion I’ve come to is that I tend to write with rigorous honesty which is exhausting and scary even when you don’t plan on sharing what you’ve written with the world (and by “the world”, of course I mean the modest handful of people who read this blog).
We are supposed to project and air of success. People want to work with successful people. Our persona on social media is supposed to be one of cheery optimism. No one wants to work with a drag. But I suffer from depression and anxiety, as I’ve made abundantly clear in previous posts, and I tend to share the world as I see it, through blue-tinted glasses. It turns some people off, I know. It may cost me some jobs. But I believe it a) is more interesting than being Sally Sunshine (which I couldn’t be if I tried), and b) can help others who experience depression or anxiety. The more we share our struggles, the more normalized they become and the more likely people are to reach out for help if they need it.
When Monty was born I was given a clean slate. A fresh start. I was able to forgive myself my regrets and “bad” decisions. Every step of my life brought me to Monty. It was and is the ultimate lesson in gratitude.
I left NYC in 2003 because I was restless. I left because I wasn’t disciplined enough in my career and I felt I had developed a bad rep among casting directors for giving less than terrific auditions. Whether this was true or just a paranoid perception, I can’t say. But I was auditioning very seldomly and getting cast even less. My heart wasn’t in the game anymore. I felt beat down and tired. So, I escaped my life and went to Los Angeles.
When I moved to L.A. I was in the middle of what I now call my “20 Year Lost Weekend.”
I did not spend 20 years in a drug-induced, blacked out stupor. I worked. I made a few movies. I was on Broadway for a third time. I played a variety of women in various states of duress on TV. I got married and divorced. Bought and sold a house. Quit the business. Finished school. Got back into the business. I lived my life. But generally, when I look at the time between when my mother died when I was 13 to the time I had my son, almost exactly 20 years later, I don’t recognize that person. It’s as if a stranger was living my life for two decades.
And suddenly I had a human life I was responsible for (“Suddenly” means 41 weeks of pregnancy, of which I was only away of 30 weeks…). I had a white, cis male that I had to raise to be… better. Better than a lot of the white, cis men I have known. Better than the toxic representation of white, cis men that he will be bombarded with from every corner of our culture.
Better than me.
I take that responsibility very seriously.
The great weight of that responsibility, coupled with depression that was now hormonal and chemical, meant I have spent much of the past four years feeling as though I were treading water. True, I’ve managed to make huge strides in my career. I wrote and produced a one-woman show before Monty was a year old. I won awards for my writing. I made the gigantic (and terrifying) leap to move back to NYC. I have managed to turn a corner in my career with regards to my discipline and my abilities. I have worked hard. (Success! Success! Success!) But, if my achievements were taken away, what would be left? I am Monty’s mom. I am an actor. I am a writer. But who am I beyond that?
I have made the agonizing choice to leave Monty with his dad in Seattle while I pursue my career with a focus and discipline I’ve never had before. I feel like a monster most of the time for doing this. It feels incredibly selfish. But my other option is to move to Seattle and, what? Try to make a living doing theater in Seattle? Give up acting again? Be miserable? I would be with my child, true. But I would be giving up my dream and who would that make me? What kind of mother could I be? How can I teach my son to follow his heart and never give up on himself if I am doing just that? How can I teach him to be better if I’m not being my best? How can I teach him how to be better than me when I don't know who "me" really is?
How can I stop being a stranger in my own life?
I’m hoping he will forgive me for not being there. Hopefully he will understand this sacrifice. Hopefully he won’t resent me for too long. I am his mother. He will resent me. Just hopefully not for this or just hopefully not for too long.
I am incredibly lucky that Kurt, Monty’s dad, is a superhuman with a massive capacity for understanding. I would not be able to do any of this without his seemingly endless support. There are times I worry that all I’m doing is traipsing around New York City, seeing shows and schmoozing, while Kurt works full time and raises our son day in and day out. He is there for all the stubbed toes and ear infections, the bathtimes and bedtime stories, breakfasts and dinners, tantrums and nightmares, hugs and kisses. All of it. And I’m here. And he never fails to remind me that what I’m doing is vital. He reminds me that in order for me to be the best mother to Monty that I can be, I need to be here. And he does this despite the fact that we aren’t together romantically anymore. He does this while knowing that I’ve been falling in love with someone else. He does this while being the world’s best dad.
Monty is in the best hands possible.
But he’s not in my hands, which torturous. And necessary. At 37 years old, I finally get to figure out who I am. I have to figure out who I am.
I recognize that this is intense navel-gazing. So, feel free to move on. I hear there’s a great piece about single, working motherhood on Goop…
One of the good things about suffering from panic attacks (Not that there are lots of good things about it. There are maybe two. One is getting out of ladies nights or yet another invitation to an Arbonne spa "party".) is that eventually you come to know the early warning signs of an impending attack and can take measures to dampen or stop it all together. The same is true of depression. If you live with chronic depression (as I do) you learn what the signs are that you're headed for another tailspin. For example, hypothetically, it may be fantasies that you'll get T-boned by a semi. You gleefully imagine that after impact you and your car spin serenely, and in slow motion, through the intersection before you lose consciousness completely and forever. Or, just say, it's a persistent and bizarre intrusive thought of getting shivved in the right kidney; an image that increases in frequency until it dominates your thoughts and you can't even jam out to "Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog with your three-year-old without thinking about it. Or maybe it's that you start thinking about what a loser you are and that no one loves you and you'll never be cast in another show because you can't screlt and your voice generally is just okay, and then what will you do because you already quit the business once and you don't want to be that guy that's always quitting the business, and do you really think you can be a successful therapist as a fall back if you are this crazy, and what will your child do without you and you shouldn't have had a child in the first place, what were you thinking? Just, as an example. So, when you start having these thoughts you know your meds aren't working and whatever you're talking about in therapy is probably garbage. And hopefully then you can head it off at the pass. Because if you don't you'll end up under your covers for days and you have a child (or a job, or just basic adult responsibilities), so that's not exactly an option.
Last December I had a panic attack in the produce section of the C-Town in Park Slope. It came out of the blue. I mean, my life was far from stress-free, but I had just booked a big gig I really wanted, my kid's father had landed a decent job, and we were finally going to be moving into our own place on the first of January. But, as I stood in front of the lemons I suddenly got very hot. I took off my jacket. I peeled off my scarf. I took off my sweater. I just kept getting hotter. I sat down on the edge of the dairy fridge and put my head between my legs while keeping an eye on Monty. My chest tightened. My breathing got really shallow. Quickly I was hyperventilating. My dad came back from the cereal aisle. Monty gasped.
"Look, Mama!" He said. "Cheerios!"
"Awesome!" I said, my head starting to swim.
"Uh huh." I turned my head to my dad. "I need help." I mumbled.
"What?" He asked. And then, "Are you alright? Your face is white as a sheet."
Thankfully the brave men from FDNY Engine 239 were doing their shopping at C-Town, too, and it didn't take long before I was surrounded by firemen (a personal fantasy, by the way.) taking my pulse and giving me oxygen.
One ambulance ride of three and a half blocks later (for which I was billed $600, which is remarkable when you consider that most EMS workers make about $11-an-hour.) I was sitting in the Methodist Hospital E.R. waiting to be seen by a doctor. Two hours later I was still waiting. I asked a harried nurse for an anxiety med. He said he we would to get the request approved. An hour later I realized that I had my own anxiety meds at home that I wouldn't have to wait for the request to be cleared on or pay $250 for and also I still hadn't seen a doctor, so I left. What was the doctor going to possibly have to say to me anyway ("Try to reduce the stress in your life.")?
In the following seven months I had some near misses, but always managed to head my anxiety off at the pass by taking half a Clonapin and removing myself from my child's presence whom I love immeasurably and would die for, but who sometimes makes me regret being alive. And once I took myself to a nearby bar for a double scotch, listened to a true crime podcast (www.swordandscale.com, by the way, which if you haven't listened to it go now and start at episode one and I'll see you back here in a couple of weeks), and played Candy Crush until I was ready to rejoin my life.
A couple Mondays ago I was in the city to teach a class. Monty's dad and I are separated, and I have Monty most of the week while his dad works. We're staying with parents of a friend out of the city for reasons that are too complicated to delve into now. So, I had Monty with me. It was easily 6000 degrees out. I had my suitcase and Monty. On Metro North on the way in, Monty had a full on melt down, screaming and hitting me repeatedly. Hard. I'm doing this weird thing where I don't hit him because I believe people who hit their kids are monsters. And I try not to scream at him unless he's about to run into the street or put his hand on the stove. So, I'm hugging him and telling him I love him and that when he hits me it hurts me emotionally and physically. I'll admit that finally, out of frustration, I told him if he hit me again I would leave him on the train which I KNOW is basically just as bad as hitting him and I'm officially the worst. I'm sure the threat of abandonment is just as scarring as actually scarring him. But you know what? It worked. And then I apologized for saying it and explained that sometimes I get so frustrated that I say things I don't mean. And then I gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and all was forgiven. Or maybe it wasn't. I don't know. It seemed like it was, but he'll probably bring it up in therapy when he's in his twenties. Also, I called him "Mein Fuhrer." The worst.
I'm well aware that my problems are nowhere near as bad as most people's in the world, but they are mine and pain isn't relative and I'm not trying to belly ache about how hard my life is. I'm just trying to set the stage. So, the stage is set, right? I'm stressed out.
My friend, and hero, Eve, met us at Grand Central to watch Monty while I went to teach. When I got back from teaching I knelt down to give Monty a hug and a kiss and got extremely light-headed upon standing. I chalked it up to old age and not the fact that I hadn't had much to eat or drink all day (except for a 32 ounce mocha coolata from Dunkin' Donuts which, in my defense, I was told was the "yummiest value."). Monty and I parted ways with Eve and headed to the shuttle on our way to Grandma/Grandpa's place in Brooklyn. Near the beginning of the tunnel to the shuttle my head began to swim again. My chest tightened and I started gasping for air. I knew there was a newsstand toward the shuttle and decided I just had to make it there and get some juice. Pushing Monty in his stroller and pulling my rolly suitcase, I managed to get to the newsstand where I stumblingly bought an apple juice and some almonds and then collapsed on the ground next to Monty. I considered taking a Clonapin, but I had to weigh the option of completely fogging out from anti-anxiety meds against being awake enough to still parent my toddler.
I called my father. I wasn't sure what else to do. He told me to call 911 but that felt a bit dramatic. I chose, instead, to flag down an MTA worker who said they would go get the police. And then I waited there for 20 minutes hoping to god someone I knew wouldn't walk by and see me being all anxiety-y. Though don't think for a minute that I didn't compliment a woman walking by in her fierce two-piece outfit. No doubt she went home and burned it. No one wants to wear something a crazy lady from the subway floor complimented.
The only person I alerted, besides my dad was a friend whose brother is a cop. Basically I was just like, Uh, can I go up to a cop and just be like, I'm having a panic attack? He called. I didn't answer. He texted. I didn't answer. I know people who call friends at the slightest hint of a rough time. Everything constitutes a crisis. I, on the other hand, having an actual crisis, didn't want to bother anyone.
Monty asked for gummy candy which he NEVER has, but at this point I would have bought him a bag of sugar to distract him from what was happening. He finished the gummies and asked for more. I got him another pack.
"Are you sad, Mama?" He asked me.
"No, baby, I just don't feel well." I told him.
"You want a gummy? It'll make you feel better."
He gave me his candy. Then he emptied the rest of the bag into his hand and said, "That's it!" and gave them to me.
My son is a god damned champion.
The police finally showed up. But not before I folded and called 911. There were cops all over Grand Central Station and I had to call 911. It's like the one time you actually want Starbucks and there is nary a Starbucks to be found. That said, the two officers who eventually showed up were helpful and brought me out to the ambulance. While one EMS worker, who looked exactly like Alan Arkin (He got it all the time), took my information, the other, suggested they take me to the hospital. Apparently I didn't look so good, which, I know, weird, right? My dad suggested that the EMS guy was compelled to tell me to go the hospital as part of his job. Like he works on commission. An extra 10% for every sucker he actually brings in. I figured giving Monty a ride in an ambulance would be better than passing out in the back of a cab and waking up somewhere deep inside Queens, hog-tied in a basement. I may have some trust issues.
So, Monty got a ride in an ambulance to NYU Langone. He pushed all kind of levers and buttons that I'm sure I'll receive a bill for somehow.
Emergency Transportation $850
Entertainment of Toddler $6000
Total $10,436.72 (including composition of bill, time, and postage)
I was attended to immediately by both a nurse AND a doctor, as well as a tech who gave me all kinds of beepy boopy tests. When I gave my pee sample Monty asked if it was apple juice. When a nurse gave me apple juice Monty asked if it was pee. Another patient walked by with her pee sample which looked like pomegranate juice. I felt fortunate to only be sick in the head. Two orthodox Jewish men walked by and Monty said,
"Look, Mama! Jingle bells!" Really loud.
My doctor was cute AND Jewish. Unfortunately he was wearing a wedding ring, which, honestly, how would we have told the story of our meeting at our rehearsal dinner? "She was a broke, harried, crazy, single mom. I was a successful doctor. She came to see me for a panic attack. It was a meet cute!" Clink clink.
Anyway, he made me drink two buckets of water and told me to try to reduce the stress in my life...
So, here's the conclusion, I have had to write and re-write much of this piece over and over because of bugs with the app. Monty and I fought about 10 times today. Let me break that down for you. I, a 36-year-old MOTHER fought with my three-year-old son. Because I'm an adult. And he is threevil. He is currently in the other room watching complete garbage on my phone because I can not bear the thought of fighting with him again right now. And it gives me five minutes to "end" this piece. And it prevents me from completely breaking down. Again. Although tonight, when I'm trying to go to sleep, I will lay there wracked with guilt over fighting with my child. I'm supposed to be an endless source of joy and enthusiasm for him. I should be happily giving up my life to play train tracks with him. Or watch him "perform" The Dream Police for the 7000th time. I just can't.
And tomorrow it will start again first thing in the morning. He will throw a tantrum because the banana has a bruise on it. Or I won't let him watch Mickey Mouse Club House or I'll ask him to take his diaper off. And I will try to remember to breathe and try to remember that he is still a baby and won't be able to fully reason for another 23 years. And I will spend the day debating whether or not to take a pill or part of a pill until it's finally the end of the day and he screams and yells for me to sleep in the bed with him which I'll do because I'll just be too tired to fight him again. And anyway, going to bed at 8pm is highly underrated.
I haven't posted in maybe six months. I was having trouble with the Weebly app and got frustrated with not being able to post from my phone, Also, I got very busy with holiday stuff, looking for a place to live, and prepping for the concert of The Secret Garden at Lincoln Center in February, I got sick with a cold on the first day of rehearsals and here we are, two months later and I'm still sick. Pretty sure I'm dying but everyone else is like, "Get over yourself. You have a cold."
Kurt got a job in December working for the Devil's spawn and his dung beetle of a wife. He is a war profiteer and she used to be the head of a major cable network, though how anyone ever stood being in a room with her for more then two minutes is beyond me. They have three children whom they're raising to be just as shitty as they are.
He was hired for a specific job, with very specific duties that were expressly laid out before he agreed to take the position. They wanted to make sure he knew what he was signing on to do. Then, maybe two weeks in, the Mrs. decided she really wanted a butler and was angry that Kurt wasn't one. She was like, "Ugh, were you raised in a barn?" during his first dinner service when he served the water from the wrong pitcher. She texted him at midnight on his day off demanding that he go to their Connecticut residence in the morning (also his day off), pick something up, and deliver it to their Greenwich Village residence. And what was the item that needed to be delivered? Like, a really important flash drive, right? Or an envelope with a ton of cash. Or a fucking Faberge Egg that they were auctioning off that day. No, no. It was a white, crew neck tee-shirt. To be fair, those are a very hard item to find. Especially in New York City. So, I get it. Their oozing puss stain of a daughter, who was all of 11 years old, ordered him out of the kitchen when she went in to get a snack. Because that's how you treat people.
Anyway, he lasted two months before being summarily dismissed for not doing the job he wasn't hired to do. So, that was a two month respite from nearly two years of unemployment. You know how on the news you hear about people who have been out of work for two years and you're like, how is that possible? Or you're like, how are they feeding their children? Yeah, that.
Monty is going to be three next month. He is still an amazingly terrific kid. But, man oh man, that boy can be a dick. JEEEEEzus. I'll say, "Hey, how about we go in the backyard and ride your tricycle?" and he will scream at me like I suggested we cut his penis off. And that will go on for a half an hour until we somehow finally manage to wrangle him into clothing and then he'll go, "Can we go to the backyard and ride my tricycle?" all happy-like, like he's just coming up with the idea. OH, MY GOD, WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT? SOMEONE GET THIS KID A FULBRIGHT SCHOLARSHIP.
He's in school three days a week because that's what we can afford. Honestly, if I could have him in school seven days a week, I would. And I KNOW that he's an easy kid. I have met other three-year-olds. Generally speaking, as a group, they are fucking awful. Snot-nosed, scowly, screamy little shitheads. And most of them have the personality of a bowl of oatmeal. Their just like, "Look at my Thomas train!" and you're like, "I'm in my mid-thirties. You really think I have any interest in your stupid train?" But of course in real life you have to be like, "Wow! What a cool train! Oh my god. Amazing!" At least Monty's interests center around things most adults can get into, like David Bowie and The Hives. On the other hand, he's really into that awful Mighty Mighty Bosstones songs right now. You know, their one hit. And he's found that god awful "I would walk 500 miles song." Sometimes, if I catch it early I can convince him a song is garbage. But it really has to be the first time he's hearing it.
Honestly, I think most parents can agree that for a lot of years, their kids are really only tolerable to them. Anyway, my point is that I know Monty, compared to many kids his age, is relatively easy. He has never thrown himself on the supermarket floor because we won't buy him some crap with Elmo on the box. His tantrums are fairly mild and usually, if he does need to throw something, it's more like he's placing it firmly. Sometimes I use his tantrums as an opportunity to remind him that "no means no" and if someone asks you to stop doing something to them, you have to stop. Even though I'm fully aware that his brain is not functioning normally during a tantrum and he can't really process what I'm saying. But, you know, consistency is key. Or something.
So, Kurt is unemployed, I'm unemployed, and Monty is a toddler. I would say we have our fair share of life-stressors right now and some measure of depression is to be expected. The problem is that I suffer from chronic depression. So, when a normal person gets depressed they feel sad, tired, angry. Maybe a little hopeless. I think for most people a course of talk therapy or a low dose of anti-depressant will help them through it (Although I take issue with people taking anti-depressants for situational depression. Emotions are normal. Sometimes they suck. Work it out.). For me, because my base-line is depressed, when I am dealing with major stressors my depression becomes almost unmanageable. And that's where I've been for the past couple weeks. Constant spiraling thoughts of failure and shame. A conviction that I will never work again, everyone hates me, I am a terrible mother, etc. Panic attacks. And not your cute "Oh my god the line for Star Wars went around the block. I swear I had a panic attack" panic attack. Like, hyperventilating at the grocery store and being taken to the ER panic attack. The kind where you wait in the ER for two hours and no one helps you and you ask for an Ativan but have the wherewithal to realize that when and if they finally do bring you an Ativan they're going to charge you $500 for it, so you just leave and take the Ativan you have at home and then you get a bill for $608 for the ambulance ride from 9th street and 6th avenue to 7th street and 7th avenue. Fortunately I've been dealing with it for so long in my life that I know what the signs are for when I'm headed into hospital-level depression and I can do things to keep it at bay. For example, one sign that my depression is getting bad is when I find out a friend is in the hospital with pneumonia and I'm like, "Oh my god, they're so lucky." Because, like, mandatory vacation from life, am I right? Or near-constant fantasies of being stabbed in the kidney. A coma sounds like an awesome nap.
I worry about sharing this level of detail about my illness because I'm afraid it may hinder me from getting work. I can understand someone being hesitant about casting me because they're worried my mental health might be a liability. The truth is that my depression only affected one job in that I had to turn it down because the subject-matter was gruesome and I had just gotten out of the hospital after a major depressive episode. I'm healthy enough to know when I'm healthy enough to work. I tend to be pretty emotionally healthy when I'm employed. Because, like everyone, my self-worth is directly tied to getting a paycheck. And also, if we continue to keep the truth about mental illness to ourselves we perpetuate the myth and shame of it. So, I guess if it costs me a job, so be it. I know that when I've been honest about my situation before, people have thanked me for my honesty because it helped them feel less alone in their own illness. So, you see, I'm sacrificing my well-being for YOU. You're welcome.
This morning I managed to get up with Monty at 7, make him breakfast and lunch, and get him out the door (with Kurt's help) by 8. I realize this is, like, bare minimum parenting, but for me, it felt like a victory. Now, here it is, not even 9:30 am and I've earned myself a nap. Right?
Three years ago I went in for my yearly Well Woman exam and found out I was 10 and a half weeks pregnant. I was single and unemployed, with health insurance that was set to expire in two months. My ex-boyfriend, Kurt, half of the reason for the unexpected pregnancy, and I were still living together as I hadn't yet found a place of my own, but we had split up a month earlier. I called him. I called my sister. I called my therapist. I called my parents. And then I called Planned Parenthood. I had a little over a week to decide what I wanted to do. I made an appointment for an abortion in one week in case that was what I ended up going with.
It was a rough week. Kurt and I cried and fought. We yelled and made accusations. My sister offered whatever support I needed whether that was a ride to the clinic and care afterward or someone to raise the baby with. My parents were far more measured with their support, mostly offering up reasons why having the baby would be the wrong choice. I had my career to consider. I was just getting going again with an acting career I had put on hold for four years. I was booking work and things were looking hopeful. I was having more success than I had had for many years. A baby would certainly put a giant kink in that trajectory. And how would I afford the labor and the subsequent baby without insurance or a job? What about my mental health? Would I be able to continue my meds while pregnant and nursing?
I was raised pro-choice. I always believed abortion was a woman's decision. I believed a woman shouldn't be forced to put her own goals on hold because she happened to get pregnant. And I always assumed if I got pregnant before I was ready I would have an abortion. I was 33. I didn't want kids. My career was important to me.
And yet. There was this nugget of an idea that kept making its way to the front of my brain. What if you did have this baby? It was a radical idea. Crazy, And yet. The nugget got louder and louder. Seriously. What if you did have this baby? And I started to think about what if. And, of course, I had no idea what if. I didn't know what having a baby would really do to my life. I couldn't possibly know. It could be the worst thing that ever happened to me. On the other hand. What if I had the baby?
Kurt and I took a weekend apart to think (and so I could stop throwing shoes at him), and when we came back together that Sunday, we decided to go with the terrifying unknowable future of the what if. I canceled my appointment with Planned Parenthood.
Seven months later I gave birth to a boy I never thought I'd have. And he is perfect. I mean, for real, the kid is a perfect specimen, I won't bore you with the details of how perfect he is. If you want to know, read the rest of my blog. But I challenge you to talk to a person on this earth who has spent more than 10 seconds with him who won't back me up.
And yet. I suffered major postpartum depression. Six months after Monty was born I found myself laying on my apartment floor barely able to breathe. Our financial situation made it nearly impossible to hire any kind of help. The only respite I got was from friends who would offer a few hours here and there for "date nights". We made too much money to get any kind of assistance but not enough to afford any childcare. I was hardly able to produce milk anymore because of general anxiety and anxiety about losing "the baby weight" in order to be skinny enough to get work in my industry. Monty was the easiest, happiest little guy and yet there were days when I didn't know how I would possibly survive 'til Kurt got home. I was sure I was a failure. I strongly considered hospitalizing myself. I went back on my meds and switched Monty mostly to formula.
Once my meds were stabilized I was able to think a little more clearly. I was better able to distinguish reality from the lies my sick mind was still whispering to me. You're a failure. Okay, maybe, but not today.
I am so glad I didn't have that abortion.
A year and a half after Monty was born I found myself once again unexpectedly pregnant. Six weeks after a slip up and a prompt ingestion of the morning after pill, my chest started to break out for the second time in my life two weeks after I should have gotten my period. This time I was employed (temporarily) and still had no insurance. Before I took the test, Kurt and I talked about the possibilities. If I was pregnant, we decided, we would downgrade to a one-bedroom apartment to save money. We would move back to New York. My family would help. Yes, we would make it work. I stood in the doorway of our bathroom staring at the two little lines on the pregnancy test in my hand. I looked up at Kurt and literally couldn't find the words. He reached out for me and I laid down next to him. We lay there in silence for 15 minutes. And then I burst out laughing and Kurt burst into tears, How had we let this happen again? Did we not know how babies were made? Did we miss that day in Health class? What were people going to say?
I called Planned Parenthood and made an appointment in one week in case that was the way we decided to go.
It didn't take us a week to make the decision. We knew right away. We had already taken risks having Monty and those risks were paying off in spades. He made our lives infinitely better.
And yet. We were barely getting by. I was still mostly unemployed. Turns out the nearly yearlong break my pregnancy demanded of my career made it harder to get back in. We managed to feed Monty well but at the expense of our own down time. We still had no child care help. We never got a break. Our situation wasn't quite dire, but it wouldn't take much to put it there. And people kept telling me every baby is born with a loaf of bread under its arm. But a loaf of bread doesn't pay the rent. And we all know where a loaf of bread landed Jean Val Jean.
And there was my mental health. We considered ourselves lucky that I had made it through my postpartum situation relatively unscathed. We didn't know if we'd be so lucky again. I honestly didn't think I could handle a second baby. What if it was colicky? What if it was sick? What if it was one of those babies that has no personality?
A second child would mean a significant downgrade in our quality of life, such as it was. Unless we came across some kind of financial windfall, we didn't see how having a second child at that point would be fair to us or to Monty or to it. We just didn't have the financial or emotional resources to spare.
So, we kept our appointment with Planned Parenthood. We went in on July 5th, 2014. We got there before the clinic opened. The only protester there was a small guy with a graphic poster, speaking in spanish. But Kurt got called a coward and a murderer on his way out by a woman who had decided that she understood his life better than he did. The three other women in the waiting room were all mothers, too. They seemed fine with their decisions. We all felt fine with our decisions. And yet. We found ourselves defending our choice to each other as though we had anything to defend. We didn't. We were four loving mothers who were making the best decision for themselves and their families. The nurses and doctors who cared for me were extremely compassionate and kind. The doctor told me my last name means "good" in Hungarian. Or Polish. Or some language. And then I woke up in the recovery room and it was over and I felt relief.
I am so glad I had that abortion. It was absolutely the right choice for myself and my family. I have never once regretted it. I have never felt sad or mourned for "the baby that never was." Instead I have loved the baby that is. And all of our lives are infinitely better for it.
I spent an hour on an blog entry on Wednesday night and it disappeared to god knows where. It was a good piece and I was so frustrated I punished my blog by not returning to it til now. That'll show it.
I was very out of sorts in Brooklyn. Last year at just about this time I had an epic fight with my parents that was life and relationship-changing. I suppose I didn't want to be in the house on the anniversary of "The Fight." There are enough ghosts in that house. I don't need to hang around with the one where my parents tell me I'm a failure. We headed to the Upstate house a day early, which will be our primary base until one or the other of us obtains gainful employment, and since I'm an actor, that burden basically rests on Kurt's shoulders. Even though the Upstate house was were I got married to a man I didn't love, twelve years ago (Twelve years exactly, actually. We got married on August 30th.) this house holds fewer memories. I can even look directly at the spot on which I said, "I do" and not feel a thing. Plus Kurt and Monty and I are alone up here (most of the time), so it's significantly quieter than Brooklyn.
I feel compelled here to clarify my feelings toward my parents' Brooklyn house and, for that matter, toward my parents. I dislike neither. In fact, I love both my parents and the house. It just sometimes feels like... a lot. It's a small house and they have two dogs including a Greyhound, and when it's me and Kurt and Monty and my parents and my sister and the dogs it's... a lot. One of the results of "The Fight" is that I've become more introspective, more guarded, and slightly less trustful. It's unfortunate, but true. I am aware that this is going to pain my father to read, but there it is. I don't know if I'll ever truly recover from it. And, in a strange way, I'm okay with that. Also, I should say, for the record, that when we are with my family, caring for Monty is significantly easier as there are three extra adults to make sure his head doesn't fall off. It allows for time to write. Or nap.
So, to sum up, I love my parents and am grateful for their warmth, love, generosity, and hospitality. I love my childhood home. But on the heels of the most stressful year of my life and moving across the country in a car with a toddler, I needed some peace.
The Upstate house is pretty far from they city (about 2 1/2 hours), which makes it not practical for commuting. But it is so peaceful and idyllic. Yesterday my step-mother took Kurt on a walk around the property. He came back and said, "When I was standing in that meadow I felt like I was in a painting."
"Excuse me. Meadow?" I said.
"Yeah, the meadow on the other side of the trees," he said.
"There's a meadow?"
There's a meadow. I had never walked the property in the 14 years that my parents have owned this house. I assumed the property ended at the tree line at the back of the backyard. So, Kurt took Monty and I up to the meadow and beyond. There's a fucking meadow, guys. A few of them. And a creek. With water. Do you understand?
I was honestly trying to figure out how we could make farming work. Suddenly I was thinking about bringing professionals in to clear some of the forest to make a path for fucking cows and sheep and goats. And I was telling Kurt that we would have to get one of those movable chicken coops. And I was sure I was going to become a dairy farmer and make artisan butter that I'd sell at the Union Square Farmer's Market. And occasionally someone would say, "You look familiar." And I'd say, "I'm not Lena Dunham!" And we would laugh and then I'd tell them about the lavender butter and how good it is on blueberry scones.
And here's the thing: My parents are selling this place. It's too far from the city, and all the neighbors are virulent Right-Wingers (The kind that hate gays. And women.), and they don't come up here often enough to justify having to pay the property taxes which have increased since all the small dairy farms are dying off because they don't get the subsidies that giant, mega, factory farms get. Some prospective buyers came to look at it today, but when the dude stepped out his Chrysler, wearing purple leather loafers with no socks, my fears of having the house bought out from under us vanished. For today, anyway.
When the apocalypse comes and water becomes a serious issue, they're going to regret having sold this place. Mark my words. Well, they'll probably be long gone by then. But Monty will be like, "What the fuck were they thinking?!" And I'll be like, "What, dear? Hand me that bottle of sleeping pills, a plastic bag, and some duct tape. There's $500 stowed away in the back of the armoire. It's all I have left. I love you."
And now comes the irony. My good friend has opened a daycare in Hamilton Heights and has hired me for a reduced hourly wage in exchange for daycare for Monty. And he wants me there full time. But I can't take the job because I can't commute to the city every day. So, I'm literally being handed a job and I can't take it. Amazing. And no, I can't stay in Brooklyn full time (Please refer to aforementioned Fight.). So, that's a conundrum.
Monty continues to be the best human ever. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it's just facts. He says "Thank you" when appropriate. He greets everyone with a cheery, "Hiya!" He RARELY tantrums, and by rarely I mean I can't remember the last time he did. He now says, "I love you." and it seems to come from a genuine place of love. I don't know how he knew how to label that feeling. I suppose after the millionth time I grabbed him and hugged him and told him I loved him he realized that one went with other. We took him to a diner tonight and my sister put "Jailhouse Rock" on the jukebox and Monty stood on his seat and air drummed. At the end of the song he yelled, "Rock! And! Roll!!" I mean, come the fuck on.
In other, less personal news, I was trying to come up with something to say in the wake of the several recent shootings. I am profoundly distressed by the state of the gun control debate in this country. I am furious that when I think about sending Monty off to school I now have to worry that some maniac with a gun will take some convoluted frustration out on Monty's class and I'll never see him again. I'm furious that ANYONE has to worry about that. We are completely out of control. Someone tweeted recently that the gun debate in this country ended with Sandy Hook. When it becomes acceptable to kill children, we have lost the fight.
Also, I'm reading an interview with Maya Schenwar who is a prison reform advocate and while I already knew the prison system is a complete failure, some of the shit she talks about makes you want to commit hari kari .
George Carlin said he wasn't interested in making things better or working to change the world because we had already fucked it up so profoundly that there's no going back so we might as well just ride it out while we're here. When you think about the fact that as a species we could have set up life any way we wanted and we designed what we designed it is the most nonsensical thing ever. We somehow decided that life should be a series of responsibilities all meant to pay someone else to make it possible for us to continue meeting our responsibilities.
We can't keep going like this, right?
P.S. I'm aware that I sound more discouraged than normal right now. But I'm actually feeling pretty hopeful and happy. No need to worry. I'm on my meds and looking for a new therapist. Everything is great!