Letter to Brian: May 6, 2016

Dear Brian,

This past weekend, success for me meant I put away the dishes in the dishwasher so I could load the ones that had been sitting in the sink for over a week.  It meant that I brushed my teeth and I showered and I left the house for a whole hour to buy groceries.  I realize that doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but the way I’ve been feeling the past few months, I have had to find pride in winning even the tiniest of battles.  It’s really difficult to describe to people who don’t experience depressive episodes what it really feels like in your body and in your mind.  You know how when you’re sick with the flu and your entire body aches all over?  You feel sick to your stomach?  You can’t ever seem to get enough sleep?  Absolutely anything and everything feels like a daunting and exhausting task?  When you’re feeling that sick, sometimes just getting out of bed and standing long enough to take a shower is enough to wipe out what remaining energy you have left?  That’s what chronic depression feels like physically.  And lately, I’ve been able to add a constant and nagging feeling of anxiety and hypervigilance that won’t seem to leave my side; I just feel so agitated.  All. The. Time.  I guess it might be time to look at switching medications.  Again.

While it doesn’t occur nearly as much as it used to, I’ve still been struggling with the self-injury.  I had an incident a few weeks ago… before that one had really even begun to heal I ended up doing it again this past Monday.  I was feeling terribly sad and anxious and nervous; when I’m feeling that much intensity inside already it really doesn’t take much to push me completely over that edge.  I made time in my lunch break to rush home and within a 15 minute timeframe I had gotten home to my apartment, gathered my tools, harmed myself significantly, bandaged it up and left again to head back to work already feeling the relief of that release.  On my way back to work I stopped for a Diet Coke and the cashier at my local convenience store said to me in his endearing accent: “Always with the smiling face you have, I love to see it! Such a long time since you were here to show me the smile. Smiling is the best medicine!!” He obviously had no idea that I had literally just sliced my leg open to the point that a vein was actually visibly showing not even 10 minutes earlier and that underneath my dress was a huge bundle of bandages covering up that gaping wound in my upper thigh. What can I say? I’m a master of disguise.

I distinctly remember one evening in junior high school when I had a friend over for dinner and to help each other get ready for the school dance that night.  I was doing her hair and makeup and she looked at me and said, “You’re always so happy and you always cheer me up. I wish I could be happy like that all the time… like you are.” I remember being so confused and thinking to myself, “Boy if she only knew that earlier today I was thinking up ways to kill myself.”  You just never know what is going on inside of someone or what battles they are fighting every day.  It shouldn’t hurt to hear someone say, “You’re so happy and cheery all the time, I love it;” but it does hurt.  A lot.  Because most days I’m faking it so my disposition is more palatable for those around me.  If I showed them how I was really feeling inside, I fear that no one would ever want to speak to me.  Some days I do experience joy, though… genuine joy.  Maybe that’s what keeps me going… those moments where there is proof of life in there somewhere!

I literally still see myself as that seriously awkward and profoundly bizarre kid that didn’t quite fit in anywhere. The one whose grade school friends easily transitioned into the “cool crowd” in junior and senior high school and pretended I didn’t exist when their new friends were around.  And most of the time I still feel as though the people who invite me out to dinners and happy hours and concerts are only doing so out of pity or obligation or because they simply don’t want to hurt my feelings.  It doesn’t ever occur to me that they really might enjoy my company.  If anyone out there has any advice as to how to develop a healthy self-esteem, I’ll be first in line.  Seriously, sign me up for that shit.  How many years of therapy should it take until that catches on?  I guess you first have to have hope, wouldn’t you?  I mean, it’s like not wanting to fix a part on your car because you’re going to be selling it soon anyway…. is it really worth it?  But, I digress…  I remember back in school even feeling that “vibe” from other parents and teachers who could see how awkward I was; I didn’t have that “magnetism” that the class clowns and the prom queens had… you know the type– the one that can walk into a room and everyone turns to notice them and they say something ridiculously charming and the whole room laughs with them.  Even teachers gravitated more naturally to those students, presumably because they were more engaging and fun to be around.  I was far too shy to get involved in the class participation and in terms of the social order of my peers I was the one most likely to get a snowball shoved in my face by one of the bullies for wearing a men’s suit and wing tips to school that day and who often spent her lunch hour crying alone in a corner of a secluded hallway.

I had myself a nasty fall in the shower last weekend… I totally lost my balance and fell backwards out of the shower and planted hard on the bathroom floor after hitting my head on the wall.  Super classy.  But boy, was I sore!!  A few days later the pain was really getting to me so I decided to book massage.  I’ve always been deeply surprised that I allow myself to be vulnerable enough to do that; considering my long history with an unhealthy fear of physical touch, I’m baffled that I find the courage to do that, honestly.  And even more so because I’m absolutely covered in scars that run all up and down my arms, legs and my breasts.  I never know how a new massage therapist (or doctor, for that matter) is going to respond to that.  Some people are absolutely silent about it. There’s absolutely no way that they don’t see them, but they simply choose to not bring it up.  I find that to be a great relief to me.  But most practitioners bring it up immediately.  That was the case this week.

I was already on edge because it was going to be a male therapist and given my early-rooted fear of men, that’s typically a deal breaker for me; but I was in so much pain, I took the first available appointment I could get.  He asked me what brought me there and if I had any specific areas on which I needed work.  I told him about the fall and that I wanted the focus strictly on my upper body– from the waist up.  He tried to steer me away from that and say that it would be beneficial to me to at least do some work on the lower body as well, particularly since I had booked a whole 90 minutes.  After a few timid attempts to get me to agree to that I decided to just be upfront and said, “Well, I have an injury on my left thigh.  It’s bandaged up, and it’s extremely painful; if you work on my legs, please just work from the knee down.”  That didn’t seem to phase him so he said, “If you’re comfortable with it, we can just try and work around that area… and you can let me know if you feel any pain.”  So I reluctantly agreed.

The first extremity he worked on was my right arm.  Immediately he said, “Wow, you have sooooo many scars!”  Again, I was upfront and I told him that yes, I’m covered in scars and that they are the result of years and years of self-inflicted injuries.  That I’m on medication and I see a therapist regularly but sometimes it still happens.  That the bandages on my legs were because I had done it again recently.  I was feeling pretty anxious inside thinking what he might possibly say to me next. His response made me relax immediately.  He just calmly said, “Hey, we’ve all got to deal with the chaos in the world in a way that works for each of us, you know?” Yes!!  Soooooooo much yes.  When it came time to work on my left leg, I felt an initial twinge of panic as the blanket was moved to expose my leg and the bulky bandage I’d been hiding for the past few days.  It was a surreal feeling to allow this stranger to see that and somehow I managed to let my fear of judgment just fall away and allowed myself to really relax.  I confuse the hell out of myself some days.

I had a ticket to a concert last night and I just couldn’t seem to force myself to go. I really wanted to go… but the energy just wasn’t there and the thought of driving there, parking, being in a crowded room all seemed just incredibly unappealing to me.  Somehow, it seemed like a better idea to sit on my couch and binge-watch Netflix while sipping whiskey in my underwear and have food delivered from the Chinese restaurant ACROSS THE STREET from me. (For the record, I did not answer the door in my underwear.  I do have standards.)  But it is what it is… I missed the show and don’t feel all that bad about it.  Maybe I’ll try again another time.  And maybe I won’t.

Well, my well of words has temporarily run dry… not too much more for me to say today.  But thanks for letting me get all of this off my chest, dude.  Please tell Mooooomie how much I miss her.

Much love,




Letter to Brian: April 28, 2016

Dear Brian,

Well I’ve been having a pretty rough streak here lately.  I know grief, and depression, are known to come and go in cycles and there’s no telling when an episode will hit or hard it will hit me.  This one hasn’t been the worst I’ve had… but I’ve certainly had better.  Though I am getting a little better at forgiving myself for my setbacks than I used to be… and for cutting myself some slack (pardon the pun) when I slip up and self-injure like I did again this past weekend.  My therapist, and my dear friends, have helped me to get to a place where I am better about saying to myself, “OK, so that happened.  Now let’s move on!  Give yourself a break, you’re dealing with a lot.”  I appreciate their understanding so, so much.  It’s a far less-lonely place dealing with it when you are open about it with those closest to you; dealing with all of that alone for so many years was more painful yet.

We also just passed the 5 month mark since losing Mooooomie and her death is becoming more and more difficult for me now.  I think it’s because until now I’ve still had so many details to deal with that have been distracting me from the pain: paying the rest of her bills, closing accounts, canceling magazines, moving her belongings out of her place and storing it, handling the estate (which wasn’t finalized until just a few weeks ago), doing her taxes, getting her car fixed and I’m still working on the thank you notes from the funeral yet! I have no excuse for that– it’s just each time I sit down and read through the cards I have a complete meltdown and I’ve been trying to avoid that as often as possible.

But now, I’m arranging to have the rest of her belongings (and her vehicle) shipped down here to Texas.  I guess the fact that the final details are now about to be finished makes the reality of the situation harder to ignore.  I’m so glad I’ll have her Subaru with me, though.  I have so many memories of time spent with her in that car… and it was the last place I saw her; she dropped me off at the airport in it back in October.  She hugged me so tight and cried more than usual, Brian.  It absolutely broke my heart to turn away from her to leave.  Really… I was crushed.  So my plan is to sell my own vehicle and keep hers.  I remember how sad I was letting your car go… I so wished that we had hung on to that; I’m not going to make the same mistake again.  And I know each time that I drive her car and I accelerate quickly I’ll hear Mooooomie’s silly voice saying, “Yes… my car likes to go buh-bye.”  I wish every single day that she didn’t have to go “buh-bye” too. We weren’t finished  yet.

I think another reason this past week hit me extra, extra hard is because of Prince’s death a week ago today.  Obviously, I didn’t know him personally, but having a death so widely publicized, particularly of an artist that meant so much to Minnesota and to my childhood, has been pretty triggering.  And, like always, there are so many comments surfacing that have upset me a great deal– very similar to after the suicide of Robin Williams.  Because they were a public figure, so many people seem to feel entitled to know all the details about his death– who found him, what he was wearing, who last spoke to him, the results of the autopsy, who he left his fortune to and so much more.  The thing is, the only people who truly deserve to know the answers to all of those questions are his closest of friends and family.  Not only because he was such a private individual, but because that kind of information just isn’t necessary for the rest of us, you know?  I can’t imagine the pain of having the details of your loved one’s death hashed over and over again in the media with people speculating about all kinds of terrible things about him before he was even laid to rest.  If that had happened when you died, I can’t imagine how that would have hurt.

I’m also painfully aware that Mother’s Day is coming up and I’m SO tired of seeing ads and receiving emails saying, “Hey!  Show your Mom how much you love her this Mother’s Day with a huge bouquet of spring flowers!”  If only I could do that.  I know her birthday, a few months later, will bring up much of the same pain.

I read a story recently that really made me think.  It was about a man who had passed away in his apartment in New York City and no one noticed for a week… until the stench of is rotting flesh alerted his neighbors, prompting a call to the police.  I can’t help but think that someday that will be me.  It’s not that far-fetched, really.  Considering how much I hide away from people and how infrequently I speak with most of my friends, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that a week could go by before anyone would have a clue.  Though I do have a job… so I guess that may be the one thing that would alert someone sooner; if I were to not show up at work for a few days, or even a single day, without notifying anyone, that would be uncharacteristic of me and would raise a red flag.  I realize as I’m typing this how morbid that sounds… but it’s absolutely true.  After all, it happened with you– you were dead nearly 7 days before we found out.  That will haunt me the rest of my days… I’m so ashamed.

I really don’t know what brought this to my mind recently, but it’s been creeping up on me often the past few weeks so I guess it’s worth mentioning to you.  I was reminded of one of our annual fishing trips up to Snyder Lake… we went nearly every year.  The particular year I have in mind was the summer before I started the 8th grade.  I vividly remember choosing to stay back at the cabin and read my book while you, Mom and Dad took the boat out to do some early evening crappie fishing.  I had been experiencing a crushing bout of depression and was… well, just so deeply sad.  I remember walking out the cabin door and picking up the rifle  we had left leaning against the wall after shooting at some beer cans earlier in the day.  I held it with the barrel pointed toward the sky and then slowly lowered it and I placed the barrel in my mouth.  I don’t remember very much after that aside from crying and thinking to myself, “I can’t let my family find me like this.”  So at some point I put it down and went back inside and picked my “Sweet Valley High” book back up and when y’all came back from fishing none of you had absolutely no clue as to what had transpired while you were away.  Looking back, I can’t help but think what a disaster that would have been.  The thing is, the rifle wouldn’t have killed me; at age 13, I didn’t know nearly enough about guns to have realized that the weapon I’d held in my mouth would only have injured me very severely and who knows what my face would have looked like after that or what kind of reduced mental faculties I may have suffered… but I do know the odds of it successfully taking my life are very, very slim.  I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone that story ever before… and I can’t say why that image has been running through my head so much lately! But I guess it’s safe to tell you, and Mom, about it now. I’m so sorry.

I’m doing my very best to power through this recent surge in my depression… I come to work, I get through the day (with the help of frequent trips to the bathroom where I can cry alone in the stall), I go home and am in bed most nights before 9:00 not only because I’m so exhausted all the time but also because I just find it easier to bear when I sleep through it.  I’ve been trying to motivate myself to exercise because I despise the condition my body is currently in but I can’t seem to find the energy to do it.  I don’t care for the “snap out of it” advice when it comes my way.  I mean… how do you “just power through it” when the very organ needed to motivate yourself, your brain, is the part that’s so badly broken?

You’d be proud of me, though… I just booked a vacation for myself for January of 2017.  It’s so oddly optimistic of me… planning something that far ahead and looking forward to it, even.  Look at me, I must be growing.  Baby steps…

That’s all for now, dude.








Letter to Brian: April 12, 2016

Dear Brian,

One week ago tonight I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of being able to see the incredible Jane Goodall speak here in Austin. I was completely mesmerized from the very moment she stepped on the stage and started telling us the stories of where her love of animals began. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been completely head over heels in love with animals of all kinds.  As a young girl, I often carried around a styrofoam cup filled with dirt and earthworms as little pets; Mom would occasionally receive a call from a disgruntled mother telling her that I had, yet again, forgotten my “cup o’ worms” at their house and I’d be sent back over there to collect them immediately.  Turns out, that was one of Jane’s first experience with critters as well; when she was very, very young her mother had found that Jane had taken a handful of earthworms to bed with her.  She gently reminded Jane that without dirt they would die so the two of them went to the garden together to return the worms to their home.  That began her journey with animals and Jane’s mother is the person she credits the most for supporting her in carving out a path for herself in her lifelong career of studying, caring for, writing about and sharing her knowledge of animals with the world.

That part really struck a chord within me having just lost our Momma, Brian.  I recall Mom telling me stories not only about my worm friends but of injured birds, bunnies, toads and mice as well as crickets, grasshoppers and snakes.  And when I would find a dead bird in the yard, I somehow thought, at such a tender, young age that the bird deserved better than to lie there in the grass alone– that it needed a proper and respectful burial.  I’d collect the bird and gently place it in a little box (usually the boxes that Mom’s checks from the bank were shipped in) lined with Kleenex I had constructed into a little bed, blanket and pillow so the little winged creature could spend eternity resting comfortably.  Nice thought and all, but sometimes I would forget to bury them and Mom would be alerted to their presence in my room by a persistent odor… only to find that I’d placed the box under my bed and had proceeded to forget about it.  I know it must have frustrated her, but she was always so loving and never got angry at me when she’d find a decomposing bird in my room, when she’d wake in the morning to find that my giant grasshopper had somehow escaped from the jar I’d placed it in and was lurking somewhere in her kitchen or even when I set up a little “morgue” on the back patio and was performing an autopsy on a dead mouse to determine the cause of death. (She gave me the freedom to be curious instead of ruining my experiment by pointing out the obvious– that a mouse found floating in the dog’s water bowl likely died by drowning.)  So to hear Jane speak so highly of her own Mom who encouraged her love of animals really touched me deeply. And of course, we had a father who was a veterinarian; that only furthered my interest in creatures of all kinds.  You and I both loved going for rides to the farms and visiting the clinic to watch him work.

She then went on to speak about a stuffed animal, a cow, given to her by a friend.  She named it “Cow.”  Again, that rattled something deep in my insides as I recalled a stuffed cow I had purchased for myself in college (yes, in college) and I too named him “Cow.”  From my lofty seats in the upper stratosphere of the Paramount Theater, it looked shockingly identical to my own Cow and I felt an increasingly deep connection to this famous, gentle stranger standing behind the podium below.

So many things she spoke about resonated with me but I’ll share just a few with you.  One thing in particular that hit home is about “stuff” and America’s obsession with collecting “stuff” we don’t need.  I was reminded to shop more thoughtfully in the future– if not only by shopping more frequently at thrift stores to purchase used items then by really thinking hard about what I’m about to purchase and considering if it is truly something I need.  She offered this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.

We are destroying our planet with greed.  I want to be more aware of how my actions affect not only those humans around me, but also the humans, animals and environment all around the world.  Every action we take has a reaction elsewhere.  It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the effects of your actions when you aren’t immediately effected by them– but I want to try and do better by the world.  And I was reminded during every single second of her talk that I still feel this ache so deep in my heart and my soul for not having a career working with animals.  It’s where my desire has always been.  I need to really figure out what I’m so afraid of in terms of trying to make that a reality for myself someday.  I know both you and Moooomie would want that for me, too.

I was also reminded of how shockingly similar animals, particularly chimpanzees, are to us humans.  They too display bouts of anger and rage, of sadness and grief, of joy and love, and they can show among each other acts of greed and acts of altruism.  I’ll forever possess a desire learn as much as I possibly can about them and all animals, really.  I’m constantly reading books about them– canine massage, Tellington Touch, stories about animal intelligence, dog breeds, cat breeds, rescue stories… I can’t ever learn enough.

Jane also spoke of what we call promoting”tolerance” in our society.  She proclaimed how she prefers the idea of respect over tolerance;  because, as she said, “You tolerate roaches in your kitchen.  You should not tolerate a human being for their differences, you should respect them.”

After I’d already been waiting in the autograph line for nearly an hour, the man behind me began to grumble to me about feeling slighted because those who were waiting in line with young children were allowed to go straight to the front of the line (being a school night and all.)  I couldn’t have cared less that I may have waited in line an extra 20 minutes if it meant making room for her to spend some time with those kids that are showing a passion for the future of their world.  I told him I thought it was very kind of her to do that for the kids and I didn’t mind the extra wait; then I turned my back and continued to dig deeper into the book that I knew by end of the evening would contain her hand-written signature.

The line twisted around and around and at times it didn’t seem to move at all.  There were a few moments when I thought about how tired I was, how much my back hurt, how I shouldn’t have skipped dinner and how badly I had to pee and almost left the line to go home.  But a little voice inside kept reminding me to wait it out.  As I approached the end of the line and she was only 10 feet away from me, I spotted a little arrangement of purple and gold flowers and instinctively knew that was a reminder that the little voice inside me was you and Mooomie all along. And then, after a nearly 2-hour wait in line, I found myself standing just inches away from her as she signed my copy of “In the Shadow of Man.”  I was utterly humbled and awestruck.  I only managed to barely choke out the words “thank you” as she handed my book back to me and our eyes locked for just one brief second.  For her, I realize that moment was no different from any other interaction she’d had with the hundreds and hundreds of people in line before me; but for me, that moment was life-changing.

Seconds later, I stepped out of the theater into the night air I burst into tears and cried all the way back to my car… and continued to cry the entire drive home.  Like ugly cry.That was just the kind of moment I would have called excitedly to share with you and Moooomie and it made me ache so badly for both of you. I know you were with me, I could feel it the whole time… but it’s just not the same.  It’ll never be the same.

Love Always,


Oh. My. Stars. She's signing my book... She's signing my boooook!!!!!
Oh. My. Stars. She’s signing my book… She’s signing my boooook!!!!!










Letter to Moooooomie: March 25, 2016

Dear Moooomie,

I hope Brian won’t mind another letter to you tossed in here.  I so badly wanted to call you the other day.  I finally received my final tooth/implant after a year-long process of multiple surgeries, $4,000 and a whole bunch of healing time in between.   You were the first person I called when I found out, a year and a half ago, that one of my lower teeth had not fully healed after my jaw fracture all the way back in 1996 and it needed to be removed.  You were with me each step of the way through that long process… until now.

Since you were so far away in Minnesota, I sent you picture updates of what my sore and swollen mouth looked like right after my first surgery for the extraction and bone-grafting… and, in true Moooomie fashion you were empathetic and checked in on me often.  It meant so much to you that Leashya was with me through the whole process and took care of me afterwards.

post surgery
Disgusting. And, as it turns out, quite painful.
My new hardware.

Four months later I was back for my 2nd surgery to insert the post and do some more bone grafting.  My friend Marissa brought me that time and took great care of me; she even texted you a picture of me in the chair just as they were about to get the anesthesia started. You thanked her for being there.  I know you were so grateful for her, and Leashya, caring for me when you could not. When recuperating back at my place that evening I sent you this gem to prove to you that yes, I was relaxing in my “jammies” as you had instructed me to do:

See, Mom? I’m totally resting.

When I was in the dental office a few weeks ago to have impressions done before my implant tooth could be made, the dentist took a picture of me with those mouth-spreader things to show off all my toofers just like they did for my before/after pictures when I got braces in the 7th grade.  When she showed me the picture, I began to laugh uncontrollably (because the picture was absolutely hideous… and awesome.)  Soon the dentist and hygienist joined in and the 3 of us were having a great time. But shortly after the laughter stopped I started to tear up because I had just realized that a stupid picture just like that is exactly the kind of thing I’d have sent straight to you so we could laugh about it together.  I likely would have told you to print it out and hang it on your fridge or put in your wallet… and you totally would have done it, too.  So here it is, Momma. My dentist and I collectively decided that this just might have to be my Christmas card this year:

say cheese final
Say CHEESE! Hilariously ugly.
A brand new toofer!

You always took such good care of both of us kids, Mooooomie.  And I probably called you way too much… but I loved hearing your voice often and it felt so good to be loved as much as you loved us.  Each year on the anniversary of my car accident you would send me flowers to tell me how grateful you were that I survived; you treated August 11th just like an extra birthday for me.  You were so proud of me when I crossed the finish line of the Nashville marathon 4 years after breaking my spine– you were just beaming and I was so grateful that you flew all that way to support me and cheer me on.  You, Auntie Barbie and my friend Laura were the best cheerleaders anyone could have asked for.  Even from so far away you still made me feel so, so loved! Flowers on my birthday… every August 11th, cards for no reason, care packages “just because,” a mother’s day card and gift from my cats (aka YOU) and you even sent flowers to all four of us sisters featured in the “Four Sisters” documentary on the night of the premiere.  If for some reason you couldn’t be at any important events in my life in person, you made every effort to be there in spirit and for that I will always be so grateful.

I often hesitated to write too much about the details or specifics of my self-injury when you were still here because I knew that, as my Mom, reading about that would hurt you deeply to know how badly I hurt myself. I wanted to be honest but admittedly was a little guarded about it. You never wanted either of your kids to be in pain because you took that pain on yourself as most parents, particularly mothers, do.  I know that is only one of the millions of reasons Brian’s death was so painful for you.  I can’t imagine the agony you felt in your heart as his mother and to outlive him.  This may sound absolutely ridiculous, but the first time I hurt myself after you died, I was worried that wherever you are now that you could see what was happening and I actually found myself saying out loud to you, “I’m so sorry, Momma… but I have to do this.”

I recently wrote a letter and spoke about an experience I had seeking medical attention after a serious cutting episode.  Most people have responded with only kindness and empathy and for that I’m so grateful as I know it’s a bit of a risk to put myself out there in that way.  The typical response from those close to me involves them telling me they wish I wouldn’t hurt myself that way, that it saddens them to know that I’m in that much pain.  However, not all the feedback has been kind. This is something you wouldn’t expect a parent to say in response to their child hurting themselves:

“Does that truly make you feel better about yourself? If it is, it doesn’t seem to be working! You aren’t comfortable with who you are and that is your primary problem.  If you were you wouldn’t be hurting yourself like you do.”
 And that’s OK, not everyone is going to be supportive… and not everyone is going to understand.  But here’s the beauty in that– I can choose who I allow to get close to me and those who I need to distance myself from.  While I can’t control anyone else, I can control how I respond to them… or, in some cases, to not respond at all.
I so wish you and Brian were still here.  I love this song so much… it always makes me think you guys.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to listen to it without crying.  Have a listen and know I love you both.
Don’t Say Goodbye
Publisher: Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
I’m drinkin’ rain and taking pictures in the dark
With some flowers in my hair and a hole inside my heart
And the hole you left in me is so deep and it’s so wide

If you look I think you’ll see through right to the other side

Take the stars down that I wished on
Take the stars down from the sky
Take my heart and leave me here but when you go don’t say goodbye

I used to wait for trains that never come
I would wait for yesterday but I was waiting for no one
So now I don’t look for you to come walking through my door
Those were just the longings of a child who doesn’t live here anymore

Take the stars down that I wished on
Take my tears so I don’t cry
Take my heart and leave me here but when you go don’t say goodbye

So say a prayer for the ones love left behind
Cause a broken heart grown cold is the hardest burden you can find
There’s a bottle where god keeps all our tears saved up inside
But it’s gonna take a river for all the ones I have cried

Letter to Brian: March 22, 2016

Dear Brian,

After inhaling some delicious Chinese takeout recently, I received this fortune… for the second time in my life, actually.  I don’t take that coincidence lightly.


Honestly, I typically pay much less attention to the fortune than to the delicious cookie, because (aside from the fact that I have a deep-seated love of cookies) often they are useless gems like this one I’ve had taped to my monitor at work for the past few years:


I guess I shouldn’t say “useless” as that is certainly decent enough advice… for people who don’t know any better.  I, on the other hand, feel the warning was wasted on me as I’ve known not to do this for many, many years.  Perhaps this fortune would have been better-suited for the same person who requires the “DO NOT EAT” label on those little silica packets they put in a box of brand new shoes.  But I digress.

I’ve always said I’d be open, direct and honest in these letters to you… and I have been.  Not everyone who reads this blog is a fan and they have taken the time to let me know that and obviously, they are entitled to their opinion.  But those closest to me have been overwhelmingly supportive of my writings and have had only encouraging things to say; they are proud of my ability to make myself vulnerable.  The feedback I have received from total strangers has been so touching; to have someone thank me for being so honest and raw because it gave them the courage to do the same makes putting my own struggles out there worthwhile.  A large part of being human is the connections we make with others; and this blog has helped me form some very meaningful connections with friends– new and old.  Most importantly, it has helped me to continue to heal from things that have hurt me.  Many of the same things I speak about hurt you in similar ways as we were growing up.

While two specific people have described my entries as “torturing myself” by “continually reliving the past” I would beg to differ.  These are things that have been bottled up for a very long time and now, at age 42, I’m becoming more confident in myself and my ability to finally begin working through those things and set healthy boundaries for myself.  We all have our own issues.  We all have our own struggles.  But each of us has to make choices that are going to be best for our own well-being and those choices won’t always be what others might want for us. And having said that, if there is someone that undermines my emotional well-being and brings me more pain and emotional suffering than joy… well I deserve to distance myself from any relationship like that.  It’s taken me much too long to realize that but I do deserve that; I owe this realization to the support of the very caring therapist whom I’ve been seeing for the past 4 years.  I’ve recently begun attending support group meetings here in Austin for “Survivors of Narcissists, Borderlines and Anti-socials” who have also had to detach themselves from harmful relationships with others, particularly family and parents but also with regards to ending romantic relationships that are not healthy.  It’s been comforting to be in the company of a group of individuals with whom I share so many similarities; there have been moments where I swear we’ve finished each others’ thoughts because we know exactly what words are coming next.  Because we’ve been there.  All of us have had to cut ties with one (or more) people in our life because of an extremely toxic relationship; to have the reassurance from others who share such similar histories has been incredibly therapeutic, and validating, for me.

Someone who claims to love me said this to me after my last blog (copied and pasted):

“Don’t quit your job though because with all the things you say about yourself to the whole world will find its way to prospective employers.  They check on that now.  I suggest you no longer write a blog like the one today because do you think an employer would hire you after reading that stuff??”

I have no idea where that came from. I have no plans to quit my job so it was such a peculiar thing to say.  However, even if I did have those plans, that “warning” wouldn’t discourage me in any way because of the support I’ve received from strangers and friends alike.  I mean, it was disappointing (and revealing about where I stand with that person) but I certainly won’t let it discourage me.  I’m a flawed person, surely… but I’m a good person. Who isn’t flawed?  The world is full of others who suffer from depression, struggle with self-worth and self-harm and suicidal thoughts.  The only way to reduce the stigma around these struggles is to talk about them openly.  This illness does not make me any less qualified than any other person out there.

So getting back to that first fortune which said, “If I bring forth what is inside, me, what I bring forth will save me.”  So far, it’s been working for me… because I’m still here.

I miss you and Mooooooomie so, so much.  I’ve been loving the chilly nights we’ve been having here. It’s been refreshingly cold sleeping with the windows wide open; but I’ve stayed cozy in the warmth of the 2 blankets I crocheted– one for you for your last birthday and one for Mom for Christmas that same year.  Moooomie told me that she slept with her blanket every single night and that it was, in her words, “like my bee-yoooo-tee-full daughter giving me a hug each night.”

I had a reading with an intuitive/psychic this weekend.  I’m fully aware that many people do not share my belief that there is validity to what they do.  But it brought me so much comfort to hear from you and Mom and Grandma Mary! I was absolutely blown away by the experience.  It was encouraging to have you and Mooomie validate the decisions I’ve made recently with regards to setting safe boundaries for myself. (Which the intuitive brought up on her very own within the first 15 seconds of our session!)  I’m typically so quick to second-guess myself so having you both reaffirm my choices was reassuring for me.  And to hear that she was picking up on Grandma Mary’s “sassiness” absolutely made my day! I could totally picture her in my mind giving me a little wink to go along with that mischievous smile of hers when she was being coy.  I’m so glad y’all are together on the other side.  Mom missed you so much, dude.  She was never the same after losing you.

Please take care of one another.  I love you guys!






Letter to Moooomie and Brian: March 11, 2016

Dear Moomie and Brian,

Soooo… I follow a Facebook page called “Confessions of a Funeral Director.”  Today he shared a great post that read:

Can we please stop using the phrase (and it’s numerous variations) “heaven needed a new angel?”

We can find better ways to express our grief and condolences than by using a cliche that overlooks pain and the reality of loss in the here and now. God has plenty of angels and I really doubt he needs another, especially when it has caused the bereaved so much pain and suffering. Death is hard, grief is tough and we need to uses phrases that acknowledge that difficulty instead of diminish it.

I really connected with that so much.  I should have just kept scrolling on by (after giving the post the “thumbs up”) but I did what I absolutely should have known better than to do– I clicked on the comments.  And then proceeded to read them.

There was a note from a woman who had said she was upset at repeatedly hearing “Well, this was God’s plan” at the visitation for her 19 year-old nephew who died by suicide.  In response to that, a self-proclaimed “devout Catholic” offered this gem:

“Give me the proper phrase.  I’m sure it wouldn’t do to meaningfully approach a parent of a victim of suicide with, ‘Oh my… I’m so sorry for your failure.‘ Just EXACTLY what would you like to hear???”

I’ve discussed this before but it just angers me so much.  I mean, as a non-believer it didn’t offend me one bit when people said, “I’m praying for you” or “I lit a candle for you at church on Sunday.”  Nothing about that was hurtful though we both knew full well that I do not share their beliefs.  I was very aware that the message behind their words was one of love and genuine caring.  So I can totally respect that and I appropriately responded with “thank you.” But to tell someone who has just lost a loved one that they are “in a better place” or “God needed him more” is a bit too far for my own comfort.  Why is it so difficult to just say, “I’m sorry for your loss?”  Or simply just be there to listen?  Or just offer a warm hug in silence?

In that same Facebook thread, while it was chock full of people who feel the exact same way that I do, there were a number of people chiming in to say, “lighten up” or “if you’re an atheist you just need to shut up” or “what is wrong with the world that it is so full of ‘politically correct’ overload nowadays?  I’m going to say whatever I want, you can’t take my Jesus away from me!”  I just don’t see it that way. Wanting someone to be respectful of where I’m at doesn’t equate to “taking away their Jesus.”

If I know that someone who is of faith is struggling with the loss of a loved one, I will willingly offer up an “I’m praying for you” to them.  My prayer might not be the same as their prayer, but I know it is meaningful to them just the same.  I don’t see anything wrong with meeting the other person where they are at without imposing our own beliefs onto theirs.  To me, it’s about respect.  And honestly, telling me that it was “God’s will” for my brother die by suicide at 35 wasn’t OK.  Nothing about him being dead was OK.  It wasn’t then and it isn’t now.  And regardless of what I believe, I would never impose my views on someone at such a delicate time such as grieving the loss of a loved one.

I wasn’t surprised but I was bothered to see the number of hurtful comments being slung at one another; from non-believers to Christians and vice versa.  I don’t see how someone who claims to be a “child of  God” could say to someone grieving the loss of their child by suicide, “I’m sorry you failed at being a parent.”  It’s ignorant.  It’s cruel.  It’s inexcusable.  And from what I know about the bible, it isn’t very Christ-like, either.

I have a friend who is an atheist.  She had been at a party and had spent a bit of time having a nice conversation with a woman there.  After a bit, this woman asked her where she attended church.  My friend told her that she didn’t attend church and she was actually an atheist.  To which the woman replied, “Oh my!  Really???  But you… you seemed so nice!!”  It upsets me when people seem to equate a moral compass with religion.  You don’t need a higher power to be a good human. I’m a kind person. I smile at strangers. I hold the door open for people.  I volunteer.  And today, when using the last of the toilet paper in the bathroom stall at work, i went to get a new roll out of the supply closet so the next person wouldn’t be caught stranded on the toilet with no paper.  Because that’s how I roll.  (Get it?  Roll?  Toilet paper??  OK… moving on.) I just thought it might be nice to save the next person the discomfort. I try to treat others as I’d like to be treated.  I get that from you, Moooomie.  You were one of the most caring people I’ve ever known.  It is such a blessing to hear people tell me how much I remind them of you.  And Brian, she passed that kindness on to you, too.  I still hear from people who knew you that say how sweet of a person you were.

Gosh, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached for my phone to call you, Momma.  Today I took myself to lunch and sat there and cried alone over my chicken fajitas and then, with time in my lunch break to spare, I drove back to the office and sat in my car in the parking lot and cried some more.  After I’d gathered myself together a bit a few co-workers invited me to walk down the road with them to watch President Obama’s motorcade go by.  It was a really cool experience and I immediately thought of how I should call you to tell you I just totally waved at the president!  Not long after that thought crossed my mind, I found a penny.  Then just a few moments later I looked at the grass and spotted some dandelions growing there.  I was immediately reminded of our childhood; Brian and I would ride our bikes to the neighborhood grocery store with a bag full of pennies to buy some candy and we’d usually come back with little handfuls of violets and dandelions we had picked for you on the way.  You always smiled, hugged and thanked us and put them in a little vase in the window behind the kitchen sink to show them off.  They might have just been weeds but they were more than that to us and you made us feel as though we had just given you the entire world.   Maybe the penny and that memory on my walk today was you both letting me know that you actually were already sharing that moment with me.  I really hope so.

Oh, and Moooomie!  I thought of you at the dentist last week; I was there to get impressions done for my final implant.  (Can you believe it?  It will be a whole year by the time I’m all finished as the tooth came out last April!)  Anyway… my dentist had used that plastic mouth-spreader to take a good picture of my teeth to send to the lab and I nearly had tears rolling down my face when she showed me the picture.  It was awful. And hideous.  And AWESOME.  It made me immediately think how that is exactly the kind of picture I would have sent straight to you.  In fact, remember that time when we were talking on the phone when I was at my lunch break at Carlson and I was telling you how yummy my food was?  You asked me what I was eating and I told you to hold on… that I’d send you a picture of it so you could see.  You surely were expecting to get a picture of a bowl of soup, or a slice of pizza or a sandwich.  But instead, I had taken a huge bite of my casserole, opened my mouth wide and snapped a picture of the contents of my mouth mid-bite… and I sent it to you.  You laughed so. hard.  I loved your laugh… and I adored making you laugh like that.  Brian and Moooomie, you both had such infectious laughs and I dearly miss hearing them both.

I’m really doing my best to stay grounded here without you both.  Some days I sort of feel like a plant that has been re-potted though carelessly…. so the roots aren’t really taking hold again, you know?  You both leaving me has left me feeling disconnected from the world in a way that admittedly concerns me and can’t quite be put into words.  But please know that I’m doing the very best that I can.  I have amazing friends who love me and have been so supportive.  I’m still going to therapy 3-4 times a month which has been helpful. And, most importantly, I’ve made breaks from relationships that were not serving me well.  Taking care of myself in that way has become more important to me and I’ve come to realize that sometimes connections need to be severed when it comes to people with whom I have an unhealthy relationship. It’s important for my own self-care and growth and, quite honestly, my survival.

Well, I guess that’s it for now.  I’ll leave you with the words of Grand-MaMa Mary:

“I love you dearly.”




Letter to Brian: February 24, 2016

Dear Brian,

You know that whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” thing? It’s a trap, I’m sure of it.  The past 6 years have been filled with a whole bunch of sadness and I don’t feel a shred stronger.  I don’t have my head buried in the sand, I realize there are many people out there who are going through (and have been through) much, much worse.  But for me, personally, I’ve never been very well-equipped at handling stress and hardship.  I’ve been getting through it and all… but not without feeling–every single day– like giving up, harming myself, crying myself to sleep and begging the universe for the energy to keep going.  I can thank my depression for that unwelcome quality.

After being home in October with Mom to celebrate you on the 5 year anniversary of your death, she died one month later.  She was all I had left of our little family.  Just when my heart was beginning to piece itself back together, I lost her too. Since her death, my blood pressure has been holding steady at a distressingly high level so I’ve been put on medication to help bring it back down again; so far, it isn’t working very well.

About 6 weeks ago I got a letter from my father asking me to give him back all of the money that he had to pay out for my Mom’s half of their house in the divorce (that she left to me) claiming it would be a “loan” and I’d get that money back when he dies.  I knew he was going to ask me for it, I’m just surprised it took 2 whole months for that to happen.

Then about 3 weeks ago, out of the blue I get a suuuuuper lengthy email from someone who is no longer in my life shaming me for things I have shared in my blog.  It really shouldn’t have mattered to me but I’m a good person so of course hearing someone tell me that they don’t like me is going to hurt and so, like the weakling I am, I cried until I started choking and my eyes swelled shut and then I cut myself. (Yes, I’m fully aware that an emotionally healthy person would not have responded that way.)  I didn’t sleep a single wink until the airport shuttle came to pick me up at 3:00 in the morning for my trip home to Minnesota.  Clearly I don’t handle stress well because the next night I broke out in shingles due to the stress.  Awesome.  The letter doesn’t bother me now because frankly, it just doesn’t really matter anymore.  Besides, sending a letter like that only 3 months after someone’s Mom dies is just selfish timing if you ask me. I’m blessed with so many wonderful friends who all know the truth and what’s in my heart and love me unconditionally. I’m so grateful for that.

But guess what… the good news keeps coming.  Yesterday, I happened to stop home for 5 minutes during my lunch break and I got SERVED.  I’m being sued by a woman for a positively frivolous car accident a year and a half ago.  While the insurance company did file in her favor, the choice she made to make a right turn directly in front of me was a terribly poor one.  But because there were no witnesses (other than my ex-boyfriend in the car with me) they filed in her favor because, without enough room to react, I bumped into HER.  Exceptionally minimal damage in our incident but apparently the $100,000 that my insurance policy allows isn’t enough money for her and she’s decided to slap me, personally, with a lawsuit.  Because I didn’t already have enough on my plate, you know.

My whole life my depression has told me that I’m not good enough, that I don’t deserve respect and that I can’t handle life in a healthy way.  And most of the time I’ve agreed with it.  In case you’re wondering… YES, I’m still taking my medication religiously and yes, I’m still going to therapy.  I’ve been going to therapy since I was 17 years old.  Maybe I’m doing it wrong?? Since early childhood, I’ve always had this feeling, my entire life, of “treading water.”  As though I’m out there, doing all I can to keep my head above water.  It’s exhausting.  Just when I feel as though I’m beginning to reach dry land I’m hit with another setback… or another depressive episode (or anxiety-riddled episode) or worse–  a setback and depressive episode at the same time.

I didn’t write you about this when it happened… because I was hurt and angry… but I’d like to tell you about it now.  The night I got back from Minnesota after 2 weeks there for Mom’s funeral, I cut myself pretty badly.  It’s not as though I didn’t have anyone I could call and talk to– and I’d received an overwhelming stream of support for those 2 weeks– but the urge had been building and building and building and once I was finally alone I just needed to do it.  It was what it was. A few days later, on Monday, I went back to work.  It was so hard to be there, trying my best to get back into a flow of “regular life” knowing full well what I had ahead of me– not just in terms of grieving, but getting through the holidays and then having to deal with all the stress of the details of Mom’s estate and making sure everything gets taken care of.  That same afternoon, I had a follow-up appointment with the psychiatric resident I’d been seeing monthly for my medication refills.  As always, I was honest about the cutting– I don’t ever lie about it to my caregivers.  Her response was exactly what it shouldn’t have been. 

For starters, the look of shame on her face was difficult enough. But from there she went on to force me to show her the wound.  No therapist or psychiatrist in all my years of treatment has ever forced me to expose myself to them in that way.  They’ve always taken my word that if I absolutely needed to seek medical treatment that I would do so.  (Mind you, all of my injuries have been ones for which normal people would have sought out medical treatment and all of them would have required stitches).  But the difference is that it is insurmountably humiliating to go to a doctor and say, “Hey big guy, I just put an 11-inch gash in my left leg; can you just go ahead and stitch that back up for me??”  If you cut yourself in a kitchen accident, you aren’t going to have a psychiatrist called in to tell you that you should be locked up.  Although ONE time in 2001 I did go to urgent care to seek treatment for a wound because my close friend was worried about it and made me promise I’d go– I gave her my word so I went, fully prepared to be humiliated.  But I lucked out that time– the doctor was very kind and warm towards me.  I produced for him my medication list, the names and numbers of my therapist, psychiatrist and group therapy leader.  He warmly told me that he was sorry that it had happened but that he realized I was in control of the situation and that he wouldn’t call for the psych consult as he didn’t feel it was necessary.  He let me leave the office (after getting 10 staples in my thigh) with some dignity and self-respect, which I was not expecting.  What a kind, kind man.

But this psychiatric resident I saw the end of November, after forcing me to lift my sleeve to show her my injury, gasped in shock and disgust.  She said, “Laura, this is really bad.  I mean, really, really bad. You absolutely need to promise me that you’re going to go see a doctor today.  PROMISE ME.  If not, you need to know that I could have you put on a psychiatric hold.”  I tried to assure her that I was completely fine but was just having a rough time.  But that just wasn’t what she wanted to hear.  She went on to tell me I could lose my arm and even die from this wound.  No sensationalism there, huh?

At that point, 48 hours had already passed since the injury occurred and, because of my 30 years of experience, I was fully aware that after 8 hours, they will not stitch up the wound.  I told her this and said that in all my years of self-harm I’ve never ever had an injury become infected.  It’s a terrible coping mechanism to rely upon but I’m always very careful and always very clean.  I assured her that I absolutely did NOT require medical attention.  However, with her continuing to present the threat of being “detained” I promised her that I would go.  Boy, did I ever regret that decision.

That evening, I went to urgent care, accompanied by a dear and caring friend.  It was just awful, Brian.  The nurse was pretty nice to me, though the look of disappointment when I told her why I was there was pretty obvious.  But when the doctor came in and asked me to show her the wound, she rolled her eyes and looked at me with such pity and shame.  It was so humiliating.  Then she asked me, “Why are you even here?  We can’t do anything for you, it’s been too long!  And it’s clearly not infected so I don’t know why you bothered to come in.”  I continued to tell her the only reason I’d come was because I was instructed to do so and I kept my word.  I was so embarrassed; I went there and paid yet another $75 to have a doctor shame me for what was already causing me a great disappointment in myself.  No medical treatment… just the indignity and a bigger dent in my checking account.  What a waste.

I dodged calls from the psych resident for a few weeks after that.  Then, in December when I was back at Mom’s house trying to go through all of her belongings, she called again. I decided to take that call.  She asked me if I had sought out medical treatment like I told her I would.  I sort of unleashed on her because she was being so condescending.  She was so sure that medical treatment was necessary.  I told her that yes, I did go see a doctor.  She asked if they stitched me up.  I said, “Of course not!  I told you that they wouldn’t.  It had been too long.”  She then asked if they gave me antibiotics.  I replied, “Of course not!!  The doc looked at the wound, told me it wasn’t infected.”  She said, “Well, what did they do for you?”  To which I replied, “They did NOTHING ma’am.  Aside from embarrassing me and charging me $75 to do so, they did nothing. It was a complete waste of my energy, my time and my money.”

A week later, I received a letter from her stating they were dropping me as a patient.  I was fine with that, as I did had no interest in pursuing sessions with her any longer.  However, I did send a follow-up letter to her to let her know the ways in which she might improve her bedside manner in her future interactions with self-harmers.  Maybe it will help, maybe it won’t.

Oh well.  Guess I’ve rambled on enough for today.  Thanks for listening, as always.  I miss you and Mom so much, dude.





Letter to Brian: February 10, 2016

Dear Brian,

You would have turned 41 years old today.  I plan on celebrating your day by watching your favorite movie, Gladiator, and pizza and by lighting the candle Leashya made me a few years ago.  These little ceremonial things are really important to me– I don’t ever want to stop recognizing this day.

I’ve had a rough go of it, lately.  I had a full-on meltdown on Wednesday evening last week.  I watched Mom’s memorial video 4 times in a row and just cried and cried and cried until I fell asleep.  I’d had an alright day so I’m not completely sure what prompted the breakdown; although my theory is that since I didn’t drink any alcohol at all that night I wasn’t completely numbed-out like I usually am.  Yes, I’m aware that this is not an acceptable coping mechanism for the long-term but for now it certainly does help.

Unfortunately, so does cutting.  After all these years, it still helps.  I know that’s the last thing that those who care about me want to hear and believe me, it’s the last thing that I want to tell them.  I injured on the 25th of January… a pretty substantial one, as always.  And, unfortunately, after a rather shitty experience late this past Friday evening I broke down and cut yet again.  That makes 3 times since Mom died in November.  It’s far beyond humiliating to admit to that but I’ve always been upfront with you in these letters and I want others who suffer from this to know that having a setback now and then is OK as long as they’re getting the help that they need… which I absolutely am.

I was back home in Minnesota this past weekend to celebrate at Auntie Barb’s 60th surprise birthday party.  It was a short trip but so worth it to be there for her special day; she was so surprised and so happy to see me.  I wish you and Mom could have been there, too.  It felt so strange to be back there this time.  The last two visits were for the funeral and to clean out her house, so pretty much just business and sorrow.  This was different… I was going strictly for a social visit this time.  Mom’s absence was even more pronounced this time and I felt completely “orphaned.”  I had a dozen offers of places to stay when I was there. I’m deeply blessed to have so many people who care for me; it’s comforting to know that I am welcome to stay with all of them.  But… none of them feel like home.  I felt, for the very first time ever, a complete visitor in my hometown.  Mom wasn’t there to pick me up at airport or to bring me back there.  I really missed that.  I always looked forward to standing outside watching the traffic go by and watching for her white Subaru wagon to come into view.  I’d get in the car, we’d hug and she’d say with delight, “Hullooo, my honey, how are you??”

Physically I haven’t been doing so great, either.  I’m now on blood pressure medicine… my elevated blood pressure started right after Mom died.  I can’t stop eating so I’m gaining weight pretty quickly.  I’m tired and achy nearly all of the time.  And today I found out I have a shingles outbreak and I want to scratch my flesh off of the bone.  I was told it was likely brought on by stress– it started this weekend.  After the night I had on Friday, I have to tell you that I’m not at all surprised.  Stress has a lovely way of manifesting itself in glorious ways.  I’m kind of over it!  I’d say it’s far more fascinating when it’s happening to other people, though.

That book I contributed to is available for sale now.  I don’t make any money off of it but I don’t mind at all… that wasn’t the point of joining the project.  The point was to help others grieving a suicide loss.  And honestly, it’s just a thrill to see pieces of my own writing in a real, live book that people can pull off of a shelf and buy.  They’re running another series and this next time I’m participating in a book about living with self-harm.  I was asked to be a co-author and to help construct the questions for the participants to answer… it was pretty easy to rattle a whole bunch of them off because the subject matter hits so close to home.  It’s shockingly easy to write about things that you know so much about.  I’m really looking forward to this project and I hope that it will help a few people, too.

Well I guess I should go order myself that pizza to get your one-person birthday celebration started.

Cheers, dude.  I love you.




Letter to Brian: January 15, 2016

Dear Brian,

After the dump-fest of a letter I wrote you the other day, I got to thinking…. maybe I should go into more detail about depression and what it does to me, personally, to help others who also read these letters better understand exactly what depression is… or what it isn’t.

In our session on Monday, my therapist told me that that one way in which she’s heard people describe major depression is that you’re just as sad as if someone has died… though no one has.  Though I once heard something else that resonated with me even more: Sarah Silverman says, “Depression is feeling homesick… except you’re already home.”

There is a popular phrase amongst sufferers like me: Depression Lies.  It’s freaking true!  Your mind manages to distort things in such unpleasant ways that you literally believe only the worst things about yourself.  There’s a filter of sorts, at work, really.  They talk about what is happening in the mind of someone who suffers from body dysmorphia; a person might have reached a deathly low body weight leaving them appearing skeletal yet somehow, when they look at their reflection, they still see someone who is overweight. They will continue to starve themselves of the nutrition they need to survive in an attempt to lose even more weight. Until they seek help, it’s never going to be enough. There’s something happening in their brain that makes it impossible to see themselves as they really are.  My brain also has it’s own kind of flawed lens through which I see myself in relation to the rest of the world.

For instance, when my marriage of 8 years ended, we ended on spectacular terms and only words of great kindness were exchanged between us.  He told me what a smart, funny, loving, kind, caring and wonderful person I was and that he was grateful to have been a part of my life for those 8 years.  And the one-year relationship I was in after our divorce ended quite painfully but respectfully and very lovingly; we had nothing but kind words for one another as we parted ways for good. However, my most recent relationship somehow has left me feeling as though I’m “off balance” enough to not deserve someone who loves and cares for me despite my obvious flaws… and that maybe I’m just”too much work and effort” for anyone to bother being in a relationship with.  We haven’t spoken a word to one another since we split up and I’ve taken his impression of me to heart for some reason.  Why is it so much easier for me to believe his image of me (after only 2-1/2 years together, only one month of which we actually lived together) rather than the wonderfully kind things my ex-husband said after living with me for an entire 8 years?  You’d think that I’d be inclined to believe the person who spent the most time with me and really got to know the truest version of me but no… my depression instead tells me that I’m broken beyond repair and undeserving of love.  Why? Because someone tells me that I can be “too needy and insecure” sometimes?  I mean, who hasn’t been either of those things at one time or another?  Why is it so hard for me to believe that perhaps I might actually have enough wonderful qualities about me that make me just as loveable as anyone else?  Not that I’m looking for it, mind you.  After what this last year did to me in terms of my love life as well as the soul-crushing grief I’m currently experiencing, I’m nowhere ready to be in a relationship with anyone but myself for many years to come, I’d imagine.

What depression isn’t is a fleeting feeling or regular sadness.  It lasts longer than weeks and months and doesn’t go away on it’s own, it has to be treated.  Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or a character flaw.  Depression isn’t a choice. It’s also not all emotional pain; there are many physical side effects from depression.  It can mess with your gastrointestinal system.  It can cause sleep disturbances.  It can screw up your appetite– you either can’t stop eating or you have no appetite at all; sometimes it fluctuates between the two.  It can cause chronic headaches and back pain. You know that achy, exhausted, run-down feeling you have when you’ve got the flu?  You’re tired all the time, sore muscles and joints, everything feels physically more difficult?  Yup, feels like that.  All the time.  But because you don’t have anything that outwardly makes you appear sick you get to hear fun things like, “Put on your big girl panties and suck it up.”  Or, “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” How about, “You have to CHOOSE to be happy, you know.”  Or some multitude of variations of, “You know so many people have REAL things to be depressed about, don’t you?”

I know much of society believes someone choosing to end their life because of a deep depression, like you did, is a selfish choice.  You know that I’ve never believed that because I know what it feels like to be in such a prolonged state of profound sadness that you have great difficulty seeing any way out.  I came across a quote today by David Foster Wallace that really hit home with me and it might put into perspective for other people why I feel the way I do:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

Another quote of his that seemed to scream, “Yes!  That’s exactly what is happening in my head!!” was this one:

What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.

That’s how I feel about all of these letters to you– they help me and all, you know, to feel like I can still talk to you– but they all still seem to leave me feeling insatiable.  It’s as though I’m just never quite able to articulate things as fully or as eloquently as I could be to really express what it feels like inside my mind.  It just always feels like there’s so much more to say.  Who knows?  Maybe the right words don’t even exist and I’ll keep on writing these letters to you forever… feverishly grasping for the perfect words like someone endlessly swinging at a piñata in a pitch black room but never making contact; and, all the while, because it is so dark, they do not even realize that there is no piñata there.

So for the time being, I will keep on writing these letters to you, dude.  Whether or not the “perfect” words exist, I do not know.  But I do know that it sure helps to try.


Letter to Mom: December 24, 2015

Dear Mooooooooomie,

I don’t think Brian will mind me taking this chance to write a letter to you instead; after all, you’ve been the biggest supporter of these letters and it was because of you that I began them in the first place.

You died last month, Momma.  You left me.  You and I spent the last 5 years grieving for Brian together and now I have to find some way to grieve both of you… alone. It feels unbearable.  I’m still in shock and most days I just feel numb.  It’s only me now.  I’m aware that I have friends who care and I appreciate that so, so much; however, I can’t shake this sense of feeling like an island and I’m experiencing an incredible urge to distance myself from people… from things… from life.  In a sense it’s as though I am a helium balloon that was tethered to the earth by your love for me and your desire for me to desire life… and your death severed that tie and now I’m floating about aimlessly, watching life pass by below me.  I’m watching it all happen, but it all just feels so far, far away.  I know my honesty about this is painful for you, and for my friends.  But I truly feel as though I’m just “existing.”  It’s like being at your job on a Friday after a particularly long, exhausting week and seeing others able to leave early while you’re itching in your seat and counting the seconds until 5:30 when you are free to leave, too.  Just like a job, some people up and quit life like Brian did… some people are “let go” like you were, and others, like me, watch the minutes pass by like years just getting through each day because it’s just what you’re supposed to do.

So many people came to pay their respects to you, Moomie.  I hope you had even a hint of an idea of how much you were truly loved, respected and appreciated by so many people.  They all spoke of your generous heart, the way you cared for others and the way you lit up a room with your smile and your incredible wit! I spoke briefly at your funeral.  I stared down at the words I’d written, intentionally avoiding looking out at the faces of all who were there to mourn alongside me for fear of a complete meltdown.  Here’s what I said about you that day:

I couldn’t have asked for a more giving, nurturing or loving Mom.  She tirelessly put others first and as her children we never went a single day wondering how much we were loved and cherished.  I feel undeserving of it and can only hope that I was half as good a daughter to her as she was a Mother to Brian and me.

When my only sibling, my brother Brian, took his own life 5 years ago, her heart was absolutely broken and a huge piece of her was missing.  I wanted so badly to take away some of that pain for her but it was so hard because I was just as broken.  So we just did the only thing we could do– lean on each other.

I came back home last month for a visit and at the time I didn’t yet know just how special those last few days would become to me.  We laughed so, so much.  I wonder if part of her knew that would be the last time we’d be together because when we parted ways at the airport she hugged me harder and longer than ever before.

She was all I have left so the support from her sister, my Auntie Barb, has been life-saving for me.  Barb, I’m so sorry that this time she’s making your mascara run from tears of sadness and pain rather than tears of joy and uninhibited laughter.

One thing that brings me comfort is knowing that the past few months in her very own new home brought her so much peace and happiness. She was finally starting to get back to the old self she’d lost over the years and I was so happy for her and so proud that she had the courage to do that for herself.  I am grateful that she found some happiness again in the last few months.

Thank you to all of you for the outpouring of love and hugs and words of comfort you’ve provided to me.  It means the world to me and it would mean the world to her that you are all taking such good care of me on her behalf.

Today is Christmas Eve.  I was supposed to be with you today… but I cancelled the trip after you died. Instead, I walked alone to my tree and I spread some of your ashes.  Now a part of you is there alongside Brian.  On October 26th I surprised you by booking myself a ticket to come spend the holiday with you and you were so excited.  You told me that this was the first Christmas you had looked forward to since Brian died and my heart nearly burst with joy for hearing that.  You were going to buy us a tree, Momma.  You hadn’t wanted a tree in years.  But you and I still had each other and you were just beginning a fresh start away from the toxicity of the marriage you stayed in far too long.  Now instead of a joyful holiday, for me it will be the most painful one yet.

I can’t shake one feeling.  I positively despise myself for having spent the last Christmas you were alive away from you.  Furthermore, I spent it with the family of a boyfriend who admitted he wouldn’t have done the same for me. As we were planning our Christmas trip I said to him, “Maybe we can alternate and next year we can go to Minnesota to spend Christmas with my Mom?” He simply said, “I don’t think so. I just always spend that holiday with my family.” The fact that I let the very last Christmas I ever could have spent with you pass by to be with someone who wouldn’t have done the same for me absolutely breaks my heart.  I’m so angry at myself. I’m so sorry for that, Momma.  I should have been with you, and I wasn’t.

I didn’t deserve you.  Your heart was so big and so wide-open to me and I could be so closed-off.  I’m so much better at typing things out like this than I am at communicating feelings face to face.  You loved reading these letters I’ve been writing to Brian and so often told me that you related to so much of it and that I somehow had verbalized all the same things you had been feeling.  I could be wrong, but it always felt like some of those letters were helping you heal, too.  I hope so.

You had your own way with words and always seemed to know what to say to someone when they were hurting.  In a sympathy card you gave to someone else who had lost their mother just days before you died, you shared these very words:

You’ll never forget your mother’s face, the sound of her voice, the gentleness of her touch… they let you know you were loved.

You’ll never forget the stories she told, the traditions she handed down… they let you know who you are.

You’ll never forget the lessons she taught, the things she stood for… they are her gift and her legacy.

You’ll never forget and you’ll always know that you honor her everyday in how you live and who you are.

-Author Unknown

That was the last card you ever sent and they gave me a copy of it to keep.  Your words meant so much to them and, as it turns out, those words you intended for them as comfort have now been passed on back to me to comfort me in my own grief over losing you.

When going through your things I found a copy of an email you had saved from Mother’s Day in May of 2000.  It was from your father-in-law and said this:

I was thinking today that I had no one to whom I could say “Happy Mother’s Day.”  Then I realized that was not true.  I had you!  You fit all the criteria and then some.

I felt how lucky I was to have my Mom.  But, then I knew how fortunate I was to have you as Mom to the kids.

I know how hard you have worked to make things come out right.  You’re a real fighter and the results of your efforts are in the kids as well as that older kid, Bill.  You are the catalyst.

Happy Mother’s Day, Judy.

Love, Dad

All of that is so true!  Everything good that came from Brian and me began with you, Momma.  You showed us true, unconditional love and what it means to be kind and loving and giving. You spent most of your life giving to others and from a very young age Brian and I went with you to the nursing home where you spent a few days a week and learned about compassion by watching you with others. It makes me so proud that I heard over and over how much I reminded people of you.  They said, “You really are your mother’s daughter.”  I can’t think of a better compliment than that… it’s comforting to know that I absorbed your best qualities and that others see that.

Brian and I knew that if we ever needed some comfort, someone to listen and really be present with us that you were the one.  You supported us in everything we did, always made us feel special and that our feelings and opinions mattered.  Thank you for loving us so much.

I spent tonight with a wonderful friend watching a silly movie, inhaling Chinese food and wine and laughing.  It was just really nice to pretend it wasn’t Christmas.  I had plenty of invites to spend the holiday with friends’ families and while it was so kind of them to offer… I just knew it would hurt too much to try and shake off the self-pity I’d have felt as an outsider watching someone else’s family celebrate together. I needed to pretend tonight was just like any other night… and not the first Christmas Eve without my Mom.

I love you so very much, my Moooooomie and I miss you terribly.  I believe you are with Brian now.  Please watch over me, Momma… I’ll never stop needing you.