Checking in, post-confession

October 27, 2016

My last post was more than six weeks ago, and it was admittedly pretty grim. I’d confessed that I wasn’t handling the stress of mid-2016 very well, and that I’d come to realize that I needed help to make it through.

Well… I’ve made it through. I’m not out of the woods, but things have gotten better.

Slowly but surely, I can see something to look forward to

For starters, I realized that my reactions to the stress of my dad’s cancer and death, the behavior of my mother and stepmother, the incredibly long list of pressures and tasks, and the uncertainty about what effect all of this would have on my marriage, my career, and my life – or the potential ending of all three – were all too much for me. So I took some time off of work, and I got some badly needed counseling.

In my first session with my therapist, I was about ten minutes in, with a long list of things that were causing me stress, anxiety, and agitation… and he stopped me. He said something to the effect of, “You deal with these things all day long, every day… but you’re not really talking about the fact that your dad just died. So let’s spend these 45-minute sessions talking about that, okay?”

I literally didn’t know what to say. (And, family and friends will attest that this is a rare phenomenon.)

It was true, though: I really wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to grieve and to think about how my dad’s death – not the laundry list of what-the-fuck that followed, but the loss of my father – was affecting me. 

I was agitated by all kinds of things that were, in retrospect, not as important in the grand scheme of things as literal life and death. I was anxious about not being able to live up to my promise to my father, on his literal deathbed, to take care of everything. And I was terrified that I was going to ruin my marriage, destroy my career, and find myself barely (or not) hanging on to the scorched Earth remains of what used to be my life.

So yeah, that’s a lot. Fortunately, some time, some rest, and some counseling have helped. I much less often find myself struggling to maintain my composure in public. Sure, excessive alcohol and disagreements with my husband are still a trigger that makes me feel like everything else is crumbling around me, but I try to drink less and argue less.. both of which seem like reasonable life choices anyway.

I’m back at work, and I’m no longer living in fear that I’m going to hurl my phone across the room, or burst into sobs for no apparent reason, or start screaming and cursing at a coworker who has somehow gotten on my nerves. That’s progress, right? 

I still struggle to stay focused – I’m so scattered that I flit from task to thought to random idea, seemingly every few minutes – which is making deadlines difficult and “big picture thinking” impossible. But I’m using task lists and constant out-loud reminders to help combat that tendency, and trying to focus on celebrating “wins” when I finish something and can move on. It’s a start. 

I’m still worried about losing my job, and with it my health insurance, but that’s a story for another time… this post is about progress, not worry.

I’m taking things much less personal in my marriage: I’m not falling to pieces when I forget to take out the trash. I don’t feel like a failure and am not literally driven to suicidal ideation when my husband and I have an argument. (Which, all things considered, is actually pretty rare.)

And I can ride the subway and walk the streets of Manhattan without feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and ready to lose my shit at the slightest provocation or disturbance.

None of these may sound like amazing accomplishments, perhaps, but all of it comes as a huge relief to me. Things still aren’t great, in a number of ways, but they’re better.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and I’ll call that a win.


September 10, 2016

Anyone reading my blog for the past several months knows that I’ve had a rough time, dealing with my father’s cancer and death, and everything that came in the aftermath of that. I haven’t been very public, though, about how bad things really have gotten.

Close friends know that blogging is often my therapy. And September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. So here goes: a few weeks ago, I sat on my kitchen floor with a giant bottle of Jack Daniels and a giant blue kitchen knife and came very close to killing myself.

Time to call in reinforcements

I don’t want to dwell on that night in this post… I’d rather focus on the journey I’ve  had since then. I realized CLEARLY that night, when my husband came home and I frantically tossed the knife into the sink so he wouldn’t see it, that I was ashamed of what I had been contemplating, and that I wanted to get my life back. So I’ve been focusing on doing that.

It started with my husband, who has been such an amazing source of support, encouragement, and motivation. And I had a couple of close friends who I forced myself to confide in, so that I couldn’t pretend it hadn’t happened and so that I’d have people holding me accountable to get healthy again. 

It wasn’t just that one single incident. My daily life has been full of an emotional whirlwind that I’ve been too ashamed to share with most people. It’s been bad, folks. Most of you haven’t seen it, but it’s time that I be honest about just how much I’ve been struggling.

I’ve been battling random anxiety over the most ridiculous things. The other day,  I burst into tears on the street because I walked a half-block in the wrong direction coming out of the subway. I’ve been living in perpetual panic over what I’m going to mess up next, how I’m going to fail to live up to my responsibilities, what my next failure will be… I’ve been one slightly-less-than-perfect incident away from a breakdown for months.

And I’ve been fighting against agitation and rage over simple things. Here’s a ridiculous example: I came very close to hurling a drinking glass at a loud dinner table next to mine at a restaurant. I seriously couldn’t think of anything else for a solid half-hour at dinner other than how furious I was at these total strangers, who were making a loud and drunken spectacle of themselves when I was trying to enjoy a nice meal. Fortunately my husband and our friend saw me literally shaking and helped me find a way to laugh about it instead of freak out.

Obviously this is all a difficult psychological state to be in, particularly while trying to balance work with a home life and handling a complicated estate. I’m pretty sure that I was one phone call or email away from throwing my monitor out the window, screaming at someone over the phone, or sobbing hysterically in my cubicle… None of which bode well for career opportunities.

So I took a short term leave of absence at work, to take some time to get the counseling that I clearly desperately needed. It wasn’t an easy decision, as I can only imagine what people at work have been saying about me. I’m attributing all sorts of judgment, about how I couldn’t keep my shit together and man up, rub some dirt on it, walk it off, and get back on the horse. (Lots of metaphors there, I know.)

Ultimately, though, I had to come to the realization that it didn’t matter what people at work thought. I may very well have just ended all hope of a long-term career at my current employer — indeed, I’ve had to come to terms with that possibility or even probability. But frankly, I’ll take career suicide over actual suicide any day.

I’ve been seeing a therapist, who was recommended by a friend, and it’s been remarkably helpful. I’m still struggling, but I’m realizing just how much my father’s death had really affected me. It’s bringing up a lot of buried emotional stuff that I’ve never really dealt with… And the ramifications for my life and family and career are very meaningful.

I have a lot more — so much more — to say on the subject of my psychological and emotional journey over the past month. Expect more painfully vulnerable and confessional posts in the coming weeks.

Which brings me to the big question: why on Earth would I share all of this so publicly?!

Because, quite frankly, it’s bullshit that we’ve conditioned ourselves to be ashamed of mental health issues. This isn’t some failing or lack of toughness. It’s not a reflection on my ability or my commitment or my professionalism. 

I am not myself. I’m not responding to things the way that I normally do. I’m dealing with traumatic situations, and a bunch of people pulling at me with their own wants and needs and demands, and I haven’t been able to balance things the way I normally can… To say nothing of the fact that I haven’t really been able to grieve for my father’s death.

Bottom line: I have a health issue that has required the intervention of medical professionals, to get me back to normal before I’m at a crisis point that I can’t recover from.

If I had a heart attack, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit it. If I had diabetes, or a broken leg, or a seizure disorder, I’d feel perfectly comfortable telling people that I had a medical issue I was dealing with. So why have I shied away from being honest and open about a mental health issue?

As a culture, we value toughness and perseverance to an unhealthy extreme. We pride ourselves on getting over things and moving on. And we feel pity and sometimes mock those who have such a severe mental health issue that they need medical intervention to get back to their normal selves.

Well, I for one refuse to perpetuate that shame cycle any longer. Sometimes life can profoundly screw you over, and your brain and your biochemistry simply cannot handle everything that’s being thrown at you. Sometimes you need medical help getting back to normal. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; no more than a broken leg.

So here I am. Getting the medical treatment that I need to be back to my normal self. Telling my story. 

Let’s go.

100 days

August 21, 2016

Presidents are sometimes evaluated on their performance in the first one hundred days in office… Today, I look back and realize it’s been 100 days since my father’s death.

I knew losing a parent would be difficult, but I never imagined just how much burden would come with it. Let’s review, shall we?

I swear, the pulling never stops

Dad had several houses that he rented out to paying tenants, or temporarily provided to family members who were having a difficult time and needed help. Upon his death, it became my job to get all of those people out of the houses and sell them, then invest the proceeds, to ensure an income stream for my dad’s widow. I’ve posted previously about these situations — terminally ill squatters, blind old people, long-time tenants, etc. — but one by one I was the heartless landlord who forced them out of their homes. Awful, but necessary. 

As of today, I’ve sold three houses and a fourth is scheduled to close tomorrow. I sold the house my dad lived in after the divorce, which I called home for many months. I sold the first home I ever bought, which I eventually abandoned and signed over to my father. I sold the house my dad and his widow lived in for many years, and tomorrow, I sell the house that he died in. One by one, these houses, full of memories with my dad, have been turned over to strangers.

Then there’s the relocating of my dad’s widow. Before Dad died, he and his widow agreed that she would move to one of the houses after his death (and after the tenant who was living there was evicted). It required a professional cleaning crew on the new house — the previous tenant had left it absolutely disgusting with garbage and dog droppings everywhere — and a professional cleaning crew on the house she was vacating. And it required two visits, a month apart, from movers to get everything out of the old house and into the new house. But she’s there now, and has plenty of time to go through all the boxes and deal with her stuff.

Then there’s all of the neverending mess with legal, financial, and ongoing logistical stuff that comes with someone dying, and someone left behind who needs a lot of things taken care of. There are utilities to move, and life insurance, and cars to purchase, and fiascos with auto insurance, and homeowners insurance to cancel and/or move, and taxes to file, and the occasional stolen vehicle to report to the police… It never ends. I don’t think a single week has gone by, in more than three months, without some sort of new semi-crisis to deal with.

And of course, in the midst of all of this, a guy’s still gotta work. 

The biggest challenge by far, though, has been dealing with my own grieving process. But, frankly, that warrants its own post. Stay tuned for more on that subject  ­čśť

Cuisine and Confessions

July 30, 2016

Long-time readers and friends likely know of my obsession with the show Traces, which I first fell in love with in the Fall of 2008 when it toured through Charlotte. Since then, I’ve continued to marvel at the amazing work of the production company, 7 Doigts (Seven Fingers), even up to a few weeks ago with the phenomenal Cirque du Soleil: Paramour in New York.

But none of their previous work prepared me for Cuisine and Confessions. It isn’t hyperbole when I call the show stunning. Read the rest of this entry »


July 27, 2016

Well, shit. For months I’ve been complaining that in the aftermath of my father’s death, I haven’t been able to properly grieve. Now it seems that I can’t stop crying, over a variety of things… But they’re all tangential to dad’s death, not about losing him specifically.

I’ve lost count of how many things I’ve cried over in the last day alone. WTF.

Me lately, if I run out of Splenda for my coffee.

I cried during and after a terrible dream that blended my childhood with my present. I fought back tears when my phone rang at work, and the alarm monitoring company told me that the alarm had been triggered at my father’s widow’s house and police were on the way to investigate. I sat at my desk in front of people at the office and quietly wiped away tears over a poorly written work email that I had just sent to some teammates. I cried in a taxi on the way home from a celebratory dinner with my husband, talking to Sal about the overwhelming combination of work and family and real estate and trustee responsibilities.

This morning I cried while washing dishes. What the actual fuck?

All of that was in the last 30 or so hours. Notice what’s missing? I’m upset about this, that, and damned near everything else, but at no time during that laundry list of weepy moments am I crying about my father having suffered and died from cancer, and me never being able to talk to or see him again.

All of these other issues are swirling around the subject of my dad dying, and the clusterfuck of an aftermath. But I still can’t grieve the loss of the man. I’m too busy fighting against being pushed and pulled by every other part of my life. 

People keep complimenting me for being strong during all of this. Well, as much as I appreciate the kudos, I’m tired of having to be strong, and feeling like a failure when I briefly slip. 

I think I’mma find a therapist. This is getting old.

I dreamed a dream

July 26, 2016

I don’t often have vivid, memorable dreams… But this morning around 3 o’clock, I woke up from a dream in which I was crying, and found myself actually crying. And not softly or quietly, either.

My poor husband… He’s had to put up with so much from me these last few months.

It was like this… but no teddy bear.

I keep lamenting that I haven’t had a good cry about my dad’s death, and I suppose this arguably counts… But I suspect there’s a lot more in play here than just missing my dad.

First, it was set in the house I grew up in. Not as it is now — uninhabitable, every room filled wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with piles of junk, without even a clear walking path from one end of the house to the other — but as I remember it as a child. Empty floors, with big open spaces in every room. The furniture I remember from growing up. Hell, even my dad’s ashtray in the master bathroom. The house was as it was back then, but in my dream I knew the timeframe was now.

I remember that I had found a bunch of my dad’s old things, like scrapbooks and photos and magazines. (For the record, he was definitively not the “scrapbook” sort, so clearly my subconscious mind took some liberties.) I was going through some of his things, and even showed some of them happily to a friend who was present in the dream.

Then I had to leave the room for something, and when I was walking back, I looked out the front room’s window and noticed that my friend’s car was gone. And sure enough, he’d left unannounced, before I had finished showing him my discoveries.

There was a woman there, a young-ish (maybe 30s?) person who I can’t identify now, but at the time I knew that she was supposed to be there and I wasn’t concerned. She was sitting on the couch, idly flipping through a magazine while waiting, and sort of absentmindedly tearing out a page here and there.

I realized that it was one of my dad’s magazines, and I freaked the hell out.

I remember rushing over to grab the magazine out of her hands, shouting at her. She was, understandably, perplexed. But then, crying and shouting unintelligibly, I started open-hand slapping her across the face.

Now, I’m not a violent person. I distinctly remember feeling upset about the magazine — how dare she tear up one of the few keepsakes I have of my dead father?! — but then I was upset that I had slapped someone. And then I was upset that I couldn’t stop slapping her.

She ran out of the room, thankfully, and I sat on the floor crying. Someone else came in — I don’t remember who, but again, it felt normal that whoever it was in the dream was there in the house — and asked what had happened. Crying, I tried to explain that the other woman was destroying my father’s magazines.

And before I knew it, I was awake, and crying, and Sal was gently asking me if I was okay. 

My favorite 4th of July story

July 4, 2016

The 4th of July (aka Independence Day) is, of course, a big holiday in the United States. It has patriotic nostalgia for lots of Americans, but for me, it has some family nostalgia as well.

It was one of those rare holidays that my dad really enjoyed. And not surprisingly, my favorite 4th of July memory is one of them.

My dad used to love to go all out with fireworks. And one year, we went batshit crazy with our annual purchase. In my memory this happened in Tennessee, at my grandmother’s house, but it was definitely outside in a field. We had a gigantic box full of big fireworks, and then a smaller box of little things.

Now, when I say big fireworks, I’m not playin’ around. I’m talking about those mortar cannons that shoot big sizzling fireballs into the air, which explode into a giant deafening boom of light several seconds later in the sky. These were the expensive big flashy displays.

Our fireworks extravaganza began with a few simple things from the small box… Sparklers, Roman candles, etc. Little stuff, just to get the party started. And what happened next probably strains credibility, but I swear this is how I remember it.

One spark… One spark managed to land in the big box. And it hit a fuse.

The entire box started launching. Each fuse that lit would start sparkling, producing more sparks that lit more fuses, which became a chain reaction in that giant box of explosives. One by one, they started lighting, and then lighting others.

And most of the munitions weren’t facing upright, because they were in a box on the ground. Which means they launched horizontally, zooming across the field, exploding amongst corn stalks (I think?) and sending people diving out of the way in all directions. 

Imagine these, hurling toward you. it was like that.

In my memory, I see whirling, screaming fireworks launching through the field, chasing after people. I see laughing, screaming family members being two parts delighted, one part terrified. I see the careful pause once it seemed the last of them had light. I can still smell the acrid smell of gunpower (or at least, some equivalent) thick in the air. I see heads cautiously lifting up throughout the field, just silhouettes in the smoky dust.

And I remember us carefully walking over to the charred, crispy remains of the box, where everything in it had burned itself out.

And a few feet away?  The smaller box, full of kids stuff. Sparklers aplenty, unscathed. Somehow they just never seemed as exciting, even as a kid, after that night.

I’m sure I have some of the details wrong. But for me, my fondest memory of 4th of July is the shock and awe of everyone present, when dozens of wide eyes and gaping mouths looked to my father in the aftermath, wondering how he’d react. He’d intended to be Big Man on Campus with his expensive box of fancy big fireworks, and though it hadn’t gone as planned, it sure made an impression.

And he just started laughing, laughing until he had to lean over to catch his breath. I smile at the memory of him being so full of mischief and joy that day, because it makes me happy to remember him that way.

Happy Independence Day, all.