The Gremlins

Hey, guess what, here’s a TRIGGER WARNING, because I’m going to talk about my depression, and it’s going to be raw and real, so if you have a hard time reading about suicidal ideation or depressive psychosis, please click the little X on your tab. Please also click the little X on your tab if you’re the type of person to make “lol triggered” jokes because fuck you.

Right, so anyway.

I know I’ve talked about depression a lot, but not in a while, because for a really long time, I was doing really well. My meds (Effexor, specifically) were doing their job, I was feeling pretty good about life, even my hormones weren’t stopping me from being healthy. Ish. I still don’t have the high levels of serotonin required to make a cutesy Zoom video (and, in fact, the handful of video collabs I’ve been invited to participate in since quarantine started have whooshed right by me, for which I sorely apologize), and my energy levels have stayed steadily somewhere around “engages kids in play but only if it doesn’t require a lot of frolicking on my part.” I’d been mercifully free from downswings for years, even in the postpartum times, and I’ve been feeling genuinely optimistic, despite the world being a dumpster fire in a lot of ways. 

And then 2020 happened.

I felt the first hints of a downswing in January, when the president decided that starting World War III over Twitter was a great idea. It wasn’t anything severe at the time, more of a few nights panicking while trying to fall asleep and thinking, “Really. Fucking really. I cannot emphasize enough how little I and everyone else in existence want this, and yet it is happening, and it might result in massive casualties on all sides and nuclear winter. Yayyyyy.” 

But it passed. 

And I might’ve gotten through the year without a downswing, despite everything. The nonstop rush of everything happening so much that’s the modern newscycle has actually been good training for me at getting righteously angry while also being able to distance myself when I need a mental health break. We donated to help Australia recover from its wildfires, I spent most of the winter in bed because of bronchitis or norovirus, and once I’d recovered, I went into Sammy’s class twice to read him books. When I wasn’t sick, I went to the twins’ playgroup every week, and as exhausting as it was, it was good for me, because it was getting out of the house and doing a thing. 

But then Covid-19 came. 

And I hate talking about it as a catalyst for my depression getting worse, because it’s not like I’ve really suffered all that much from it. I have a dear college friend who’s an ICU nurse, and the fact that she’s not just rolling over into a ball of nope every day astounds me. I know people who’ve gotten sick themselves or lost friends and family members. By comparison with all of the above, I should be fine: I’m just homebound. That’s all. 

But depression doesn’t work that way. Instead, it sees patterns and recognizes those patterns as itself. For me, the pattern that pushes me into a downswing is monotony. If there’s little to no change in my day-to-day life, it gets hard for my brain to produce serotonin, no matter what good things are happening, like birthdays and new couches and D&D on the weekends. And I knew the second the Commonwealth started locking down that things were going to get ugly. I hoped that maybe, just maybe, the fact that I’m still on my antidepressant might keep things from getting too ugly, that maybe I might be able to come out of this with the lack of depression that makes sense for someone who’s not really suffering from the situation, just bearing emotional weight for the people around her.

I pushed through it as much as I could. I put off talking to someone as long as I could. What were they going to do, give me medication? Tell me that I could start therapy as soon as things were over? I didn’t leave the house because I’m prone to illness induced asthma and got bronchitis just a few months ago. My days fell into the same routine, even once Isaac’s ABA started and we had people coming into the house. The added pressure of keeping up with the twins’ Zoom call therapies didn’t help things at all, especially when I kept missing therapy sessions because I lost track of who was meeting when. Our poor services coordinator texts me at least once a week asking, “Are you still able to meet today?” when I’m 10 minutes late for our Zoom meeting because of basically no reason. 

I got through half of March. April passed by. We had Easter. We stayed in our routine. We were good. We didn’t leave the house to do anything but get groceries once a week. We washed our hands all the time. We made Isaac’s ABA therapists wash their hands the second they came into the house. We wore masks. Kyle worked twelve hour days, seven days a week, to keep up with a new project his old company was doing to help with Covid. 

And then, on April 30, he was laid off. 

Maybe that was the catalyst for the spiral; or maybe it’s that March, April, May, and June are usually my busiest months, spent obsessively organizing birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, and this year, I’m basically just sitting on my butt, doing nothing. I don’t really know. 

I just know that one night, I was sitting on my new couch, watching my kids play, and suddenly, it was like a little gremlin in the back of my head, saying, “Isn’t it a shame that you can’t want to die because of your kids?”

I should’ve seen it coming, probably. All of my previous hobbies have gotten kind of lackluster to me. I can’t disappear into writing anything anymore. None of my video games are fun anymore. I can’t make myself get up and read a book anymore. Even looking around at the mess in my house that needs cleaning makes me feel frustrated and empty, like why even bother when we can’t get it done while the kids are here anyway?

But there it was, that first intrusive thought, something I haven’t had since I started Effexor. More followed, usually late at night when I was trying to fall asleep. They really were like little gremlins sitting in the back of my head, saying things I didn’t like. “You know,” they said one night, “if you told Kyle you were going to take a nap, you could sneak up here and do it in a way you can’t sneak away any other time.” 

And the rest of my brain was screaming, “But I don’t want to die!”

Another time: “Let’s google ways of doing it painlessly, because pain isn’t fun.”

And the rest of my brain was screaming, “Dying in general isn’t fun either!”

I’m not a self-sacrificing idiot. I did some googling, not of painless ways to die, but rather of potential side effects of all the medications I’m taking. My birth control pill had listed under its name, “Contact your doctor if you experience new or worsening depression,” so that was the first step I took, calling my OB-GYN and saying, “hey, I don’t know if this is because of the progesterone or anything, but…”

And in a heartbeat, although Covid still mattered, it didn’t matter. Immediately, my doctor set up appointments for me to come in and see him. At the same time, he set up an emergency triage with the mental health department, which made the appointments kind of weird: I sat in his office having a pelvic exam, PAP smear, endometrial biopsy, and polyp removal (owwww), and then I went into another room and had a phone call with someone from behavioral health to make sure I wasn’t in any immediate danger.

And I wasn’t, because the gremlins aren’t terribly convincing, but they’re still present, so the mental health provider set me up with one of her colleagues, and we spoke on Friday.

The first appointment with any new doctor is an adventure, because you have to go through your medical history with a stranger and talk about how you’ve only ever smoked tobacco once and it was a pipe in college and it was terrible, and how having three kids and taking progesterone to help with PCOS means that your sex life is a craps shoot as to whether or not it exists and so on. 

The first appointment with a therapist, though, is basically an emotional debridement. You don’t just talk about your physical health and history, oh no. You have to go through the history of your mental health, which means delicately going into your background and realizing, as you talk things through, that maybe you haven’t been as okay all along as you previously thought. Like for example, your therapist asks, “How long have you had intrusive thoughts like these?” and you start to answer that it’s just been in the last couple of years, but no wait, you remember them in college, and no, they went back farther than that, and suddenly, you realize that you were having intrusive thoughts as a kid, and you were so scared of them because you grew up in a church that preached demonic possession and didn’t want your parents to think that you were possessed, so you kept it all to yourself. 

“What were they like as a kid?” the therapist asks, and at first you think you don’t remember, but then you do remember the thought of wouldn’t it be nice to get hit by a car or be sick in the hospital so that everyone would feel sorry for you. “What a weird thought!” you say laughingly, and the therapist says, “It sounds like you subconsciously wanted to ask for help but didn’t know how.” 

So you have to absorb that while also chatting about yes, things were better for a long time after you started meds, but now they inexplicably are not better anymore.

It’s a lot. And as you’re raw from letting this all sink in, the therapist remarks, “I think you’ve got severe depression and depressive psychosis, and also your meds don’t seem to be cutting it anymore. I’m ordering a medication review with your PCP and one of our prescribing RNs to see if we can’t find something that will work better for you. And you and I are going to talk again next week. In the meantime, here are some crisis numbers. Please make sure you’ve got them on hand and make sure your husband has them in case there’s ever an emergency.”

And you’re like, oh, I guess it’s worse than I thought.

I’ve got a lot to unpack over the coming weeks and months, on a lot of levels–judging by that, more than I probably realize. Having therapy to look forward to is helping in the short term, but in the long term… I don’t know. I just want to feel hopeful again, you know? 

Anyway. I didn’t write any of this as a ploy for sympathy or to try and divert attention from infinitely more important causes (and if we’re friends on Facebook, you know where my mind’s been this past week), but just because I want to be honest on this blog, as I always have wanted, and that means sometimes telling some hard stories. So there you go.

The Hard Years

We’ve had our share of hard years, you and I.

2011 was a hard year, all the way into 2012. It started out with so much ice that we were stuck in your parents’ house for weeks on end (wonder what that’s like ha ha ha.). Then your car spun out on your way back from work one night, and it was totaled, and I was so glad that you were okay. As long as you were okay, we’d figure out the car situation. 

Except maybe a month later, my car got totaled, too, by some maniac that crashed into it while I was sleeping after teaching a way-too-early morning class. He pushed it all the way up on your parents’ lawn, and pieces were falling off of it. That was right after we both signed on your replacement car, that awesome Toyota Corolla that I still miss. That was a good car. 

And then I had that mess up with my job, the year I was a teaching fellow, scrambling to make it to teach a 7:50 class at my school an hour away, driving on highways that weren’t yet familiar to me well before sunrise, eating a terrible breakfast of pretzel M&Ms and a 5 Hour Energy. I misunderstood the school schedule, nobody bothered to correct me when I asked, and we had a third of my pay taken away overnight.

I remember that day, when I found out what they were doing, and I felt so ashamed and guilty, but you never flinched. You went out that night and got a job, boom, just like that. It wasn’t a great job, no, but it was a job, and right then, having a job was better than having no job. 

It’s ironic to me that 2011-2012 was such a bad year for us, because it was the year we got married. May 22, 2011. 

Remember how neither of us can remember it through a first person lens, just like we’re watching ourselves go through the entire day on a TV screen or something? How surreal is that?

But things got better for the summer, my first summer in Texas, our first summer as a married couple. We found an apartment in Bedford, a really nice one, and I had an internship that paid more than I’d ever made before, easily enough to pay for both of our cars (because I had a new one now, too, so that you could get to your classes in Arlington while I went to work in Southlake) and the really nice apartment in Bedford. Sure, the apartment had an ant problem, but that didn’t bother us–they were our minions and we were their gods.

Sure, the building’s electricity went out with alarming regularity and caused the stove to catch on fire a few times, but we had that great loft where the reptiles were nice and warm, and space for all of our things, and nobody there but the two of us. 

One night that summer, well before sunrise, you turned over in our bed–the inflatable mattress my parents had given us–and asked, “Do you ever get that sinking feeling?” as the mattress deflated and our butts touched the floor. We couldn’t afford a new bed, but we got one anyway, because we needed one, and we laughed the whole time: folding up the air mattress with its many holes, choosing the cheapest queen size bed at Big Lots, trying to get it past all of our boxes into the corner of our bedroom in that really nice apartment in Bedford.

I could’ve stayed there, I think. I didn’t like that summer, what with its temperatures refusing to dip below 100 so we spent way too much on electricity every month just to keep the apartment livable, but I could’ve stayed in the Bedford apartment if things had worked out. If we’d figured out our work situation more quickly, maybe we’d be living in Bedford right now, though our lives would look very different. 

Things started to not work out. The internship ended, and though I’d spent the entirety of my graduate program hearing that internships almost always led to job offers, this one didn’t. Not only that, but the head of the department gave me a furious dressing down when I presented the work I’d done for the internship, telling me that I was terminally unprofessional, which was a shame because I was such a good writer, and that she didn’t see me as employable. As she left the room, me standing there barely composed, my legs shaking, she turned and gave me a saccharine smile. “Congratulations on your wedding,” she said; she looked like Dolores Umbridge.

 I don’t think my confidence in myself has ever recovered from that meeting, but it’s funny because your confidence in me didn’t waver for a second, even when you came home the day after and laughingly told me that you’d lost your job, too. 

That wasn’t the end of Bedford. Our days turned into job hunts, and we spent our nights watching movies on cable. On Halloween, we didn’t have any trick-or-treaters, but we did snuggle on the couch with popcorn and chocolate milk, and it was really nice. 

And then in November, things turned again, like the Wheel of Fortune always does. Without applying for it, I got a job, my favorite job I’ve ever had, and with a substantial increase in pay from what I’d been making at my internship. It still wasn’t a lot, but it was more than enough to keep us comfortable in the Bedford apartment, to keep the cars paid for, maybe even for us to start doing normal things like going to the doctor again or trying to grow our family. 

Christmas in 2011 was absolutely wonderful. It was my first Christmas away from Massachusetts, but I couldn’t feel too homesick. We didn’t splurge, but you understood when I needed a little Christmas, right this very minute, and you accepted that I named our Charlie Brown Christmas tree “Charles Barkley” (however begrudgingly). We had our junkfood feast and you hung the lights. On Christmas Day, we watched fewer Star Wars movies than we planned, but that’s mostly because getting through Attack of the Clones is a chore. I made us cheesy chicken kiev and green beans. 

And things seemed to still be going well. Work was busy, but busy work is a good sign, they say. If you run out of things to do, that’s when you should worry. You looked for work in your field, I came home every day, we did Married Couple Things. In early March, we thought I might be pregnant, but I wasn’t, and then a few days after I wasn’t, I was laid off. 

It came as a surprise and as not a surprise, both at the same time. I’d heard rumors about layoffs all week long, but when it actually came, it was still a blow, even with both my manager and the CEO telling me they’d recommend me to anywhere I wanted. As nice as they were, I still felt no guilt ordering an expensive dessert on the company’s dime that day. 

But just like that, we had no income. You had your savings account that was supposed to be for college, but we didn’t want to spend all of that on rent and car payments. I was hunting for jobs like crazy, but I got nothing. You were applying for everything you could, but you got nothing. 

We were at the end of our rope. We were broke, student loans were beginning to come due, and the recession had settled into our chosen fields in Texas. And we made a hard choice, together.

Because moving up here was a hard choice, and it felt a little bit like failure. We’d tried to make it on our own, but we’d stumbled and fallen, and though my parents didn’t mind having us live in the in-law apartment for a while, it was so quintessentially Millennial of us, wasn’t it? All of our things got packed into a UHaul storage box that we wouldn’t see again for another year. We squeezed what we could into our two cars (my mom drove one), and we took the long road, through Arkansas and Tennessee and Virginia and Pennsylvania and New York and Connecticut and Massachusetts. 

But we were together. We laughed together. We cheered for Bucksnort, Tennessee, and for our savior town of Bristol. We made each other snort laughing about the Mouseketeers summoning Mickey to devour a sacrifice. We had each other, and by the end of that long, hard first year, we’d really put into practice what we’d promised in our marriage vows. We were each other’s best friends, through thick and thin, and we knew that if difficult times came again, we’d weather them together.

And, I mean, weathering them together is infinitely better than weathering them with one of us 2000 miles away from the other.

This year has been rough, too, and it’s only May 22. I got so sick in January and February, so sick that I said to you at one point that I was so sick of being sick and stuck inside because I couldn’t walk around Target without feeling exhausted and winded. As if that were a preview of coming attractions, Covid-19 descended on the world, and we’ve been stuck inside since March. 

Right now, we should be planning our date at the Melting Pot. The kids should be at my parents’ house, having a sleepover because tomorrow is a Saturday. Maybe we’d use some of the free time in the morning to go to Home Depot and order a microwave, but more likely, we’d sleep in until my phone buzzed with my mom asking, “So when are you coming to pick up the kids?”

But we’re not. We’re not even getting a calm day. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment, you’re watching the kids all morning, you’ve got an interview in the afternoon, the best we can really do is a faux-movie date after the kids go to bed. Not the anniversary I’d hoped for.

The truth, though, is that I still wouldn’t trade it for the world, because it’ll be with you. 

Here’s some more truth for you: I still want to go through all the ups and downs of life with you, even nine years after I walked down the aisle having an out-of-body experience. I’m not at that desperate stage of love, where I’m thinking and saying, “I NEED YOU.” You don’t complete me, my dear; I was complete when I met you. But damn, do you make life better. 

I can sit here in our office and ramble on to you about how I’m trying to reconcile my need for this lockdown to end with my desire to keep people safe, and you understand me. You don’t fight with me; when we disagree, you work with me and we find solutions together. We’ve reached that point where we can look at each other over our kids’ heads without saying a word and communicate flawlessly, and I love it. 

I love the way Sam teases us when he catches us kissing, because it means that he knows as well as we know that we don’t just love each other; we really like each other. I love the way Carrie sees us kiss and then does her little dancey dancey walk over to us to get in on the action (heaven forbid we ever show affection to anyone and not show some to Carrie as well). I love how Isaac laughs in confusion when we cuddle on the couch, like we’ve ceased to be Mommy and Daddy and have just become MommyandDaddy, a single conjoined entity. 

I love our nighttime clothes folding sessions while watching whatever series we’ve decided is currently worth our attention. I love the way you squeeze my butt when I roll over in bed, like “hey, I love you.” I love that we’re both able to see what the other really means and work through the actual root issues of any given problem. I love that you both do and don’t let me be the DM’s wife during our Saturday night game (the nat 20s on persuasion rolls are totally legit!). I love that feeling of relief that settles in when you get home from wherever, not just because I’m no longer alone with our three monkeys, but because you’re here, so things will be alright.

This is a bullshit season of our lives, and it’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. But after being married nine years and being together thirteen, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be than with you. 

I love you, always.

Stuff is still happening

I think the wildest thing about locking down is that it feels like there’s nothing new to report ever about anything. Stuff is happening, sure, but it’s like being in a major depressive downswing, where it’s all happening in this void of nothing. Days are all bleeding into each other, to the point where I told like three or four separate people today that Monday is Memorial Day.

It’s not. 

Stuff is happening! It just is happening in this void that’s usually relegated to memories. Like you know how most of your memories kind of bleed together so you know that a thing happened, but you don’t know specifically when? That’s what it feels like. 

It’s like my memories of my choir tours back in college. In four years, I went on twelve choir tours in a huge bus driving all up and down the eastern seaboard of the US, and while some of them are very specific place-related memories (like obviously, that time we went to the beach on Cape Cod was during a tour on Cape Cod), most just sort of blur into a “I know this happened, but I don’t really know when or where.” When did I stay at that person’s house? What year was it? Was it in Pennsylvania or New York or Virginia? Was it in the spring or the fall or the winter?

(if you were in A Cappella Choir at ENC, you know what I mean)

Stuff is happening. Sam’s birthday happened this week! I have a six-year-old now, and it’s crazy. For the most part, there’s very little difference between Sammy the six-year-old and Sammy the five-year-old, except that Sammy the six-year-old has Minecraft guides that he likes to read aloud to us at all hours of the day and night, where Sammy the five-year-old did not have such guides. 

I think he had a pretty awesome birthday, all things considered. We’d been promising him for something like two years that we’d have his birthday party this year at our local indoor play place called Luv 2 Play, which is just that kind of McDonald’s Play Place gone wild, Discovery Zone type adventure land, with ball pits and climbing structures and arcades and pizza! It’s like Chuck E Cheese but so much more! And they’d literally just opened a month before the lockdown went into place and then the lockdown happened and so much for that. 

So I knew the potential for disappointment was high and because of that, I went a little overboard with the stuff we could do. Our local police department had a program in place from about the time the lockdown started where they’d come to your house for your kid’s birthday, lights flashing and sirens wailing, and I signed us up for that. Sam was super shy about it, but he was also beyond happy, and he got to sit in the front of and pretend to drive a squad car (his comments on it: “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff in here! It’s a mess!”). 

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I baked him a cake, as I always do, and even though it looked sort of a mess, it tasted great. Black frosting, as he requested, plus Minecraft decor, as he requested, though my favorite part was the Lego brick candles I found on Amazon. Guarantee I wouldn’t have thought to use those if I hadn’t been scrambling to try and find ways to create a spectacular cake for my big guy to help him with what could’ve otherwise been a really sad birthday. 

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AND. His best friend’s mom got in touch with me and we planned for them to drive up to our house so Sammy and his best friend could see each other. I think that was my favorite part of the day. Sam, being six, says that his favorite part of the day was getting various toys, but I think what really sticks in his mind was seeing Hunter and getting to talk with him, even if they had to stay apart through a car window. 

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So it was a success, despite everything, and I’m relieved. 

Stuff is happening. We broke down our old couch and chair because the furniture outlet we’d gone shopping at literally days before the entire state shut down called us and said, “Hey, are you going to have your couches delivered or what?” 

We’ve needed new couches for ages because our living room furniture was not only purchased in the era of “well, the Båckachë model from Ikea is affordable” but has broken in multiple ways and multiple places. It was ugly and stained and had ceased to be comfortable by any definition. 

And we had a pretty nice tax return this year and figured, hey, Kyle’s gainfully employed and even though he has to work from home now, we should be fine through this pandemic!

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Anyway. We needed new furniture, so we bought new furniture; but when everything went into lockdown, we thought we’d have to wait until whenever restrictions were lifted completely to have it all delivered (since we just did what’s called “threshold” delivery, which means they basically yeet the furniture at you from the back of a moving truck). But no, apparently they’re doing deliveries again, so we’ve broken down the old sofa and rocking chair and made our living room empty and ready for a sofa, loveseat, and coffee table. 

97101404_10157206797540592_2838004347839709184_o(it looks a lot emptier now that we’ve cleaned up all the toys)

It’s wild. Even in this time that feels like miles of endless nothing, I’ve somehow reached the age where I have a coffee table. A really nice one, too! 

Isaac is still having his ABA, which is great. He’s so much calmer and happier, and he’s been getting along so much better with Carrie. He’s gaining words, and though he doesn’t necessarily use them unprompted (i.e., he won’t do like Carrie does and point to a picture of something yellow while saying “yellow”), he still has them, and that’s important. He doesn’t melt down as often as he had been, and he’s just… he’s really doing so well. He’s still very obviously autistic, and I’ve made it clear to his therapists and their office that I am perfectly fine with him stimming, with him being obviously autistic; but he’s learning to communicate better, which is helping him both in the short term and in the long run. He’s better able to express his wants and needs, and because of that, he doesn’t get frustrated so easily. 

Which is good. 

And then for me. Despite not being able to actually physically go to a doctor’s office, I had a breast cancer risk assessment screening thing last week. It wasn’t a huge deal, just something my OB-GYN had recommended because I have a lot of aunts who’ve had breast cancer and other cancers, on both sides. When that’s your family makeup, you want to get yourself assessed, just to make sure that you’re not missing something.

To nobody’s surprise, I’m sitting right in the middle of the high risk category, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m 100% going to get breast cancer, nothing I can do about it, but rather that I need to start being screened more frequently as soon as possible so that if anything does pop up, it can be caught ASAP and stopped before it turns into something unstoppable. 

Naturally, with the world locked down, that basically means that I have to hurry up and wait. I received a packet in the mail talking about my risks and medications I could take (that decreased the risk of breast cancer, but also increased the risk of blood clots and uterine cancer, so I’m like ??? that sounds like the opposite of helping?), and I have a note on my chart about getting a mammogram as soon as I can. And I get to follow that up with an MRI and just alternate mammograms and MRIs every six months until I die or someone chops off my boobs or something. 

(true story: if I could donate some boob to someone who wants to have more boob, I totally would)

All of this has happened in the last week, since the last time I wrote something, but it feels like nothing is happening. Tomorrow is Saturday, I know, but beyond that? Who even knows? What even is happening? Everything is happening, and it’s all a big, meaningless void of nothing. 

And yet, I’m still in favor of keeping locked down as long as it takes to get some sort of actual plan in place or get our act together on treatments and vaccines and whatever the fuck we need because this is not a pleasant illness. I hate being locked down, and if by some miracle, there was no more Covid-19 tomorrow and we could all frolic about freely, I would be the first one out of my house. I want my son to be able to go back to kindergarten and see his friends and finish out the year. I want to take all three of my kids to their well visits without having to wrestle with masks. I want to know without a shadow of a doubt that our trip to Disney World in November is happening. I want people to be able to go back to work. I want to get my roots touched up. 

Like that’s the thing. I feel like there’s this misconception that if you’re in favor of things being locked down, you’re having a blast being cooped up inside and don’t see any downsides whatsoever. That is the opposite of true. I am hitting a yellow wallpaper point. I’m worried about the longterm ramifications of the way the world is right now for all three of my kids, regarding not just their educations but also their psychological stability and the economy they’ll be inheriting. 

But I also don’t want people to die. I’m generally in favor of that not happening. People die every day, of course, but if we can reduce the number of people dying, I’d like to do that.

And then like… I talk about returning to normal and, okay. I’ve seen the post, too, about how our previous “normal” is what has this country being the laughingstock of the world with how we’re handling this. I don’t want that. When I talk about returning to normal, I mean I want my son to be able to see his friends at school and be taught by someone who’s trained to teach kindergarten rather than by me saying “what the hell is a digraph” during a Zoom call. I want to go to well visits at the doctor to catch problems before they’re major. I want to be able to say, “hey, let’s go visit so-and-so” or “hey, let’s go to the playground” or “hey, let’s go get ice cream” and then do that thing.

But I also want the things that would provide a safety net in situations like this–things like universal healthcare, universal basic income, significantly higher pay for teachers, a living wage for everyone, general compassion and caring for our fellow human beings across the board. I want that change. But I also want the normal of being able to pick up my kids from the school bus after they’ve spent a day with their friends.

I hope that makes sense. 

I’m not going to debate anyone about it if you disagree. 

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But I do wish we could find a nice balance between “endless lockdown because we don’t know what we’re doing” and “we’re just going back to business as usual and screw people if they get sick.” 

Sigh.

Uncertainty

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I wrote this entry a couple of days ago, but then I deleted it and decided to try it again, and again, and again, because no matter what I’ve been writing about things, it doesn’t turn out right.

Here’s the short of the matter: Kyle got laid off last week. 

It was 100% unexpected and had nothing to do with the current state of the world. In short, his company was bought out and layoffs happened. We thought he’d be safe from them because of a variety of factors, but in the end, he wasn’t. 

We’ve been through this before in our life together, lots of times. Right after we got married, my internship that was supposed to turn into a full time job… well, didn’t. I’d been our primary source of income because Kyle was still finishing his degree, and we went from being able to afford things like an apartment and our car payments to… not being able to afford anything. And it sucked for about eight million reasons, the largest of which being that we were broke. Worse than broke. We were trying to get an education, and the economy tanked after we’d taken out our loans, so there we were, jobless, newly married, with $60k in student loan debt. 

Kyle had a savings account, so we used some of that to keep ourselves from going under completely. We both job hunted like mad, as much as we could. Kyle eventually found a seasonal retail position, and I kept hunting. I flew up to Massachusetts to interview for a technical writing position and stayed there for a week, waiting to hear back and hearing nothing. And then, out of the blue, people started finding my resume and I ended up, at least for a little while, at my favorite job I’ve ever worked with my favorite coworkers ever. 

But that didn’t last either. That job ended in a layoff as well, because the economy was tough, and my entire department was cut. Kyle and I made a choice then, that we’d both try and find more work, but that if we couldn’t find work in Texas, we’d cut spending where we could and move in with my parents, since they had an in-law apartment they were offering us rent-free. 

And, well. No nibbles after a month, bills piling up, stress on our shoulders. We made the move, and it was hard, and I hated it. I hate moving in general, but I hate it most when it’s moving from somewhere you’ve thought would be at least semi-permanent. I hate it when you’re watching your entire life, save for whatever necessities you can squeeze into a couple of small cars, get shuffled off into storage. All of those wedding gifts, all of those books, all of those photographs, boxed up and kept in a U-Haul for who knew how long. 

I hated feeling like a failure, too, because even though the layoffs in question were mostly because of a shitty economy, you always feel like you’ve failed when you’re laid off. Even when your manager tells you that your work is exemplary, and when the company owner tells you that he’ll recommend you anywhere you want to go, you still wonder how you could’ve let this happen. 

But back then, it was just the two of us, plus a snake and two leopard geckos. We lived as leanly as we could; weeks where we’d saved money ended with a $20 dinner for two at Chili’s, but most of the time, we’d end our week with whatever we could buy for $10 or less at the corner store. 

We moved into my parents’ basement, quintessential Millennials. And somehow, once we’d settled in there, things came together. In only about four months, Kyle got a great job, paying way more than I’d been making in Texas or than he could’ve hoped to make there. A year after moving in with my parents, we moved into our own place. A year after that, Kyle got his last job, which was a great experience with great benefits and pay that enabled us to buy our own house and raise three kids.

And now this.

I’m trying to be okay, for everyone’s sake. I know it’s logical to be okay, that every job Kyle and I have gotten in the past decade or so has been offered to us rather than being something we’ve had to hunt down, that we’ve got a surprisingly sturdy safety net at the moment. I know that all of Kyle’s contacts in his industry heard he was available for work again and started sending him jobs immediately. I know that, in the end, it’s probably going to turn out that it’s all for the best, and he’ll be making way more than he was before, and he’ll be happier and more comfortable than he was before.

And yet.

Everything is uncertain now. We’d finally gotten to a point where paychecks didn’t feel stretched paper thin. The twins are done with formula, Sam’s in public school. We’re halfway through buying couches, for heaven’s sake. 

(we are going to finish buying the couches, as soon as the furniture store opens back up)

It’s different now than when it was just the two of us and some reptiles. Eight years ago, when we packed up our life and moved away, not knowing what the future would bring us, it was just us (plus a snake and two leopard geckos). Nobody depended on us. We could’ve, if we’d had that sort of kooky young person mindset, just up and moved to Scotland or New Zealand, and it wouldn’t be that hard because it would just be us. 

(I mean, it wouldn’t be easy, but big life changes are easier with just two adults who know how to cope with change)

But we’ve got kids now. Three kids depending on us to keep them from starving or being homeless. And in the end, we’ve got enough of a safety net that I know, logically, we’ll be alright, but there’s that little nagging gremlin in the back of my mind saying, “but what if…?”

I remain staggeringly cognizant of the fact that we’re living on a knife’s edge, like pretty much everyone else in our generation. Kyle and I–Kyle especially–are skilled workers who always get compliments on our “work ethic” and other intangibles that people like a lot, but we’re also lucky. Lucky that this happened when it did, lucky that we have families who are able to support us, lucky that we’ve got our safety net in place, lucky that Kyle has great contacts with great connections. Lucky. 

We’re taking turns being optimistic. It’s Kyle’s turn tonight. I’m feeling sulky and mildly belligerent, but I’m internalizing the latter and nursing the former with a handful of novels I’ve been meaning to read and the knowledge that Sam’s birthday next week will, at least, be a good time.

Week One of ABA

As it turns out, ABA is considered an essential service by our state, so whether it’s wise or not (I’m leaning towards “eh?” because it’s a single person and we make her wash her hands before she interacts with anyone), we’ve started Isaac’s ABA. This is also, at least in part, because nobody knows when things are going to get back to anything resembling “normal,” and I don’t want him to miss out on any therapy he needs or be super duper behind in the coming years. Autism therapy services are notoriously hard to schedule and nail down (like forget finding someone who’d do Floortime or RDI, they’re basically booked years in advance, and I guarantee they are not covered by our insurance), so it feels like waiting at all is walking a very fine line between logical and bad idea land.

I’ve written before, too, how the idea of ABA made me nervous, and it still does because we’re not technically in the therapeutic part of it yet. The first week, as our BCBA (who is basically the services coordinator) explained to us, is all about getting Isaac used to his therapist (currently Yesica, later Kathleen) and attached enough to her that he’ll actually be interested in the therapy and not spend the entire time burying his head on my lap like he did on Thursday. Things will 100% change when we get to the actual therapy part of therapy, but for now, I’m feeling encouraged.

On day one, Yesica and our BCBA Jessica (it was confusing) brought in a big locked trunk of brand new toys that they’d scrambled to get (because literally nothing is open right now, and the places that are open are mostly just stocking essentials). The toys included a lot of typical toddler toys like stacking cups and boxes with shaped holes and crayons and a noisy firetruck. The idea with these toys is that they live at our house and only come out when Isaac’s therapist is here; that keeps them fresh and interesting and special, so that Isaac isn’t just using them all the time and not associating them with therapy.

Our therapist is here from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., five days a week, which may be a little much for Isaac (though the doctor who diagnosed him suggested at least 10-15 hours, probably more), as he basically hits his limit around 10:30 and spends the rest of the session on my lap, staring off into space. Which, yeah, fair. I’ll admit that if I had someone pulling me into interactive play all the stinkin time, 90 minutes would be about my limit as well, and I’d probably be like “OH I NEED TO GO PEE, BE RIGHT BACK” and then hide in the bathroom on my phone until two minutes before they were scheduled to leave, at which point I’d wash my hands, come out, and be like “OH MAN SORRY ABOUT THAT, YOU KNOW HOW IT IS.”

(this would only work once, but I’d do it anyway)

And basically, for the last week, it’s just been playtime for those two hours. Yesica encourages Isaac to play with different toys and tries to get him to talk while they’re playing. She’ll help him to sign for “open” or encourage him to say “help,” and whether it’s because he’s just reached an age where that works for him or whether it’s because of the therapy, it’s working. He does regularly sign for “open” and he does regularly say “help,” and it’s really nice to see. He’s also been trying out more and more words lately, which we celebrate loudly every time there’s a new word in his vocabulary. Cake, tada, buzz, wow, light, things like that. I feel like a switch got flipped in his mind, where he’s like “oh, I can make words too! Cool!”

The best part of ABA so far, though, and the part that’s given me the most peace about the process is how Isaac’s therapist has incorporated his stimming into his therapy. Instead of trying to discourage it or stop it from happening, she’s been encouraging it and using it to teach him things. She’ll pick him up and say, “ready, set, go!” and then help him spin around, and it’s worked to teach him to respond to “ready…” by saying “set, go!” Earlier today, he was sitting on our rocking ottoman and rocking himself, as he does, so she worked with it. She rocked the ottoman for him, and then stopped, while teaching him the words “stop” and “go.” 

This mostly gives me peace because I didn’t want any part of this to mask or erase Isaac’s autism. It’s who he is. He will never not be autistic, and that’s wonderful. I don’t want to ever teach him that’s something he needs to hide or pretend he isn’t. He is who he is. And so far, even though it’s only been a week, they seem to be embracing that. I’ve got fingers and toes crossed that they’ll keep it up as we progress through therapy, into the coming year and into his eventual transition to preschool next spring (please, please, pleeeeeeease let this pandemic have calmed down some by then). 

I’ll keep talking about this, because when we started to go into ABA, I felt like there weren’t any “middle of the road” perspectives out there, where the parent talking about ABA wasn’t wanting their child’s autism to be cured but also was seeing the necessity of some therapy to help their kid cope with a very noisy world that needs words. And so far, that seems to be the mindset of our therapists as well. 

One Month on the Inside

The weird thing about lockdown is that not much changes from one minute to the next, even when it’s been a full month+ of hanging out at home all the time. On the plus side, I can safely say that I did not get Covid-19 when I last went to the store back in March. On the minus side, literally everything else.

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The only big thing of note is that Isaac has, despite the lockdown, started ABA therapy. ABA is apparently considered an essential service, so we have his therapists scrub down as soon as they come in the house, and since Isaac is the first kid of the day for them, there’s no huge worry that they’ve gone and gotten something and brought it to us. 

Today was day 2 of ABA, and it went… alright, I suppose. We’re still in the “let’s play so he gets used to us and then we can start therapy” stage, so it’s mostly two hours every day of unguided play with a box of toys that doesn’t leave our house but also only comes out when it’s ABA time. Carrie participates as well, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but both of our services coordinators pointed out that her participation is pretty important, because Isaac lives with her, so he needs to learn all of the things he’ll be learning in context of her instead of just in context of a therapist and one or two parents. 

The box of toys is all pretty easy stuff–shapes boxes, crayons, stacking toys, a firetruck. Its primary appeal is that it only comes out during ABA time, so even though the kids are playing with those toys every day, they still have some novelty to them. And it’s a plus because between Isaac “cleaning” (read: throwing every single thing he owns into the gated space between the TV and the rest of the living room) and Sam sweeping things out to the dining room/playroom with him, most of the twins’ toys are. Missing. 

Sam continues to take this entire situation harder than the rest of us. It’s a huge and difficult change for anyone, and I don’t know a single person who’s looking at the state of the world currently and getting super excited about it, but Kyle and I are at least adults with coping skills. We grumble, and we’re anxious, and when I think about the Worst Case Scenario, I have a panic attack (which is super convenient, because do you know what happens when you have a panic attack? You can’t breathe, that’s what happens, so it sends you on this delightful spiral that never ends :D), but for the most part, we have coping skills. We can conceive of restrictions lightening somewhat, and we know that if we do get sick, odds are that we’ll be fine. Hell, we’ve even got a theory that the bug that took me out for most of January and February (remember that?) was Covid-19 but nobody expected it around then, so nobody knew.

But then there’s Sam.

It’s rough on him, of course, because he’s lost school–at the very least until May 4, possibly for the rest of the year (I would be surprised if school starts up again before September). He’s lost that daily connection to his friends and teachers, his routine has been thrown to the wind, and although he’s kept his academic progress (we check in daily, he does his work, he’s doing just fine), I feel like he’s lost a lot of the non-academic stuff that kindergarten teaches you. Worse, he’s five, so he has no coping skills for just about anything. He’ll be alright for a few days, and then he’ll just completely melt down and sob and throw hours long tantrums, and when we ask him what’s wrong and how can we help, he can’t explain it. 

And we know. He’s scared. He’s lonely. He’s sad. He’s angry. He feels what we’re all feeling, but he’s only five, so he doesn’t have the same coping strategies we have as adults, and it’s heartbreaking to watch.

(but hey, at least his eventual therapy won’t be mostly talking about how he’s messed up because of his parents, so that’s a win!)

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I see people protesting because they want to go get haircuts and go to Applebee’s and go back to this arbitrary “normal” they imagine existed, but I’m here hating lockdowns because I can’t help my kid. Yes, it’s hard not being able to go to the mall on the weekend or even just visit my parents. Yeah, I’m frustrated that I’ve had to try and reschedule about 42 doctor’s appointments in the last couple of weeks. But I’m most worried about my son, and I’m most worried about people who needed those nonessential jobs to pay their rent and get groceries and now have to make $1200 stretch for who knows how long?

I’m trying really hard to be optimistic and know that things aren’t going to last forever. By hook or by crook, 2022 seems to be the date that the experts are saying “okay, if normal even existed, look for it then.” Which is A REALLY LONG TIME to be having periods of lockdown and not lockdown and lockdown and not lockdown, but okay. 

And humans have this neat superpower of being really adaptable. We’ll find ways to make school happen and we’ll find ways to continue seeing our friends and family and we’ll find ways to reopen various things (because CAPITALISM, gosh darnit!). I know eventually, humanity as a whole will adjust.

But I’m looking at the damage happening in the meantime and feeling awfully sad that some of it could’ve been avoided and some of it couldn’t, and basically, this continues to suck.

BUT. We did get a new iPad so that Sam could do schoolwork and socialize, so there’s that.

Pandemic Dreams

These are stressful times, friends, and stressful times mean weird dreams.

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I’m already prone to weird and vivid dreams. Effexor, my antidepressant, tends to make weird dreams a Thing, and in the five years I’ve been on it, I’ve had some real doozies. Sometimes, they relate to what I’m dealing with in my waking life, but more frequently, they’re just really weird. They’re occasionally good, rarely bad (and when they’re bad, they’re really bad), but mostly just vivid, to the point where they embed themselves in my psyche for years and years. 

So. Combine my innate tendency towards weird, vivid dreams with these weird and stressful times, and let’s just say that my nights have been… fun lately.

*

At first, my dreams weren’t bad at all. In fact, they were very reassuring and heavily thematic. Every night, I had a slightly different dream about moving with my parents and siblings (and sometimes Kyle and the kids) into an old house in my hometown. Now, when I say “old” I don’t mean “I used to live here!” old but rather “wow, I think George Washington may have lived here” old. Old, as in “this is about as old as a white person’s house can be in this country.” Old as balls.

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As houses that are old as balls tend to be around here, these houses were severely haunted, none more so than the one built beside a CVS and just down the street from my favorite pizza place. It was within walking distance of the high school (which I still attended in my dream), and the ground around it was stark and dusty, like the house had drained the land of its very life. The house itself was solid, dark brown, with a front door as vibrant red as ripe strawberries. 

Inside, the house made its hauntedness more than apparent. Ghosts lurked around every corner of its twisted interior, an interior that kept changing shape to suit the house’s moods. Getting upstairs was a challenge, because you never knew where the stairs would turn up. One minute, the stairs would begin in the kitchen and lead to the back yard. The next, the stairs would start right inside the front door and lead to the roof. 

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The door to the basement remained static, though, ominously so. It didn’t move because it didn’t have to move, you see. It radiated an ominous energy that should have threatened away anyone curious about what was in the basement. The darkness wasn’t visible; it was palpable. Whatever lurked behind that door seethed malevolence. It needed the world to know that nobody was welcome inside.

Nobody, that is, except me. 

In my dream, I went through the door without the slightest bit of fright, and when I did, the house rearranged itself for me specifically. It created a sanctuary for me with a huge writing desk, lively green plants, and soft amber lights all around, as if the desk on its pedestal was situated in a field of stars. Perhaps the house was haunted, and perhaps the presence haunting it was malicious, but that old house (built in 1716, I remember clearly) accepted and embraced me. Even if it rejected everyone else that came inside, it wanted me to know that I was home within its walls.

*

Travel has been common in each stage of pandemic dream series. This first series transitioned with a dream about touring the world with a subset of my college choir, all girls. We took a ship from various ports, but then had to drive from China to Russia in the middle of the night, escorted by the mafia. We passed at lightning speed through a forest of impossibly tall trees, so dark and enormous that their tops melted into the black sky above. 

Once we arrived, we were given quarter in another old house, this one renovated within and not at all haunted. “I’d like to live here someday,” I remarked to the old house’s owner, who spoke with a British accent (apparently, the actors in my dreams can’t do Russian accents). “It’s a little odd, but it’s a very nice house.”

“Perhaps you shall someday,” he answered. “Perhaps you shall.”

*

As the pandemic has continued, and we’ve all coped with Schrodinger’s virus (which we must all act as if we have, so that we cannot contaminate others, but simultaneously as if we’ve never had so that we cannot be contaminated ourselves), my dreams started to change shape. Everything remained haunted, but the comforting feeling of the old house vanished to be replaced with malevolent haunted dolls.

Haunted dolls have always fascinated me. I’ve never had a fear of dolls like a lot of people; in fact, I’ve always loved dolls, and haunted dolls just added a layer of fun to the whole idea. My best friend in the third grade had a whole room full of dolls, those porcelain ones that are always possessed in the movies, and I loved them and the delicious shiver of fear I felt when she’d tell me scary stories about the ghosts she saw moving outside of her window. 

Most of the haunted doll dreams have blurred together, save for the first and the last. The first involved a doll my mother and I found about twenty years ago while we were on vacation in Maine (because of course; there’s a reason all of Stephen King’s stories take place in Maine, and it’s not because he’s lived there most of his life. It’s because Maine is scary). My mom and I used to go antiquing during our annual family trip to the lakes region, and on this particular trip, we found an ancient doll that had obviously been very loved but looked very deeply cursed. We agreed that it was probably possessed by something and left the store, never to return.

Well. In the first haunted doll dream, that very doll started following me around, and I couldn’t get rid of it. It didn’t do anything to me; no Chucky-esque murder sprees here. It just followed me around and delighted in popping up whenever it knew its presence would shock me the most. 

It was, in short, an asshole.

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There were a few more haunted doll dreams, and then, earlier this week, the last haunted doll dream. 

This dream took place in London, which I’ve visited about five times in my entire life, never long enough to really get a sense of its vibe beyond the neon tourist glow of Piccadilly Circus and the double decker buses pointing out where the king used to have people beheaded. Based on my dreams, though, London is very dark with amber lighting, except near the airport, where the dark sky gives way to white clouds and surreal glowing interiors.

In this particular dream, I was trapped in a market–not the covered market I knew from my days in Oxford, but a hybrid of a ballet school and a supermarket (don’t ask me, I don’t write these things). I didn’t want to be trapped there; I knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave London if I stayed much longer, because of the pandemic, and I knew the last flight out of Heathrow was leaving soon. 

But I was trapped, and I was trapped alongside a boy and another girl (we were all young at the time), all of us in the bodies of dolls. People passed us by and we silently screamed at them to break us free, but they never listened. I don’t know where my real body was.

Night fell, and it soon became apparent that the other girl doll was behind the boy and my entrapment. The boy and I were from modern times and very much alive; the spirit possessing the girl doll was far older, far angrier, far more dangerous. Perhaps she’d trapped us within the dolls because she wanted company in her curse, or perhaps it was just aimless maliciousness. Whatever the case, we struggled with her atop a flight of stairs and through a hallway with doors leading to a candy shop and a cafe. Her fate, we agreed, was horrible, but that didn’t allow her to condemn us to the same miserable future.

Rain began to fall. It looked as if the girl might have the upper hand, but she slipped on the stairs and fell screaming to the cobblestone pavement below, her face shattering as she landed in a shallow puddle. As our porcelain skin reverted to flesh, the boy and I could see her spirit lying in the puddle as well, defeated and destroyed, growing slowly mistier and mistier until it faded away.

But I still had to catch my flight, doll or no doll. I raced through London; the streets went from black to grey to white, and  I finally reached Heathrow airport. The last flight out was leaving the next morning, and they offered me a room in the glowing hostel nearby. As I checked in, stowing my luggage behind the front desk, the desk clerk remarked that I looked terrible. I laughed. 

“You have no idea,” I told her.

*

I took a nap yesterday (because I didn’t sleep the night before for reasons that are far beyond my comprehension), and I knew my dreams were shifting theme again because I had a travel dream. 

I went to Disney World, as we’re planning to do this fall with my parents (assuming the Rona calms its tits before then), and I’d arrived before anyone else, including Kyle and the kids. 

(don’t ask me how that happened)

I waited for everyone in the lobby of our hotel, which was enormous–miles and miles of carpet and lacy white walls and enormous windows showing the warmth outside. Terminals every few yards listed the arrival times  of various modes of transportation alongside the park hours; each terminal had a circle of seats around it, and one even had a stage in front of it. 

I mention the stage because it was home to, of all things, the entire cast of Lord of the Rings, or at least the Fellowship. They were as beautiful in my dream as they’d been in the theaters 20 years ago, but they also glowed silver, which I assume none of them do in real life (maybe; I’m not really sure. If anyone knows anyone who was in Lord of the Rings, could you let me know if they glow in real life?). I hugged them all, and I lingered in Aragorn’s arms a bit longer than I probably should have.

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(wouldn’t you?)

Afterwards, I grew tired of waiting for my family and settled down in a gondola. I didn’t want to go to a park; I just wanted to ride in the gondola, and I did, around and around, enjoying the views of Disney World from my moving room in the sky.

*

And then there was last night, the only truly thematic pandemic dream.

Things started logically enough. Kyle and I had the kids in the van, and my mom was with us. We were rushing to get Kyle to a commuter rail station so that he could get to work on time; despite the pandemic still being a thing in the dream, he had to go into work, so maybe this dream was about the future.

But the commuter rail station was closer than we thought it would be, and it was right next door to my favorite local supermarket, Wegmans. “We might as well do some grocery shopping while we’re here,” Kyle remarked, and added, “Why don’t you go in? You haven’t been shopping in a while.”

(I haven’t been shopping in a while, it’s true)

So I went in. I was bolstered, emotionally, by the things I saw as I walked into the store: entire pallets of Charmin and Angel Soft toilet paper being brought into the store! Was this really happening? Was the earth really healing?

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Yes! I got inside and found that, while the store’s shelves weren’t full, it still had a far more robust selection than most stores I’ve seen and heard about in the last several weeks. I got stuck in the pasta aisle, dumbfounded by the wide selection, thrilled at the idea of buying as much parmesan cheese as my cart could carry. I guess I’d been there too long, though, because Kyle and my mom came inside with the kids and another cart to get me back on track.

We bought everything. Candy, soda, pasta, so much toilet paper. And not just toilet paper, two ply! Really good, cushy toilet paper! We bought fresh fruits and veggies, canned fruits and veggies, frozen fruits and veggies, and food for Easter. The only blip came when we were checking out and Kyle pulled six pounds of ground beef out of my cart.

“They were on sale!” I told him, pleased with myself for finding such a deal.

He clucked his tongue at me. “This,” he said, “is ground chuck. It comes from the chuck truck. I don’t like chuck truck chuck.” 

And then he went and put the chuck from the chuck truck back on the chuck truck chuck shelf. 

*

Anyway. There’s no point to this entry beyond that (a) this was a really fun writing exercise, and I hope that you really got a sense of these dreams the way I experienced them, and (b) these were some really weird dreams, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of this weird time brings me while I’m sleeping. 

Clinging

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
(Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers (314)”)

I was initially doing okay with all of this, and ultimately, it was the thought of a longterm social distancing adventure that drove me to snap with rage that disappeared as quickly as it had come. 

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(this happened, like, a week and a half ago)

I can’t remember what set me off, but I think it was Kyle saying the words “…if Disney World is even open by then” about our trip that’s coming up in November. The idea of living life like this the entire rest of the year just made something break a little in me, and I sort of snapped at him in that way moms do when we’ve been carrying it all inside to keep the rest of the family from seeing, because it’s fine to vent to your partner when they’re available, but the emotions show up whenever anyway, and you tamp them down because you don’t want your kids to be scared or pick up on you freaking out.

But eventually, the dam breaks a little.

I snapped, and then it was gone, and I’ve been about as fine as I can be, considering the circumstances, ever since.

That sounds like I’m dismissing things, and I’m not trying to. I’m feeling the emotions everyone’s feeling: grief over the world changing overnight into something unrecognizable. Rage about politics. Fear about what’s coming next. But I feel like I’ve got a better handle on it than I did before, when I was still hovering in the “denial” stage of grief about everything. 

(and anyway, I will eat my hat if Disney isn’t open in November)

Which is all good, because we’re kind of floundering a lot with many bizarre emotions in this house.

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Anxiety is, understandably, the big one. I think I’ve got an okay handle on that because yay, antidepressants. Venlafaxine will probably be the reason I go crazy if the world ever does end properly, but for now, I’ve got a healthy supply of it, and it turns my anxiety into either really vivid crazy dreams or just really pleasant but unrelated dreams. Last night, I dreamed about characters from the soap opera One Life to Live, which I never even watched when it was a thing that was on often. The dream also took place in a therapist’s office, but that’s it. Nothing otherwise notable about it. No portentous 19 crows or anything like that.

Nobody else in this house is on antidepressants, which creates some interesting situations, most of them with Sam. He doesn’t have a completely firm grasp of what’s going on, but he knows that he can’t go to school, he knows that his school year is probably over as he knew it (they’re saying schools are closed until May 4, but I’ll be very surprised if they reopen before summer break), and he knows he misses his friends and teachers.

So, of course, he’s scared.

It mostly comes out at night, and he’s too old for the magic jar of dirt stuff I did when he was younger. Too smart, too. He doesn’t believe it when I rub lotion on his hands and tell him it will protect him from bad dreams, because his anxieties are too big to be vanquished with some love and lotion. He knows that the world isn’t the same, and will never be the same again, and it scares him. 

He gets out of bed every night after he’s been tucked in. We talk to him, we hold him on the couch, we tell him the truth, but we sprinkle it with generous doses of hope, because he needs that. Still, he’s scared. 

He’s kind of shut down about homeschooling, and I’m not sure what to do about it; worse, I’m sort of limited in what I can do about it. He’s in kindergarten, and he’s covered most of the basics he’ll need before first grade in the fall (this will have reached some sort of equilibrium by fall or I am punching this virus in the face myself), so I’m not terribly worried about him falling behind… but I still want to try and help him learn things while he’s at home. 

He does alright for about two days when we give him a new routine, but then on day three, he decides he doesn’t like this anymore and has a meltdown. Which… okay, fair. Maybe he should just have Wednesdays off or something? The routine was, briefly, some yoga and then a video about a subject he liked, writing a sentence about the subject, then doing math. And, of course, forever checking his messages on Facebook’s messenger for kids (he’s got a long distance friendship blossoming with my friend’s daughter, and it’s basically destroying me with cute). 

I feel bad. I wish that I could be 100% there for Sam, but the twins are another adventure during this, my everyday adventure that hasn’t changed in the slightest, except that Kyle is home for that adventure all the time now, so lunch and naptime are both easier.

But the twins seem to sense that something’s amiss as well. They don’t like to not be on my lap, which makes trying to help Sam with literally anything a struggle, particularly because the twins are not small anymore. They’re two now, had their birthday less than a day after the state started shutting down altogether. Our plans to take them to the aquarium were dashed.

Everyone senses that something’s up, and nobody can really parse their feelings on it. I can’t either, but I’m trying to at least throw positive shit out into the world to see whatever glimmers of hope will stick. 

That mostly happens outside. When the weather permits, we throw jackets on the kids and take them out to the front lawn to run around for a little bit after dinner (the backyard is a disaster area, and before all of this, we were going to see about hiring someone to clean it all up for us).

The twins like to run to the edges of the yard and get caught. Carrie especially likes to look at our crocuses nosing up through the dead leaves and greening grass, and Isaac likes to watch trucks rush past on their way to the farms up the street. 

Sam likes to run, just run. He runs from the porch to our big oak tree back to the porch then to the mailbox and back to the porch and to the lilac bushes and back to the porch. Being able to run with abandon helps him, I think, because our house is not a jungle gym, no matter what he thinks.

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I try to plan for Easter, such as it is. We have candy from the Easter Bunny, or at least half of what we’ll need (the other half I need to order from our local candy shop, which is taking orders but not in store shopping). The kids need nice Easter shoes, because even if we’re not DOING anything, I want them to look cute. It’s the twins’ first Easter able to do anything besides be confused about “why is this basket on my desk?” 

I mean, they’ll still be confused, just about more things than “why is this basket on my desk?”

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Nothing is normal, but it’s the new normal for at least the next month, probably longer, at least if people are smart about this. I’m still working through my feelings about everything, kind of picking at them a little bit day by day and seeing how my dreams/nightmares play them out. I think the only real waking fear I have is not about famine or a lack of toilet paper or anything like that but of getting sick myself, knowing that my lungs are kind of crap and that, at the very least, I’d likely be one of the young people ending up in the hospital and on a ventilator, away from my husband and kids for weeks on end. Without the kids, I think I could stand it, but just knowing what it would do to them…

I have a friend who’s an RN in an ICU, and even though I don’t really pray, I pray for her, to anyone or anything that might be listening. She has three kids, just like I do, two boys and a girl. She can’t even snuggle with them anymore, not until this has all passed, and it breaks my heart for her. 

Basically, I just want everyone to hurry up and stay home and behave. I saw a post earlier about this whole thing being like when you were in elementary school and some kids just wouldn’t stop acting up, so you kept losing more and more recess time, even though you weren’t doing anything wrong. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but the teacher couldn’t let the kids who were behaving outside while she stayed inside with the kids who weren’t behaving. So you watched as the bright spot in your day was gradually eaten away because people didn’t know how to act. 

Maybe it’s because I tend autistic, or maybe it’s because it’s in the nature of the oldest child to loathe getting in trouble for something not your fault more than for other kids (like we all hate it, but I think we oldest children hate it the most; I can see the loathing building in Sam’s mind every time we scold him for something the babies are doing too, and I have to remind him that he’s older and knows better), but GOD did I resent those kids. I don’t resent the dumbasses still going out and being Typhoid Marys around the world nowadays, but I do wish that someone would throw dirty diapers at their heads.

I think about them, and I think, “This stupid thing is just going to keep going, and it’s going to be 2021 before anything is over, and we’re going to just have this long, miserable time because people don’t know how to act. There goes everyone’s recess. There go people’s lives. Womp womp.”

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I let myself think that, and then I take a deep breath.

And I say, the first thing I’m doing when this is over is packing the kids up in the van and going to spend a day with my parents. 

I plan for going back to group with Isaac and Carrie and letting them play with all the plastic toys and watching them do more art and wreak more havoc, but this time, it’ll be slightly different havoc because Isaac will have his ABA therapist by then (let’s not get into that can of worms right now, I’m so tired). 

I imagine having a weekend day again where I go up to Michael’s and get whatever craft stuff I want for whatever dumb project I’ll never finish. Like maybe I’ll get photo albums or start scrapbooking or something, or at least think about it. And wandering through Barnes & Noble, enjoying the smell of ink on paper and coffee. And going to see a movie, taking all the kids to whatever crappy kids’ movie is out because we’re free to do so. 

And eventually going out to the mall, walking those long stretches of gleaming tile and popping my head into my favorite stores. Getting a free chocolate from Godiva. Setting the kids loose in the indoor playground after patiently wandering the Lego Store with Sam. Eating something that’s wretched for me from the food court and just not even caring. 

We’ll go to the beach this summer, plan it out a little more than our last trip. We’ll bring quilts and set up a full little camp on the sand, and take off a weekday to go (after all, Kyle has been working 7 days a week the past two weeks; who knows what it is about tech companies that drives them to think, “Ah, you’re working from home, that means all your hours are mine!”) so things will be less crowded and we can get a spot closer to the water.

(probably not Hampton Beach this time, though)

And we’ll have our road trip, in the fall or next fall, one or the other. We’ll pack the kids up in a rented van, we’ll see the roads, we’ll stop for gas and goodies. We’ll take 95 all the way down. We’ll stop at South of the Border, because I’ve always wanted to go but never have. We’ll see enormous fields of cotton and black eyed susans on the sides of the road. We’ll stay on the beach and then we’ll drive to Disney and we’ll be in that delightful bubble for a blissful week. 

This will happen, it will all happen eventually. This is what I think about to keep myself sane, because things are really hard and really scary right now, but it’s not forever, and in the end, we’re all in this together.

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Can I be blamed if I’m angry?
Can I be saved if I’m barely clinging to hope?
I’m clinging to hope

When I say oh, oh
Rain don’t change the sun
Jealous is the night when the morning comes
But it always comes
(Delta Rae, “Morning Comes”)

 

If it wasn’t funny, it would just be true

I’m sitting here, and I want to write about literally everything, but everything I write is coming out whiny.

I feel whiny. I know I should be grateful for about six million things–that the people I know and love are happy and healthy aside from seasonal allergies (pro tip: Coronavirus doesn’t make you sneeze, so if you’re sneezing a bunch, you’re probably in the clear), that Kyle has a job that allows him to work from home, that Sam’s school district decided to cancel for the next two weeks, that we stocked up on toilet paper before things got really crazy, that we’re already shut-ins for the most part so our daily routines haven’t been hugely interrupted. 

I know all of that, and for the most part, I am grateful, but I’m also a little whiny. I’m bummed that we didn’t get to spend the twins’ birthday today doing anything remotely fun or different from the usual (we were going to go to the New England Aquarium and then get lunch at Friendly’s, but that’s right out). I’m bummed about the article I read that suggested that this entire lifestyle might be the norm well into the summer. I’m bummed about people politicizing decisions that could save lives, and I’m bummed that it’s even a discussion to be had, and I’m bummed that because I’m bummed about that, people are going to get pissed at me. 

I’m bummed for my friend who had to cancel her trip to Disney World this week, and I’m bummed for friends who were about to get some much-needed time away from their family units and are now stuck inside with them for who knows how long. I’m bummed for Kyle, whose company is rolling out some website changes in reaction to the pandemic, so he’s working 12+ hour days to get it all done on time. I’m bummed for Sam, who’s going to be so bored in about three days that we’ll all be tired of it (even with me trying to homeschool him a little bit, it’s going to be an adventure). 

I’m bummed that our yard is a mess, so trying to play outside is a kind of difficult thing. I’m bummed that I’ve been sick with various ailments literally since January, and now when I’m finally feeling well enough to maybe have weekends again, maybe start doing things again, the world shuts down. 

I miss not having my every other thought interrupted by worry. I’m not worried about myself or my kids getting sick; the kids will be fine, and while I might not do as well, I’m stocked up on both inhalers and albuterol for my nebulizer, so I’m not afraid of that. I’m worried about… mm. About living in the “Factors Leading To” portion of the history book. 

Do you know what I mean? When you study history–any sort of history, take your pick–before every Major Big Bad, there’s a section or sections about “Factors Leading To.” Factors Leading To the Fall of Rome. Factors Leading To the Black Plague. Factors Leading To the American/French Revolution. Factors Leading To the Great Depression. And you pick up on patterns like massive inequality and natural disasters of various kinds (the more fiery types tend to be prevalent) and illness is always in there somewhere. And after years of history tests and taking the AP US History exam, you sometimes look at the world around you and think, “…uh oh.”

It’s not this worry that the world is going to end, because whenever it looks like the world is going to end, it always somehow pulls through. It’s more waiting for whatever the factors are leading to. Like you know Something is going to happen, but you don’t know when or what that Something is, and you wish that someone would show up from 100 years from now to be like “oh, I just love this part of history, I wanted to see what things were like right before Something happened.” 

And the Something is always hard and lots of people get hurt and die, and yeah, the world is usually better afterwards, but going through the Something and being in the Factors Leading To the Something is exhausting. 

(I’ve started keeping a paper journal, too, just in case historians in 2525 or something want a primary source)

Weirdly enough (well. Not weirdly at all, actually), I’ve been taking a lot of comfort in the words of Carrie Fisher, various ones, at different intervals. There’s the classic “stay afraid, but do it anyway,” which is really how I’m getting up in the morning lately. And then there’s the title of this blog entry: “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.” 

It’s how I end up coping with things, ultimately: with laughter. If I can’t laugh at something, I know that I’m in a bad place, and while a lot of people have been making frowny faces about everyone having a giggle about the world right now, I respectfully am going to call those people wrong. You have to find the humor in the bizarre bullshit the world throws at you, or you will be miserable and scared and probably not mentally survive. 

So with that in mind, and in lieu of me gushing about the twins being two (which they are) and about how wonderful they are (so wonderful), I’m going to throw some Coronavirus memes at you. I hope they make you laugh as much as they’ve made me laugh, and I hope they help you sing while the world is dark.

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masqueofthereddeath

wedidntstartthefire

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This Damn Week: A List

  • On Saturday, Isaac got norovirus.
    • We did not know, at the time, that it was norovirus.
    • We thought he just had a cold and had too much mucus in his system and it was just coming out all ends.
    • So we took him to the ER because he couldn’t keep fluids down.
      • He could have been there for two hours so that the Zofran would work and he’d be able to drink again.
      • By hour five, Kyle called me to ask me to bring Isaac’s usual bottle so that he would drink the fluids.
      • So my mom came to put Sam and Carrie to bed while I drove all the way to the hospital.
      • Only for Kyle to call as I was about to turn into the parking lot and say that just kidding, Isaac just drank the whole bottle.
  • Kyle and I were supposed to go on a date Sunday afternoon, but since Isaac had norovirus, that was out.
    • Instead, my dad came over and ate cake, and that was fine.
  • Monday was a holiday, and that was fine.
  • On Tuesday, Kyle worked from home. 
    • Which he does every Tuesday.
    • So when he finished work, he decided to take Sam to our local CVS to get a flu shot.
      • Despite having lost three hours of work to a random power outage halfway through the day.
      • (it was also pouring rain)
      • They were also going to buy groceries.
    • While they were gone, Isaac vomited profusely. 
      • It was impossible to clean.
    • And Sam couldn’t even get his flu shot because the power outage had caused the clinic’s supply to go bad.
  • On Wednesday, things mostly seemed normal, except I wasn’t hungry.
    • But mostly things were okay. 
    • My mother visited for an hour in the afternoon, and I had dinner with the kids.
    • After dinner, the kids started climbing on my lap.
    • I started feeling seasick.
      • Uh oh.
  • After Kyle got home, I barely made it upstairs before I, too, fell victim to the norovirus.
    • Cue six straight hours of running to the toilet every twenty minutes and not being sure which end was exploding.
      • (sorry)
    • And after that, cue the next eighteen straight hours of brutal muscle aches and a low grade fever.
    • Norovirus is a bitch.
  • BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!
    • Kyle and I share a toilet.
    • Sharing a toilet is a good way to pass norovirus from person to person.
    • About twelve hours after I first got sick, guess who also got sick?
      • (it was neither Sam nor Carrie)
  • So now we have two adults sick as can be, zero backup because we’re not inviting people into our plague shack, and three hyperactive children.
    • Child Sam is on break from school and will not stop running and scream singing “DIGGY DIGGY HOLE” all the time.
    • Child Isaac is HUNGRY but he’s also not 100% feeling better so he’s ANGRY because he doesn’t want any of his usual favorite foods and he’s very tired of Pedialyte.
    • Child Carrie is playing with Child Sam all the time at 9000 MPH and scream singing either “INTO THE UNKNOWN” or “BABY SHARK” while running around the living room.
    • My head.
  • Everyone finally seems somewhat recovered today, Saturday.
    • (this after completely losing both Thursday–when Isaac was supposed to have his ABA assessment–and Friday to illness)
  • Kyle and I feel well enough to start cleaning up after our illness.
    • We start a load of laundry.
    • When Kyle goes to switch the laundry, he discovers that the water did not drain.
    • He tries to fix the washing machine.
      • He finds $5 in change!
      • He does not fix the washing machine.
    • We cancel tonight’s D&D session so one of us can go to the laundromat.
  • At bedtime, we’re changing Isaac.
    • He has hives.
      • Wtf?
      • We have not started new foods.
      • We have not used new detergents.
      • He is not on new medicine.
    • So we call the nurse line.
      • Nurse line says that this can happen at the end of a virus and we should give him Benadryl.
      • Cool.
      • We don’t have Benadryl.
    • Everything gets pushed back an hour or so while we hunt down Benadryl and give it to him. 
  • Kyle just now got home with the laundry.
  • It is 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday.
  • I need a vacation.