Grief Schizophrenia

I sit on the floor of my closet, sifting through a decade’s worth of souvenirs from my failed marriage. I sunder precious memories from the chaff as quickly and efficiently as I can, placing them carefully in a pretty wooden box. To stop is to dwell, is to sink in the swamp of sadness.

Someday, when my life isn’t blowing up around me, when I’m not so fucking fragile, I’ll open Pandora’s box of nostalgia and pain and examine each relic inside.

—Wedding vows, printed on 5×7 paper and assembled in a small binder.

—Cards from flowers Husband sent me, because it was a Wednesday and he felt like it, not because it was Valentine’s Day and he was obligated.

—The shoes I wore on one of our first dates, shoes that strolled down the street as I reached out, tucking my arm in the crook of his elbow. Everything changed on that date.

Tears well in my eyes. (Quickly, into the box with you, shoes.)

—A picture of us from that first heady year, both lighter in body and spirit, yet to be burdened or crushed under life’s weight.

—A love note, typed, printed, and signed. A note professing love so monumental and fierce that when I received it my heart swelled, pained and pushing against the cage of my chest. The culmination of the note is nothing more or less than one soaring, devastating declaration.

You are all I need.

A note now and forever sullied with the pain of hindsight. The sentiment rings through our past with its sincerity and pulses now with its falsehood. Remembering we once felt this way almost breaks me again. I’m choked by the everything and the nothing between us now.

You are all I need.

Of course this is the moment Husband walks into the bedroom, intruding on my memories. He doesn’t notice my tears, my hunched shoulders, my shaking hand holding the printed note. Instead, he talks (and talks and talks) over the details of the separate lives we are now building. True to form, he has so very many words and I shrink away from them all.

I am having a fucking moment here and he can’t shut up long enough to allow me to experience it. I push the note into the box and throb with anger and frustration. Even now, when all the dust hangs between us and there’s nothing left to settle, I can’t have this. I can’t get what I need.

You are all I need.

How strange, to have so many disparate feelings coexisting within this battered heart. I am astonished at my capacity for it all. It’s a marvel that I’m still standing amidst the conflicting feelings—all swirling, biting, attacking.

Love and loss and anger, all vying for the spotlight. I long for him and want to push him away.

I am devastated, the remnants of our love story mocking me at every turn. What fools, our past selves—beautiful fools full of passion and devotion. The sheer scale of loss overwhelms me.

I am heartbroken, I am feeble.

I am grief so profound death is its only comparison.

I am full of anger that leaves my muscles sore, anger that ignites and burns its way out of me like nuclear missiles, seeking targets for destruction. All the words and choices and slights of our marriage play over in a loop in my mind.

I’m pressing on, like a damn soldier.

I am hope—the future is a blank slate, a great adventure, wide-open and free, waiting to be explored.

I am fear—the future is an endless, unknown void. The comfort of our couplehood disintegrated in front of me, taking with it a chink of my identity.

I am strong. The power in making a decision for myself, without consulting Husband, zings through my veins.

I am scared.

I am brave.

I am all of these and I am none of these.

Emotions saturate me like a washcloth, until the fibers hold no more and everything drips, drips, drips. I am bursting, my feelings wrung out, pouring down the drain.

I’m empty, void.

Love finds me again, hesitant and bright, pouring from friends and family, felt all the more keenly in the tangle of darkness. Fierce joy wells up within me and suddenly, I’m full.



Cancer (June 22—July 22)

The moon dominates your week—a glowing red super-signal in the sky, drawing others to you and your pain. You are a raw wound, walking the world frayed and fragile. I could say that it won’t always be this way, but who knows? The future isn’t written in the stars.

I would like to say that the darkness filling you up, overflowing at inconvenient and uncomfortable times—yeah, that darkness—will subside. But, Cancer, as you already suspect, it will always be part of you.

Just remember that the darkness can be beautiful, like a panther, so black it shines in the night. Only in the absolute dark, can the tiniest sliver of light blind you. Your raw, overworked nerves are sensitive to love and beauty, also.

The smallest act of kindness can break your heart.

Inside the Bubble

“You doing okay, buddy?”
After one minute on the phone, Husband knows something is wrong. He claims he can’t read my mind, but the Marriage Mind Meld makes him dangerous enough.
The answer to his question, “no,” lacks all evidence to support it. Nobody died. Nothing went wrong at work. There was no call from home with drama. I am not hurt, or sick, or crying, or worried. But I’m not okay.
Nothing’s wrong. But something’s not right.
Numbness crept back in where I thought I had beaten it back. I found myself in that dark bubble, where time moves slower, food tastes muted, and all ties between me and the world dissolves. My existence distilled down to the couch and a subscription to Hulu.
I’m letting Husband down. I’m letting myself down. Vaguely, I worry about falling into old habits. In the end, though, I don’t care enough to do anything.
You doing okay, buddy?
“No. Yes…I don’t know.” It comes out petulant, like a seven-year-old girl stamping her Mary Janes.
“Okay. We’ll talk when I get home. Do you need anything?” Like what? A new brain? A fucking time machine? Food? I can’t be bothered.
Then Husband is walking into the dark house, finding me on the couch, dimly illuminated by the glow of the television screen. He offers me his hand and pulls me up. I stand, immediately folded into a hug.
“Scientists say that hugging releases dopamine. Or endorphins. Let’s say endopamines. They make you happy, but you need twenty seconds for the hug to work.”
“One Mississippi…two Mississippi…three Mississippi…” he whispers in my ear.
I sink into him. We stay like that, him supporting me and counting softly, for a full twenty Mississippis. Finally, he pulls away, kisses me on the forehead, and sits us down on the couch.
“Why don’t you tell me about it?”
No judgment. No admonishment. No you-should-do-thises. Instead, he sits and listens. I tell him the everything and the nothing of it all. He says, “Whatever this is—if it’s work, if it’s me, whatever—we’ll figure it out.” Eyes brimming with tears, not trusting myself with any more words, I nod, then sink my head down onto his chest.
He loves me. So much.
He’s not here to charge in and chase anything away, or even shine a light on it. Depression, the sneaky bastard, doesn’t work like that, and he knows it. Rather than stand outside the boundaries of that darkness, taking shots at it, he sneaks inside the bubble with me. He sits. He takes it in. He’s here.
He shares it all with me.
Already, I feel lighter for it.

Glinda, the Biggest Bitch of Oz

A Conversation Between My Therapist and I

THERAPIST: Are you surprised that when you started feeling better, it was all of a sudden?
ME: Well, yeah.
THERAPIST: You know what that means, don’t you?
THERAPIST: That you had it in you all along. Just the act of coming and asking for help holds 90% of the strength you need to feel better.
ME: I can’t help thinking of that scene at the end of The Wizard of Oz. You know, the one where Glinda tells Dorothy that she had the power to go home that whole time.
ME: You know, I always hated Glinda.
ME: I mean, what a two-faced bitch!
THERAPIST: Woah. Ouch.
ME: Come on. “You had the power all along.” What’s up with that? If Glinda knew Dorothy could go home “all along,” but didn’t tell her, that’s withholding information. And why the whole “follow the yellow brick road” quest, if she could go home before she started, huh? Look, lady, don’t send me “off to see the wizard,” some cockamamied fraud. Don’t risk my life with flying monkeys and drugged flowers and wicked witches. Don’t turn me into a goddamned murderer because you can’t be bothered to tell me to click my heels three times until it suits your purposes.
THERAPIST: Okay, then. Maybe it’s not like the Wizard of Oz.

Or, maybe it is.

Let’s start at the beginning, when a tornado straight-up ripped Dorothy from home and brought her to a strange and dangerous land, committing manslaughter by house in the process. Is it just me, or is that a bit much to bite off and chew? It just doesn’t make sense.

Like it just didn’t make sense that losing my job would spin me so far out of control. I was whipped around and around, transported to a strange, awful, dangerous place where my own demons waited to torment me. Unemployment was my tornado. At first, it seemed to take me to a technicolor wonderland where I could be anything, do anything. I had nothing but time to explore.

Not too far along the yellow-brick road, though, I faced the dark and shady corners of job hunting, overexposure and vulnerability, and near-constant rejection. Each job I didn’t get chipped away at my sense of self-worth. After a while, it began to feel like I wasn’t really as smart or as good as I once thought. Even in the midst of unlimited possibilities, all kinds of dangers lurked in that forest–monsters with familiar faces suddenly turned sinister: self-doubt instead of self-confidence, confusion instead of certainty, low self-esteem instead of trusting myself. Lions and tigers and bears.

There was that field of poppies that just made me want to lie down and sleep. It weighed me down with its negative inertia. YouTube spirals and Netflix binges/comas. Not moving for hours and hours. Knowing in my head and my heart that it wasn’t right to spend so much time doing nothing, but then using those distractions to numb me. The poppies almost killed Dorothy. Not because they were hurting her, exactly, but because they kept her from moving on.

Glinda sweeps in at the end of that movie, on a fucking bubble for God’s sake, with her bullshit about Dorothy having the power inside her (all along) to get back to a place that was normal and familiar, where she felt safe and loved. You know, not chased by crazy monsters and witches, and certainly not legit murdering a lady because of the color of her skin. Glinda could have saved Dorothy all of that, but you know, manipulating her to be your assassin before casually mentioning the whole click-your-heels thing, I guess that’s another way of doing it.

Is it any wonder that when my therapist said, “you had the ability all along,” it didn’t sit so well with me? If I had the power to free myself all along, why the hell did I let things get so bad? You mean I could have spared myself all that darkness? If it was as simple as asking for help, what was the point of the whole journey?

As if all that weren’t bad enough, Glinda had the gall to say to Dorothy’s face, “you had to find it out for yourself.” Excuse me, bitch? I think I would have listened if you said, “you cooooould walk zillions of miles (on high-heeled shoes, by the way) through a dark forest and almost die and then have to commit murder to exact someone else’s vengeance…ooooooor…try clicking your heels and no-place-like-homeing your way out of here.” I would have clicked my fucking heels, because even if it looked stupid as shit and didn’t work, it was looking stupid for like two seconds that could potentially save me from a whole fucking movie’s worth of trouble.

Yet, in the light of my depression, clicking my heels wouldn’t have worked at the beginning of my journey. I didn’t know what I needed help from yet, much less how to reach out and ask for it. And Therapist was right. Just going to the doctor, asking for help, getting some drugs–it all gave me hope. Hope that I was finally on a new path, not the same worn-out one that had failed me for months and months. Hope that wherever this led, it would be better than the darkness and self-condemnation and anger I inflicted on myself.

Hope wouldn’t have shone as brightly at the beginning of that yellow-brick road, where the sun was shining and munchkins were singing. I had to go through that terrible forest, find all those dark corners lurking within me, before I could admit how bad things where, how far I had traveled from home. Only after killing that witch could I truly appreciate the sepia-toned normalcy of everyday life. Battling those monsters, killing that witch, taught me more about who I am than any amount of heel clicking.

Okay, so Glinda’s still a bitch. But maybe Therapist isn’t.

YouTube Spirals

I sit down at my desk, wearing my pajamas, blankly contemplating my plans for the day. Eat food. Work out. Take shower. Write. Look for a job. My only accomplishment so far is getting out of bed, and already I’m overwhelmed.
One step at a time. Focus on getting to the gym.
The logistics of the one simple task seem insurmountable. I’m not sure which day I showered last, but I feel and smell gamey. It would be . . . inconsiderate to go to a gym with people and sweat through this funk. But, it seems like a waste of resources to shower before the gym. Do you know how much effort it takes to shower?
Plagued with indecision, I open my Web browser. You know, just to see what’s what.
Look! Dogs who really don’t want to take a bath. Hilarious! Click.
I let the video pour over me, wash away my morning indecision. It doesn’t matter if I shower before the gym. Right now there are only these dogs.
Then it’s over. YouTube has helpfully recommended some other videos I may find interesting. Oh look, a puppy jumping on a trampoline. Click. Is that really the original She-Ra movie special? MY CHILDHOOD IS ON YOUTUBE. Listen to my mighty, enthusiastic CLICK.
Turns out, She-Ra doesn’t hold up as well as I thought she would. That’s okay. We live in a world with Colin Firth jumping into a lake. Click. And doing an interview on Bridget Jones’s Diary. Click. No, YouTube, I do not wish to see clips from What a Girl Wants. But perhaps just one from Bridget Jones. Click. And another. Click.
My eyes glaze over, ever fixedly watching the computer screen. Strange; I feel no enjoyment, no happiness, even though my face is smiling. Then again, I feel no pain. No anxiety about being unemployed, without a purpose for my life, or even a reason to get off this chair. Letting the screen blur in and out of focus, I don’t feel the uncertainty of my future or that crushing sense of self-worthlessness weighing on my shoulders. There is me and YouTube—nothing else.
Until my dog creeps in the room and pokes her cold wet nose under my arm, as though to say, “What? Are you still here?” I give her a perfunctory pat on the head and return to my screen, because James McAvoy, that’s why.
Here’s that scene from the end of Penelope. You know, the one I’ve seen 152 times. I must see it again. Click. I’ll just rewind this a bit, shall I? Click. Again. Again. And again. Click, click, click.
Something deep inside my brain pings. Nobody spends this much time in front of YouTube. Why do I keep at it? Do I really want to see these things, or is compulsion in the driving seat? I click now, because I clicked before. I click again because there is something to click. If I don’t click, there is something I won’t see.
A distinctly cottony feeling takes over my mouth. I must be thirsty, but that could just be because I haven’t had anything to drink yet. It’s only been three hours. Should the back of my throat really feel all scratchy burny? Once I acknowledge my thirst, I must entertain the possibility that the dull, yet sharpening ache in my stomach is hunger. What am I going to do about that? Is there any food in the house? Do I even feel like eating anything? Too much. I can’t deal.
Dear YouTube, More James McAvoy, please.
Why, thank you! An interview! Who’s Graham Norton? Click.
Sweet lord almighty. Graham Norton is genius. Must. Watch. More. Click, click, click.
It’s been four hours, now. I don’t think I’ll make it to the gym. When I don’t have a job to go to, how is there not enough time to work out? I weigh my options and determine that, in order to eat, I must leave the house. Leaving the house means taking a shower, which means getting up off this chair. I mean, I could do all that, or, I could watch this interview with Helen Mirren.
PAUL RUDD JUST KISSED DAME HELEN MIRREN. Nothing I watch after this could be so good. But look…
Click, click, click, click.
Have I really been watching YouTube videos for five hours? Who does that? God, Megan. You are such a lazy bitch. Get up! Get up!
Maybe after this video.
Okay, just one more. No, this will be the last one. No, this one. This one. Click, click, click, click.
For real! It’s been seven hours! Get out of this chair! You stupid YouTube zombie, there is a world out there and a life for you to live and you’re wasting it all! What is wrong with you? You should be ashamed of yourself. Click click. Zap zap.
Is it really 5? Okay, you can’t let Husband come home and find you like this. If he doesn’t see, he won’t know. No one will know.
Only this fear of someone else knowing how I wasted my day, seeing how worthless and pointless my existence has become, motivates me off my chair.
As I shower the stench of who knows how many days off my skin, I feel like I’m coming to from a trance. Did I really forget to eat anything today? Me?! Images from the hours of binge-watching clips swim in my head, none of them offering insight or meaning, only lost time.
Tomorrow, I promise myself. Tomorrow will be better. I will be better.

I didn’t know it was so bad…

Depression is some sneaky ass shit. It wears socks and walks on tip toes, creeping up from behind. The weight of it descends gradually, ounce by ounce, so I don’t notice it hitching a ride. I’m trudging along, slowed and stymied by it, but it all happens so gradually that I don’t notice the extra weight. One day to the next, it feels normal. I lose all perspective, lose track of the fact that all I feel like is shit and it never used to be this way.
It’s all in my head, anyway. Literally. All. In my head. It’s not like when you break your leg and have to walk on crutches. Then everyone can see your handicap, why it’s been several days since you showered, or why you haven’t left your house in over a week. But when that handicap is the fucked up chemicals in your brain, it doesn’t look or feel like anything should keep you from living your life.
Then there’s a day when I screw up every ounce of oomph and caring I have and pour it into the space inside my brain that controls things like hygiene and leaving the house. That’s the day you see me. It’s the best that things are going to get, the best that I am going to get. I wouldn’t make it out of the house if I didn’t find the part of me that cares about something—you. I’m surprised to find I care about much these days.
Yet, as you sit across from me and tell me about your life, I can’t care about it much at all. I’m running low to empty on cares, all used up in the getting here. I’m already looking forward to going home, to sinking into the sofa and not working so hard. When you tell me your tales, I work to put on the right faces, say the right things, sound the right way. I feel like an alien in my own skin, trying to approximate myself. This face means sad. This one, thoughtful. This one, happy.
You are my friend. I want to please you.
What’s new with me, you ask? That’s the thing. Nothing’s new. Nothing. I spent my week watching episode after episode of a stupid show on Netflix, caring but not caring. Numb to the world around me, to my own feelings threatening to overwhelm me.
Misdirection is the best tool of a magician. I’ll use it to distract, deflect attention from what’s really going on, a dark secret that I don’t really want to admit or address. If I don’t look at it, maybe it’ll go away, maybe it didn’t happen, maybe it’s not true. I’ll tell you that I feel numb and wonder what the point is in getting out of bed in the morning, but all in a perfunctory sort of way.
Quick! Look over here, where I’ve prepared a few anecdotes that the real Megan would have found funny. So I, Not-Megan, tell them to you, move the conversation forward and away.
Blink and you’ll miss it.

I feel like I’m faking it. I am fake. So I feel shitty. I am shitty. I judge myself. All of it makes me feel worse than I started out this morning. So exhausting.

I think I need some down time to recover. How many seasons are left in that stupid show?