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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Podunk Living



It dawned on me today that we are really doing some backcountry living. This year, we have been heating our house entirely with wood. We have one monstrous wood stove and a chimney running straight through the middle of the cabin. Last year we bought a few cords of wood, but this year (at least in regard to heating) we've been living off the land. My husband selectively thins out trees on our 40 acre property, cuts and splits them to size, and lets them dry for firewood. We drive into the woods with an old pickup truck and bring the wood back to our house, where it sits in a long winding stack between the trees.

I went outside today to bring some wood into the house. The sunlight against the snow was a visual assault. After a few minutes, though, it became a welcome change to stand alone baking in the sun, surrounded by slowly melting snow.


I don't know when the switch flipped -- when this comparatively rural lifestyle stopped seeming foreign and became instinctive. Driving on dirt roads has become commonplace. Threadbare barns and towering oceans of corn have lost their novelty (although continue to charm me). A backyard dotted with bear scat, mystical-looking white goats emerging from a neighbor's tree line, and the occasional escaped holstein in the middle of the road are no longer totally crazy scenes.

A suitcase crammed with at least a dozen pairs of high heels now collects dust in a corner upstairs. I'm a serious klutz, and it took at least a year to master walking across the brick sidewalks in Oberlin. I don't wear them anymore, even at the very rare formal event. I can't even imagine tolerating heels again; I think I would have to relearn how to walk in them. I've traded pumps for galoshes, dresses for flannel-lined jeans, and delicate sweaters for free Molson Canadian t-shirts that came in 12-packs of beer.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Getting by

I've re-read my previous posts, and to say I feel sheepish would be the understatement of the year. I can't really explain what was going on. Even when I was feeling at my worst, I understood that my life was not that bad; that my med school plans were salvageable; that MiniMan needed a mom, and my husband, his wife. Even though I could grasp those ideas, everything still seemed hopeless. I knew that my reaction wasn't rational, but it was completely overwhelming.

Not long after writing those posts, I ended up talking to my doctor (even though I was terrified that she would involuntarily hospitalize me). She didn't. We both agreed that it would make me feel worse. I agreed not to do anything until the next time I saw her. For a while I was seeing her practically every day. I don't know why she was willing to invest so much attention in me (it definitely would have been easier to send me off to the hospital), but I'm grateful for it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter

I've been living life in my not-so-favorite style, which (although it sounds cliche) is just trying to get through one day at a time. I don't know why it's so difficult. I really don't have any responsibilities other than keeping up with laundry, hanging out with MiniMan, cooking, and cleaning. Wow. I completely sound like a domestic housewife. It's funny how all of a sudden I'm living this life that I never could have even imagined for myself.

Last night my husband asked me what class I wanted to take this spring. I had originally planned to take some kind of science elective just to keep me engaged, since I'm pretty sure that the classes I want to take are not being offered out of the regular sequence (i.e. take ChemI in the spring, and ChemII in the fall). My reply instead was, "I don't really want to take anything." I wonder if I'll feel differently later. I hope so. Right now I can't even imagine leaving the house to buy groceries.

Instead, I've been planning. I set a deadline of being dead by the winter solstice. Part of me knows this is completely ridiculous and that I should just let it go, that it's disturbing, that of course I shouldn't do it, but the rest of me tells me that I have things to do: make sure that the Christmas presents are wrapped; that letters are written (I don't know how I'll ever explain my goodbye without being a completely hurtful and selfish asshole -- then again, it won't really matter, I'll be dead!); that I take most of my clothes to the Good Will; that bills are paid; that I make sure not to jump with my husband's engagement ring on (it was his grandmother's). I figure that if he gets married again, he should be able to have it without associating it with my shattered body.

I researched the bridge I chose. Apparently the university near me recently constructed some kind of net underneath the bridge, so now I have to navigate that, too. I think it's only enough to deter a drunk person from being impulsive, though, not someone who is really determined to die.

Just recently I started to feel guilty about destroying a perfectly healthy body when there are so many people who need organs. Maybe jumping is wrong. We had a student in her early twenties in the ICU who hung herself from a tree with a dog leash. Her family kept her on the vent long enough to donate her organs. Seems straightforward enough, but the timing would be kind of a crapshoot to coordinate. I hate the idea of my husband finding me in a tree, though, and I hate the idea of him seeing me brain dead in the hospital. The girl I took care of -- she looked terrible. Her entire head was swollen; her eyelids bulged out from her head like a frog's.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

scratching the itch

a calm drive
full of silent streets
and warm memories

soft blonde curls
my two-year old's maniacal grins and
uncontrolled giggles--
the huge hands of
my tickling husband

I keep driving
into my childhood neighborhood past
Christmas trees glowing though
living room windows

I park on the road near
the trails where
I used to run
and the bridge that overlooks
the gorge our small city has become
so famous for

under the street lamps
nestled in my long down coat
I savor this instant of comfort

I take
one great step
to tiptoe on the balance beam
before the lights of the town below me

all it takes is
a trusting collapse
to fall though the air

I gaze straight ahead
at the stars
a cold blast of air on my back
as I watch the snowflakes float
up into the sky

Friday, December 10, 2010

So this is my life

After my night of flipping out at work, I later saw my family doctor (she goes by Molly) who suggested I take two weeks off. One morning, I came to her office with MiniMan to pick up paperwork. I sat in her waiting room while MiniMan played with toys. I couldn't stop silently crying.

One of the nurses pulled me into an exam room. She told me that Molly wanted to talk for a minute. I curled up on the floor in the corner. The office staff started playing with MiniMan. When Molly came in, I don't remember what she told me. All I remember is being in the corner of an exam room, crying all day while she checked in on me between patients, until she called my husband at work who picked me up later that afternoon.

I don't know why Molly let me stay. She told me a story about having a breakdown in the NICU during residency and crying relentlessly in a corner.

It's hard to write about this. It's difficult to describe what was going on, because I don't even remember what I was thinking. This psych stuff is especially frustrating because it was my choice to sit on the floor and cry all day. I don't know why I felt like I couldn't do anything else.

Since then, things haven't been great. I nearly got readmitted as an inpatient again, but instead stayed at home. My husband took family medical leave from work and took care of me while Molly quickly increased my dosages of antidepressants. I stopped going to work. I stopped taking classes.

I didn't feel like doing anything, but I would go for a run most mornings, cook quite a bit, hang out with MiniMan, force myself to get dressed. I was going through the motions, but I wasn't feeling significantly better. I was obsessively pondering my suicide, whether I felt sad or even when I felt mostly fine.

I don't know how my life went from looking so bright to becoming a wasteland so quickly. I went back to work last weekend. The night nurses were so nice. They brought in celebratory food and everything was really thoughtful.. but when I had to go back a few days later I just couldn't do it. Every time I drive to work I have a panic attack in my car. I never used to have panic attacks. I've gone from being driven and capable to being this unstable, totally useless person.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Just give up

The next day, I decided to drop chemistry, too. I wasn't prepared for my lab. If I wasn't going to get near-perfect grades, it seemed like maybe it just wasn't worth bothering right now. Everything felt like an uphill battle at my big state school. My professors didn't appear to care about anything (other than their workload and trying to avoid contact with students). I felt completely isolated in all of my classes. I wasn't having fun. I gave up.

I drove back to my big state school one more time to fill out more forms, to pick up MiniMan's things from daycare, to attempt to tie up all the loose ends. MiniMan was beside himself about leaving daycare. I remember when I first started going he would cry when I left him in the morning to go to classes. That day, he instead cried when he couldn't stay. He still talks about his friends from daycare practically three months later. I feel guilty taking all that away from him, knowing he'll probably never see them again.

After I stopped going to classes, I felt even worse. I was able to get a lot more sleep, but half the time I would spend the greater part of the day curled up on the couch, crying, while MiniMan watched TV. My husband would come home from work and MiniMan would walk over to him and say "Mama sad." The first emotion he had learned was sad.

Since I'd been a teenager, I had always had issues with depression. Some years were more difficult than others, but I was always functional. I hadn't taken antidepressants for years until just recently. Things had been okay. I thought I knew how to keep my emotions under control. I thought I knew how to kick myself in the butt when I needed it, and get myself out of a funk.

This time I couldn't do it. I don't know exactly why. I stopped showering. I stopped eating. I wore my PJs all day long. The only thing I could muster up the motivation to do was feed MiniMan and change his diapers.

I fantasized about my death constantly. It just seemed like such a relief to turn off the switch. I imagined death as a comforting void. Black, silent, empty. Nothing to worry about, nothing to be happy about: no more thinking. Would I jump off a bridge? Poison myself with carbon monoxide? Slit my wrists? I have a weird anomaly: a superficial artery on my hand that I had always thought would be interesting to slice. But I don't have a bathtub, I thought. Do you need a bathtub? Does that interfere with clotting? I needed to research this... I definitely wouldn't be overdosing again -- what if someone found me, took me back to the hospital again? Should I get in a terrible car accident? No, seemed like too high a chance of just getting maimed and not dying. But I had a good life insurance policy. Maybe I could make it look like an accident, not a suicide.

In the end, the bridge seemed like the best option. Plus, it would be almost like sky diving. I wondered if I'd change my mind during free fall.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Somehow it became December

I expected that I would have blogged more by now, but I never felt like writing. I still don't really feel like writing now, but somehow I persuaded myself to start typing.

I don't know where to start. It seems like so much has happened over the past few months yet I spend my days doing nothing at all, just wasting time, rotting.

As for the rest of the story, well... On a Friday, after two nights that seemed like an eternity, I left the hospital. My husband forgot to bring my shoes so I walked out in beige hospital socks, carrying my clothes in a brown paper bag. I prayed no one I knew would pass me in the hallway.

I took the weekend off, and then went back to classes on Monday. I decided to drop physics, because it seemed like between the lack of sleep and the hours spent commuting and the full-time job, there just weren't enough hours in the day (or night) to get everything done.

It took most of the morning just to drop physics. I was trekking all over campus from one end to the other to get my list of signatures that had to sign off on me dropping the class: first the grad school, then my professor, then the grad school again, then student accounts (not only would I not get any tuition refunded, I had to pay a fee to drop it (talk about adding insult to injury!), then the registrar...etc.

I had a problem set to finish for my chem class, a lab report to turn in, and the prelab for the next lab which was the next morning. I thought I would be able to get on top of things, but by late afternoon, I had only finished the problem set and my lab report. I was having chills and wondered if I was feverish again. I had a note from the hospital explaining that I was "ill" and excusing me from the lectures that I missed (both classes used iclickers for attendance monitoring, ugh). I decided to see if it was possible to get an extension: I had to pick up MiniMan from daycare to then drive home and work an overnight that night. There was just no way to get everything done by the next morning, and on top of being overwhelmed, I felt like shit.

I tried to contact the professor for my chem class, but I realized that he didn't list his e-mail or his office location in the syllabus (and also didn't offer office hours). I went to the chem help lab (run by TAs), but there were about twenty students in there and one TA milling around answering questions. I waited about half an hour, and then finally one of the TAs suggested that I contact a different professor who oversaw all the chem labs. When I finally talked to her, she said that it wouldn't be possible to have any kind of extension because it wouldn't be fair to the other students. I was fucking amazed.

I walked out, made it to my car, closed the door, and cried. I picked up MiniMan from daycare and we drove home. We made it home, and then I got dressed to go to the hospital and started driving to work. I felt nauseated. I started sweating in my car, crying the closer I got to the hospital. Part of me knew it was ridiculous to be consumed by dread, but it was hard to ignore such a visceral reaction. I made it work, pulled myself together, walked inside. My unit was so good about maintaining confidentiality, almost none of my coworkers knew that I had been admitted just a few days ago.

I muttered a few brief hellos and sequestered myself to the med room to stock supplies. I ripped open boxes and filled drawers with syringes; I just couldn't deal with patients. If a call bell went off, I would ignore it. I had never done that before. I just felt like I couldn't go into a room again, like I wasn't strong enough to take care of someone, to converse and be cheery. I looked out the med room window into the ICU room where I had stayed. Everything was still so raw. I faced the wall and unpacked bags of saline and silently started crying again.

Forty-five minutes later my charge nurse discovered me and sent me home. I drove home in the dark, trying to decide if it made more sense to drive home or to drive into a tree.