Earlier this month or late last month I read somewhere that May, among other issue awarenesses, is also Mental Health Awareness month. According to Wikipedia, this month has been dedicated to spreading awareness since 1949. I definitely wasn’t aware of this. Does that reflect on the effectiveness of the campaign or my negligence? or both? Well, I’m trying to do something about it now. Know better, do better. Right?
Speaking of mental health, I’ve been reading a recently published biography, Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath. I’m about a third of the way through and the author discusses Plath’s depression in detail throughout the narrative: history, behavior, effect on her work.
I have many friends and some family members who are very open about their mental health. They will discuss their anxiety, depression, ideations, therapy sessions. I’ve come not to expect immediate responses to my texts or calls or emails. In fact, I’ll receive a text and feel a twinge of anxiety and wait until I can handle writing a proper reply. I’ll fight the urge to stay in bed. I’ll set a reminder to turn on my therapy lamp for a few minutes a day, especially in winter months. Still, this is nothing compared to what my friends and family experience.
These loved ones wrestle with themselves constantly. They’re brilliant, creative, deeeeeeply empathic. They care about the world so much.
Along with all the other things to think about this month, remember various communities that we should be supporting also have members whose mental health deserve our concern and attention. If you know them, check in on them. If you don’t know them, don’t be that weird person that interjects and invades and magnifies awkwardness and discomfort. You know how to be resourceful.
Isolating from people for over a year has been quite an experience. I’m not an extrovert by any means, but for the most part isolation has been voluntary, not mandatory. In the past, I’ve gone to parties because I’ve psyched myself up to go. I would have a fun time, but then I’d home, unwind for about an hour, then sleep unbelievably well.
But I do love people. I especially love being around people I consider close friends and family. That’s not saying I don’t like making friends, but that process is navigating new territory. Some people are easier to befriend than others. I generally have a very accommodating personality. I observe body language and facial expressions and tone; I listen and can often meet a person at their comfort level or on common ground. One of my greatest contributions to humanity is getting people to open up, to have people be ok with vulnerability. And have them feel connected to others, even in ways that seem fleeting or insignificant. Those ways have impact.
When I lived in New York, the deep desire to connect with individuals in countless, nameless mobs sometimes prompted spontaneous conversations about heavy things. The urgency to relate on deeper levels cut through a lot of the small talk. I remember waiting for a crosstown bus, and one other lady was at the bus stop. Somehow we struck up a conversation, and before I knew it, she was talking about her feelings about a daughter getting married. We boarded the bus and continued the discussion. I remember looking at her face. Although the openness came more from her, I also felt seen. I felt a connection.
I blogged a lot more when I lived in NYC, through the heart of the Oughts, almost seven years. When I look back this habit of writing likely helped with my social skills. In 2008 I had made a goal to write every day. Didn’t have to be substantial content. Didn’t have a word limit. Just had to think of a thing to write about and write. I do believe I lasted the whole year. (I’ll have to double check the blog.) That daily routine prepared me for social situations, because I had practice quickly forming opinions about various topics. I had practice going through my day observing everything, storing ideas and writing prompts. Learning to look and feel beyond myself.
And now, I’m reading a lot more, experiencing the privilege of living vicariously. Seeing the world through diverse lenses in books and other media.
And while reading has done wonders for my empathy, it’s not quite the same as writing. I mean, both are different ways of listening, or at least processing the world. If I can find the words to write something, I can usually find a constructive, correlative action. Even if that means more listening. Which is the case, most of the time.
I think this post puts me on a 10- or 11-day streak of writing. And as parts of the country start opening up more with increased vaccinated populations, stepping out to interact with other humans seems really important. Looking people in the eyes as they relate their lives of the past year in isolation. The cabin fever, the anxiety. The sensitivity to light. The reflex to cower away from someone going in for a hug.
I don’t know: writing about it has helped me get to a more stable emotional place. I would like to think that it can help me help others to feel seen or listened to. Or cared about. Or loved.
In November 2016 we bought a house. We moved in the next month. The idea of having the space to host events or parties crossed my mind. Our basement looked like hasn’t been updated since the 1980s, and this is where we set up the TV for movies and games. In February 2017 we started a quarterly lecture series, and we would hold each lecture in our 80s basement living room. We’d invite people over, we’d eat treats, and speakers would be our friends.
18 February – Satire, by Reilly Ryan
Reilly started of our series with a fun discussion about satire. He provided a few written and video examples; he talked about his thesis, which discussed whether a show like Family Guy (compared to the Simpsons) was satire. (I actually blogged about this lecture here.)
20 May – Poison Control Center, by Amber Johnson
Amber is Reilly’s older sister. She talked about the Utah Poison Control Center, where she works. She provided pointers on keeping our homes safe and what to do in the event of a poisoning. Since this lecture she has been promoted to Director of the UPCC, which now also doubles at the Utah Coronavirus Hotline.
19 August – Horror, by Jonathan Smith
Jon knows a lot about horror movies. He spoke to us about horror films and the commentary they provide about family. We watched a few excerpts from classic scary movies and analyzed them.
11 November – Introduction to Fan Studies, by Melissa Beattie (Skype)
Melissa, a professor, talked to us about the ins and outs of being a fan. We talked about fanfic. She mentioned a lot of pop references and talked about fan events and culture such as Comic Con, as well as the history and basics of fan theory.
17 February – Bali and Gamelan, by Gavin Ryan
Gavin is one of Reilly’s brothers. He presented a lecture about Bali music and culture, and he brought some Gamelan instruments for a performance.
26 May – Immunohistochemistry and Libraries, by May Ryan
I talked about the app that I maintain for work. I also talked about the importance of libraries.
25 August – Semiotics and Tarot, by Bridgette Tuckfield (Skype)
We learned about tarot cards! The history and meanings behind signs. A very cool discussion.
10 November – Nigerian Literature, by Kylie McQuarrie
Kylie presented the work of several African authors, and how important they are in context of war and oppression.
23 February – COLD Podcast, by Dave Cawley
Our biggest crowd. Dave had released his true crime podcast just a couple of months before. We were lucky to have booked him before all the other speaking engagements came along. For us, he told the Susan Powell story and gave background on all the footage and other artifacts that enrich this story.
4 May – Fur Foxen concert and Q&A
My hairstylist happens to play cello and sing in a band. We invited them to give a really nice, chill concert and answer some questions about their process.
24 August – Highway Typefaces, by Marjorie Smith
Very fun lecture about the history of highway typefaces, which includes some surprising drama. Everyone probably now notices the details of freeway signs now.
23 November – Visual Effects, by Ryan Sonderegger
Ryan talked about some of the technical aspects of his work. We discussed some of his more well-known projects. Very fascinating.
22 February – Cheese, by Joseph Peterson
We sampled so many cheeses! Some were awesome; some required an acquired taste. We paired cheeses with crackers and breads and fruits. It’s always fun to discuss food.
We didn’t miss a quarter for three years. All of these lectures were amazing. We learned about so many really interesting things. We gained a deeper understanding of social issues and other cultures. This was also a chance/excuse to get like-minded friends to gather in a safe space, a tiny blue dot in the middle of our obnoxiously red county. We aired our grievances and frustrations with the political climate. (We closed on our house just before the 2016 election.) We loved being able to hang out with such wonderful people.
Lectures went right up to the cusp of pre-pandemic and pandemic times. We haven’t even held a lecture since then. Not even online, though I’ve toyed with the idea. But we’ve all been dealing with isolation and anxiety and everything else that came with the pandemic. We’ve been depressed and cabin-fevered; wanting to break out into society and wanting to keep the blankets over our heads at the same time. These have been difficult times. But with vaccines becoming more accessible and as more people get vaccinated, we’ll be able to gather safely soon. Hopefully.
Once there was a band called Mechanical Violet. They were a group of four ladies who loved the hell out of life. They covered a single song, “Postcards from Italy,” by Beirut. Becky had vocals and tamborine; Eleece had trumpet; Alicia had ukulele; I had clarinet. We had fun putting it together. A really fun memory from a much-cherished time.
The other day on Instagram I posted part of Mozart’s “Waltz Fantasy,” a piece I played on the clarinet in 9th grade, when I felt most in my prime. A friend from the Mechanical Violet days more or less commented on that post about hearing some Beirut for my next video.
So I got to work.
Found some sheet music for ukulele, flute, oboe, piano, and percussion. I also had to look up ukulele fingerings to convert from the tabs on the sheet music. (I also played lines from two strings instead of all four, because clarinets can only play a single line and not chords, and because this was already turning out to be a lot of work.) I kept everything in the key of C, since only I would be playing with…me. Me and my shadows.
Recorded the parts, put them together. Not perfect editing-wise, but definitely recognizable. As I rewatched this a small sob got caught in my throat. Damn you, nostalgia. Miss you, Mechanical Violet.
Baby Z is returning to school today, after a year of not attending in person. We have been spending so much time together. And now: taking these photos and walking her to class, my heart doesn’t know what to do. She’s probably fine. I don’t know if I am.
Here’s what she earned her first day back. She does like Crazy Bread:
She seems to be getting the hang of school. Tomorrow is Friday, and we’re all ready for the weekend.
The Asian hate crimes committed in the past year and finally being brought to light by the mass shooting in Atlanta has really made me sick to my stomach. I’ve been trying to process all of this in the last few months, and thoughts swirl and feelings jumble, and I don’t know what to make of it.
But friends and family have been supportive. They’ve reached out and checked in, and I’m so grateful.
I came across this Instagram post by Chanel Miller. So eloquent. Concise. Expresses much of what has been on my mind.
I hope everyone out there is safe and feels loved. The hate is unbearable.
Disclaimer: I’m grieving and have more feelings than I know what to do with. Writing is one way to sort through them. Not sure if they’ll make sense, but here they are.
On June 10 after work I went with Reilly and Z to a friend’s dance performance at the Provo Library. This was two days after Carla’s funeral. I admit that emotions were still a little bit raw and just under the surface. We made our way to the ballroom on the 3rd floor. Shortly after we arrived my friend walked up behind me, said, “Hey, sexy!” and gave me a hug. As we embraced she asked how I was doing. I told her I was doing ok. She said, “Just ok?” By this time I was choked up, and tears were streaming down my face. We released the hug. I looked at her and said that Reilly’s mom died. She looked at Reilly, and he nodded. The performance was about to begin, so she went to get ready.
We found some seats and settled in to watch the work: a series of dances choreographed by a master’s candidate as her thesis. My friend performed the second dance, and then Reilly and Z left to browse the library, as Z was getting a little bit restless and loud. I kept watching the dance floor/stage. A few minutes later my friend made her way over and asked if she could sit by me. We talked for a few minutes until she had to turn on the music for one of the following dances.
In those few minutes, my friend listened. She held my hand. She cried with me. She said something that’s often said as trite, but she did it with such tenderness and compassion that it opened my heart up to being comforted and not just vulnerable. She said fortunately most of the world has experienced what we’ve experienced. If we pick a random stranger on the street, it’s likely that they’ve lost a loved one–a parent, a child, a spouse.
It helped being reminded that people would be able to relate. To understand. To empathize.
I told my friend that I didn’t mean to come to her performance to dump my emotions on her. I just wanted to be able to partake of something beautiful that wasn’t associated with sadness. Still, she listened. She danced beautifully. AND she called me sexy. I am forever grateful.
This photo was taken at a New Year’s Eve party to ring in 2009 in NYC. TEN years ago. Geez, Louise.
I’m actually not an incredibly social creature. Parties are fun, and I bring my own energy when I can. Usually I make the rounds to chat with individuals or small groups, instead of busting all the moves in the middle of the dance circle. But I do like to dance, and I’ll dance if the music calls, but after the chatting and dancing, I gotta get home and decompress.
I made some really good friends in NYC. And I liked spending time with them outside of the LDS social scene, which wasn’t really my thing. I mean, this is partly why I defected from a singles ward to a family ward. People met people and dated people and broke up with people and started over again. That nonsense didn’t appeal to me. I did like going on dates. I liked talking with individuals and a few people at a time, but yowza, it could still be a lot. Because people are different. And sometimes I needed a head’s up to prepare for certain personalities. Maybe you know what I mean.
When I returned to BYU in 2010, all I wanted was to keep my head down, finish my work, and finally graduate. Which I did, for the most part. But a weird, funky thing happened, called Making Friends. And I loved spending time with my new friends when I could. We went to concerts and readings and film screenings. I went to Senegal for five weeks with some of them. And we still hang out, long after graduation.
But we all have our own lives now, doing our own thing with jobs and relationships and whatever our goals are. And we try to get together when there’s an overlapping break in our lives. Most of the time that results in doing something at our house, which I don’t mind. The fewer places I have to drive, the better.
Man, I sound like a grumpy hermit. I promise I’m a real sweetheart, though. Promise.
For a while in my 30s it seemed that I’d reached my limit on good friends, and I would shrug off any opportunities to establish new meaningful relationships. But then it occurred to me that I was depriving myself of new perspectives and influences and chances to grow, and that maybe I was depriving someone else of a friendship with me.
That sounds conceited.
But I like making friends, and I do try hard to be a good friend. And being a good friend is something our daughter needs to see as much of as possible. We don’t have to be especially social or outgoing to be a friend. I have to work at making friends. Maybe it will come more naturally to Z. I’ve been a jerk to a lot of people in the past, and I’ve been trying to make up for that. I’ve met some really cool new people in the past few years, and it’s been fun getting to know them. They’ve become special to me.
All the socializing we’ve done throughout the holidays has made me grateful to be surrounded by people who accept me as I am. New and old friends alike. They don’t force me to talk if I don’t feel like talking. They let me listen and observe and learn. They let me hang out inside my own head until I’m ready to interact more fully. They get my sarcasm that often borders on biting wit. They are patient. They love me without judgment. They encourage me to become better.
2017 has challenged us in so many ways. It has strained our rights as human beings, divided us from friends and family, tested faith, broken individuals seemingly past repair. It has taken my family down stressful paths. Although we have been blessed with quality time and other graces, others have suffered deeply, and often silently.
Some time during the summer someone from church asked me to help out with organizing potato dishes for funerals. Cheesy potatoes are important to any post-funeral luncheon. People gather after saying goodbye to their loved ones and find comfort in sharing food with those who also love the dearly and recently departed. Their emotional needs are met through one of their most primal needs, by eating something delicious, something made with love.
Cheesy potatoes are only one aspect of the meal, but it’s a favorite among mourners. Lots of starch, and lots of cheese. Those elements in that combination are meant to fire off certain neurons that translate to comfort, which tries to coexist with the burden of grief.
After receiving this assignment, a few months passed, and no funerals had been planned. The first half of the year had been replete with passings-away, but I was not yet part of the funeral meal committee. Then the last Sunday of October the lady who extended the assignment remarked how quiet it had been, and I thought to myself that this was a good thing. I wasn’t opposed to doing the work, but I was glad that people hadn’t experienced that kind of heartache in our ward, at least for a few months.
Go figure the moment someone mentions how a thing hasn’t happened, the thing happens shortly after that. Later that week our ward received an email about the passing of someone from our ward. I researched the person and found out that he had suffered from depression. His beautiful obituary profoundly saddened me. Usually during these times I feel the most helpless, but this time I could actually do something. Never had potatoes seemed more vital. If the other parts of the luncheon failed, cheesy potatoes had to prevail.
I had a list of sisters in the ward who were willing to make the cheesy potatoes. It was my job to call these ladies to see who would be available to provide the potatoes that weekend. I came up with a spreadsheet and kept track of responses and commitments, which would also help with future funerals. Here, I deleted names for privacy:
The sisters who were able to help that weekend were very kind. I had never really been an active part of this kind of effort, and their love and solemn treatment of this responsibility humbled me.
The ladies made their dishes and dropped them off at the church the morning of the funeral. It wasn’t until the following Sunday morning at church that I found out the funeral had gone well, that the food was delicious, that the family was grateful for all the help and support. I had imagined everyone eating and sharing stories and feeling a degree of unity that only comes with grief over a mutual friend and family member. Potatoes were all I could do—and I didn’t even cook them but just called people on a list—but for this moment, they mattered.
I have several close friends whose lives are entangled with depression and anxiety. They navigate their brain chemistry and the changing seasons and pollution and other circumstances with medication and therapy and exercise and hanging out with loved ones. It’s not easy for them, fighting the grey. But they are brilliant and creative and so passionate about the earth and humankind. They are the best readers and writers and experiencers of life; they are musical and endlessly curious and know all the best cusswords (and usages). I am so honored to know them.
Reilly’s mom has had every excuse to spiral into depression, yet she pushes through with such determination. And a smile. And enduring positivity. She’s coming up on her first full year of bi-weekly cycles of chemotherapy for stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine her daily hardship of increasing weakness and regular wooziness, but she has kept busy with work and doing as much as she can. She’s had excellent care with amazing doctors, and she knows she is surrounded by so many people who love her. Everyone faithing her well seems to be making a difference. Her strength amazes me.
She and her family have seen a pet cross the Rainbow Bridge this past month. A Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya was a boisterous and carefree and previously big dog, until diabetes caused drastic weight loss, blindness, then finally loss of use of her hind legs. No one likes to hear the vet say what the best course of action is to minimize suffering, even though it makes the most sense and really is the most humane for the dog. It’s painful saying goodbye to a pet, especially after almost ten years of companionship.
This year Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and other ailments have ambushed or harrowed loved ones’ journeys.
My mom broke four toes when she slipped from an elliptical machine. But she hasn’t slowed down. This is both annoying and endearing at the same time. I love her for that.
Friends in Florida and in/near Texas or with family in Puerto Rico endured hurricanes and are trying to repair their lives.
Friends who married their high school sweethearts nearly 20 years ago have gotten divorced.
Other friends are enduring similar trials and heartache.
Earthquakes. Fires. Volcanoes. Shootings. Tax cuts. Health insurance. Church. #metoo.
How do people find comfort? What helps them in their agony and despair?
Z’s diagnosis was not as much of a bombshell as the anticipation of her diagnosis. This expectancy involved asking myself (after wondering what I did wrong) how I would handle this situation, what our “new normal” would be, how we would teach our innocent, nonreader of emotions to defend herself against monsters and assholes, among a plethora of other questions. But once we obtained a diagnosis, a wealth of resources became available, I found out several families are in our ward who have children with autism, and Z’s ABA therapy has helped her little personality emerge in ways that that weren’t obvious even six months ago. We have received an outpouring of support and love from so many caring people. You know who you are, and we are infinitely grateful. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and generosity.
This past year I have looked forward to Sunday dinners in Payson and Saturday donuts with my family. Family visiting from Florida. It has been nice to go on occasional movie dates with my perfect husband. To travel, to take long breaks and relax in our home. It has been rejuvenating to hang out and eat pizza with friends and discuss actions for lessening the hate in this world. Like a good nap or fresh air.
I have enjoyed picking apples and peaches and trying to make pies and making toffee and brownies and other little goodies to share. But I have also found calmness in literally tearing down walls (maybe figuratively, too?) and building shelves and painting and caulking. I have nurtured new friendships. I have explored more good music, movies, books, and television. I have discovered Twin Peaks while rediscovering the treadmill. My heart pumping, blood flowing, and sweat dripping are sometimes all I want out of life. It feels so good.
I have marched.
Contacted my senators and representatives.
We have also relished hosting a quarterly lecture series in our home, where we listened to speakers/friends talk about a variety of subjects: Satire (Reilly), the Poison Control Center (Reilly’s sister, Amber), Horror and the Family (Jon Smith), and Fan Studies (Melissa Beattie). What an exciting reason to gather with friends!
Yes, there’s a shload of darkness and nonsense in the world right now, and we make it through one day at a time. Probably more like an hour—or even a minute—at a time. Sometimes at the end of the day things don’t look brighter. We’re still sad or confused or hurt. It is ok to feel this way. And sometimes all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads and cry. It is ok to do this.
It is ok to bring this version of ourselves into 2018, because 2017 was ruthless. Pick your best cussword. You know: it’s complicated. I may spend the first part (or majority) of the New Year swimming in my covers, trying to find/push away sunlight and coming up for air/holding my breath.
This supply of oxygen, though, the most significant mercy that came out of 2017, was that many of us took the time to listen to each other. Even though we have disagreed on many fronts, a greater striving for understanding has risen from our immediate social circles, communities, and the world. This has sustained a hope I will always cling to.
I want to keep listening to you. I want to bolster the comfort and love of real friendship between us. I want to be there, to be the equivalent of cheesy potatoes for you. Something full of love.
Or I could just make cheesy potatoes. And hug you with them. In 2018, and in years to come.