Browsing Tag


Anxiety, depression, Guest Posts

The Woman Who Stares at Clocks

November 6, 2017

By Tasha Kerry Smith

I wake each morning to the sound of silence and stare at the clock. Plastic, pink, old-style alarm clock with big numbers. The little hand crouches at nine and the big hand is in between the 2 and 3. I will wait till it hits 3, exactly a quarter past, before moving. Starting every activity on a concrete number helps me know where I start and finish. In the waiting minutes the voice speaks its filth: You’re worthless. Lazy. The world would be better off without you.

My morning is unremarkable but carried out at a tense pace, as if I have an A.M. conference call with the UN though I’m freelance and set my own schedule. I eat a small breakfast standing by the sink; brace myself for the dog walk. On bad days, when the voice is loud, I don’t like going outside. Too much activity. Too many people. Deliverymen shouting orders. Shoppers running errands. Dogs barking. Horns honking. Every noise hurts. I weave through them, head down, and make for the beach, where the dog can roam and the voice creeps into the quiet: Worthless. Hateful. Bitch. It’s takes physical strength to restrain it. My mind is shot.

To cope, I watch the clock, plan my day, giving each task a time slot. If I complete a task within the allotted time, I relax. If I don’t, I panic. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts


October 2, 2017

By Cheryl Jacobs

I never know when it’s going to happen, the sensation of pressure on my body, trapped, breath catching in my throat, desperate to escape. It makes me feel crazy.

I pay attention to traffic, think about what time I leave, the roads to take, all to avoid Los Angeles congestion.  I don’t like the feeling of being caught, pinned in.  But this morning I have an early therapy appointment and, as soon as I make the turn onto Olympic Blvd., I see only bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I ease my car in, all the while talking to myself.

“Relax, breathe, it’s okay, it will ease up soon.”

But it doesn’t.  I’m caught in the middle of three lanes of traffic moving slowing forward, connected by some unseen muscle keeping us tightly joined.

My car inching along, stopping entirely for minutes at a stretch, I feel the unwelcome tightening of my body.  The feeling of entrapment rises up, no exit, no exit, no exit, acutely aware of the hardness of the metal surrounding me, pressing, leaving no room to move left or right.

Panic rises like vapor, choking me. Continue Reading…

cancer, depression, Guest Posts

Where Are All The Silver Linings?

June 30, 2017

CW: This essay discusses depression and suicide. If you or someone you know needs helps now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.

By Melissa McAllister

Even before cancer, I was intimately acquainted with depression and anxiety.  We shared more than one dance together.  We fight.  We makeup.  We fight.  We breakup.  That’s just the way it’s always been.  On and Off.  I managed this relationship with an assortment of tricks.  There are the therapists I would purge all my thoughts and feelings onto weekly.  There is the pharmacy where I routinely picked up the latest antidepressant and anti anxiety pills I was prescribed.  Sometimes they even tossed  in a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic for good measure.  And then there was the doctor who I checked in with on a regular basis to make certain all was going as planned.

As a person so prone to depression and anxiety, believe me when I tell you – keeping that many appointments and having that many interactions in order to procure those tiny little things that are going to hopefully help you feel better is fucking hard to do.  If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, you know exactly what I mean.  But I managed, mostly. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts

My Not So Hidden Anxiety

May 31, 2017

By Sara Ohlin

“Oh! We’re going to be late. We’re going to be late!” Lily’ s panicked voice rose above the din of skiers making their way toward the lodge mixed with the sounds of cars parking, children laughing.

I grasped her small, warm hand and squeezed it gently, as much for my own comfort as for hers. “Honey, we’ll be fine,” I said in the calmest voice I could fake for her. I was good at faking. “Jasper is the only one who has a lesson. We made it just in time, we’ll get him settled, then you and Dada can get your gear and go ski. We’re fine.”

My insides mimicked her panic. Officially we were on time. As in, my son’s lesson starts at 11:30 and it was now 11:30, but we still had to get him checked in and get his snowboard gear on. Late was more like it. Not as in we’re going to be late, but we were late. I hated being late. It made the bile rise in my throat and I wanted to spit it out on whoever was closest. I hated being late to the point I often didn’t react well if I knew it was a possibility. I looked down at my daughter, her blue eyes closed tight in the face of the sun, or impending lateness. I couldn’t tell, but in that second I felt the stab in my heart. Oh no! I thought, she’s just like me. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts, Yoga

Yoga Taught Me I Could Stare Down Fear

April 24, 2017

By Amy Moore

I grew up as a painfully shy, introverted girl in a family with three brothers.  Like many others, my parents were held hostage by their own demons which left them unable to function in a capacity that a child needs as they’re growing up.  At home, it was best to be quiet, obedient, and almost invisible as an effort to keep the calm among the chaos.

As a kid, I sat on the sidelines observing others living life and unable to get past my anxiety to be able to participate in many activities or make many friends.  My life remained similar as I grew into a teenager.  My emotional pain manifested into numerous unhealthy habits, the most profound was my body image.  In early adolescents, I began my journey with anorexia and bulimia and suffered with it secretly for years. Maybe in a sense I was trying to disappear, to go unnoticed and unseen through life.

Although I was physically and mentally unhealthy I longed to be a healthy strong person. I read and researched everything that sparks my interest, which is exactly how I came to find yoga.  When I started reading about yoga I was fascinated about the stories of health and healing that so many people experienced. However, it didn’t seem possible to me.  How could stretching and breathing change your entire life? Regardless of my reservations, I felt drawn to learning more.  I wanted to know more about the practice peacefully displayed on DVD covers and magazines. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

On Having “Issues”

March 30, 2017

By Laura Romain

Last night I dreamed about my ex-fiancé’s new girlfriend. In real life, I know nothing except her name, but my dream turned her into everything I wish I could be: radiant, smiling, lighthearted.

I dreamed that I shouted at her. I cursed her relationship with my ex. I seethed with jealousy that I would never acknowledge in my waking life. Why did this woman—the product of my own imagination—trigger such animosity in me, such envy?

Here’s the truth: the worst part wasn’t that she was beautiful. It wasn’t the bright sweep of her hair, the perfect gleam of her teeth. It wasn’t even that she’d entered into a relationship with my ex.

The worst part was that she was happy. In other words: not anxious, not depressed. It wasn’t her looks or her relationship status that truly made me jealous. It was her mental health.

Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I believe that life is easy for people who don’t have fears and anxieties and merciless self-criticism strapped to them like sandbags. I believe that their work comes naturally to them, whereas my negative self-talk makes sitting at my computer feel like hurling myself in front of a firing squad. I believe that mentally healthy people are guaranteed fulfilling, successful relationships, whereas I second-guess myself to the point that I have no idea what I even think of the men I date. Continue Reading…

depression, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

A Tale of 19 Wet Towels or How I Failed to Shed My Skin

March 23, 2017

By Ella Wilson.

1. Birth

Every time in my life that I have had the opportunity – that is to say I have been in the presence of a huge coming or going or leaving or starting, a massive adding on or taking away – every time I have had the chance to step out, to leave behind, to shed, to transform, to butterfly, to snake – every time I could have showered off the detritus of some time in my life that lay heavy on my skin. Every time I could have grown, instead I wet-toweled.

2. Starting school

Here is how you wet-towel. You take the thing you might have stepped out of, a skin, a time, a loss, a tiny pair of pants, a hit in the face. You take that thing and you wrap yourself in it.

3. Suicide attempt age 12

You shiver at first because the wet towel makes you cold. The weight of it makes you slow. After a few days you start to smell old and nothing seems like a very good idea.

4. Puberty

Shame is sticky and the antidote to transformation.

5. Losing my virginity

Shame tells you to hide, unfortunately the tools it gives you for hiding promote shame on shame. Shameless self promotion.

6. Leaving school

When you would rather not be seen it is preferable to hide in anything you can find.

7. Leaving home

8. Getting a job

9. My father dying

When my father died I did not notice. This is not because I was not paying attention exactly, in fact I paid so much attention, maybe too much. Nursing him from when I was 13 to 22. But something can become normal, like someone being ill, like thinking someone won’t really die. So I slept on his hospital floor for months. I swabbed his throat with little pink sponges. I knew the nurses names. He died. I wanted to stay on the floor. I wasn’t ready not to have a father. I wore his clothes. I didn’t cry. I did not become fatherless. I just became personless.

10. Moving to America

11. Being hospitalized for anorexia

12. Getting married Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts

Repurposing Anxiety

March 20, 2017

By Lola B.

I don’t remember being an anxious kid growing up. But to be honest, I don’t recall what I had for breakfast this morning, so I can’t really say that “remembering” is my thing. I sure as hell am not going to ask my mom to remind me what I was like as a child. That would just be inviting danger. Sort of like asking Kellyanne Conway and Alec Baldwin to come on over to the house for cocktails. It might be highly entertaining at first, but someone will end up on the floor in the fetal position, drooling and mumbling about global warming. No one wants to see that.

Somehow, over time, it seems that I have developed a boatload of anxiety. And, quite frankly, I’m irritated about it! There’s no doubt that I have earned my anxiety stripes in recent months following the arrest and conviction of my husband for drug trafficking. When the FBI calls to chat, that will get your heart racing. When you don’t know how you’re going to pay the bills, that gets your attention. When your daughter is terrified in her own home and yet is heartbroken to move out of the house she loved, that just absolutely kicks you in the gut.

But the thing about anxiety is, it gets in the way. Worry hinders joy. It keeps you from fully experiencing all that life has to offer. You’re either too anxious and fearful to participate, or too worried while you’re participating, so you miss the good stuff. The parts where joy lives. Where the exhales happen. The space where your heart sings.

So I took my anxiety to Restoration Hardware to see if maybe I could repurpose it. I could take this old, worn out, tiresome thing and shine it up to reuse in a different way. A way that would acknowledge and honor the fact that life is sometimes scary and hard and messy, but also wondrous and joyful and worth the risk.

As I disassembled my anxious feelings, I could see each piece more clearly.  I could see that in anxious moments, I was fixated on what I was sure would destroy me.  But what if I used that same intensity and took it to the light?  Used the energy in a positive way?  I could repurpose that intensity into being focused. Shaping and directing my path with intention rather than allowing fear to run the show.

I could strive for excellence and not perfection. Chasing perfection is an exhausting, never-ending loop.  Excellence means I gave it a valiant effort.  My best effort – knowing that sometimes my “best” could look a little sketchy if I was hangry.

And for the extra scary stuff, I morphed my anxiety into badassery. Being bold.  Standing my ground.  Speaking my truth – even if my voice shook.

I used my badassery to get brave enough to tell people that I needed a minute. Whether that was a minute to breathe and collect my thoughts before making an important decision, or a minute because they were pissing me off and I was going through a verbal tirade in my head. None of their business. I just needed a damn minute!

I learned how to breathe through the crazy. To plant both feet solidly on the ground, close my eyes, and just breathe.

I may not remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I do remember being six years old and saving my three-year-old sister from drowning. I have worried about her ever since. Maybe that’s where the anxiety started, and then it grew and flourished in the life experiences that shape all of us. But worry does not have to rule us, define us, or limit us. If we repurpose it to work for us, then anxiety gets out of the way and joy slips in through the side door.

Ok, gotta run. I’m headed over to Home Depot to see if they can help me renovate my stress.

When LolaB’s husband was arrested for drug trafficking, writing became an outlet for the craziness that ensued. She is divorced after 20+ years of marriage, and raising two daughters on her own. LolaB writes to shine light in dark places, and to heal herself and her children. She is a writer of hope at She can also be followed on FaceBook, Instagram, and posts on Twitter as @RRLolaB.



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Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

A Visit From My Retired Parents Helped Reset My Anxiety Clock

February 23, 2017

By Marilyn Maloney

I’ve been riding a knife edge for too long. I have always worried, mostly about nothing, death, being alone when I’m old, some odd pain that could be a blood clot. Or not.

My daughter has been having more seizures lately. She is nine and lives with Leukodystrophy, causing her cerebral palsy, seizures, impaired swallowing, and overall low muscle tone. Researchers suspect they have found the genetic cause, and will tell us as soon as they prove their suspicions. Four long years have gone by since their discovery, and Maddy has developed daily seizures that can last up to a minute. Lately they have increased in intensity. Instead of a barely noticeable eye flutter, they come with a grimace and outstretched arm.

My son wakes up sniffling, followed by the telltale cough. His eczema puts his IgE levels 50 times higher than they should be, so the blood tests say he’s allergic to everything except cocoa. This year he developed asthma. The ER had a teddy bear on his bed when he was admitted, and “Jack” the bear sleeps with him now.

We pump Jimmy full of five different medications when the cough shows up, following his Asthma Action Plan from the Immunologist. Steroid inhaler each morning and night, steroid nasal spray and Zyrtec before school, albuterol before recess, and we pray we never need the Epi-pen. I label all his foods and send him “emergency snacks” in case he ever forgets his lunch. He has a pre-K crush on the school nurse. And the teachers like him, so he already ran out of emergency cookies. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Guest Posts

Black and High Functioning

December 17, 2016

TW: This essay discusses anxiety and depression

By Shannon Barber

I wake up in a dead panic at 8:29 A.M. I can’t move, my heart is pounding in my ears and I want to reach out to my partner and ask for cuddles and bum rubs but I can’t. If he’s awake I don’t move, I make myself close my eyes and regulate my breathing. If he’s asleep I don’t move, I lay there with my eyes wide open. I don’t give a shit about my breathing.

This is high functioning. This is when the noise and the commentary in my head. The voice is every voice. My own voice parroting everything I’ve heard and thought. Every stupid fear. Every piece of shit moment, every microaggression, everything repeats in my memory like it happened today. The voice reinforces what I learned when I was young. I’m wrong. I don’t matter. These are the demons I wrestle with. From the time I was a child until this very moment. This is what I thought made me broken and negated any value my life had.

Prior to adulthood, anxiety was not something I knew about. I had no idea that other people struggled with depression outside of famous artists who’d committed suicide or wrote poetry about their suffering. I thought what I was going through was nothing. I believed that every suicidal thought, every time I self-harmed, all of it was attention seeking behavior and I was just being dramatic. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Medication, Mental Health


September 15, 2016

By Julia K. Agresto

I haven’t slept in days. The crushing anxiety that plagues every waking minute of every day won’t let up. It’s a constant feeling of being deeply afraid, although of what specifically I don’t quite know. It’s a strange combination of caring far too much about everything and nothing, and no longer caring much about anything at all.

Each day begins the same: with a tearful phone call to my father. Or a phone call where I don’t say much and don’t cry, but I call anyway because I just need to feel someone there, to feel somehow less alone in my loneliness. I’m unsure which of the two is worse for him. In either case, I feel like an impossibly heavy burden. I know the weight of my sadness and his inability to remedy it are slowly destroying him. I know he is at a loss for what he can say or do. I wonder if, like many others who have seemingly disappeared from my life because they too are at a loss for what they can say or do, he debates whether it would be easier to just let me drift away. But I’ve already drifted. I am standing on a tiny island in the middle of a colossal sea waving my arms desperately, waiting to be rescued. Nobody sees me.

One day during our ritual phone call, my dad says, “You can’t do this anymore. You’re not sleeping. You’re missing work. You’ve hit a wall. You need to go on medication.” I resist. I’ve long operated under the misguided notion that medication equates to weakness. That succumbing to this last-ditch solution would mean I’ve admitted defeat. I’m terrified of side effects. I’m terrified of gaining weight, even as I’m withering away to nothing, so severely depressed that grocery shopping and cooking have become too emotionally taxing to deal with. He tells me that he’s found a psychiatric nurse practitioner in my area who can see me that day to evaluate me and prescribe something for the anxiety and depression, and to help me sleep. I am so completely drained and exhausted that I finally agree. The thought of never escaping this hell that I’m in finally becomes more painful to me than the stigma of being medicated. I figure that things can’t get much worse (this turns out to be untrue, as I’ll soon learn that the adjustment period to these new meds is complete and abject misery). Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving, Young Voices

Broken Hospital Bracelets

August 17, 2016

TW: This essay discusses rape and trauma.

By Ashley Doonan

“It has been a pleasure working with you,” Dr. Leslie says as he hands me a cab vouch to North Station, “we’re here if you need us.” The taxi drives down McLean hill and I gently loosen my hospital bracelet. “This is it,” I think to myself, “this is learning to walk again.” I breathe deeply and stare into the sun.

Three weeks prior, it was raining. I stood in the Clinical Evaluation Center, second-guessing why I was there. A nurse spoke gently, “we’re sending you to the Trauma Unit.” The semester prior, I had finished my Master’s thesis on a subject matter related to trauma—I knew all of the signs and the symptoms, the causes and the effects. Still, identifying myself as a sufferer remained alien to me. It couldn’t possible be me, I thought that day, how did I become this fragile? I often find myself wondering what are the evolutionary mechanisms that cause intrusive thoughts after a traumatic event occurs? Perhaps it is for safety, but the pain that is produces emotionally seems utterly unproductive. Even the trauma specialists lack the answer to this underlying question. Thus, we sit with these thoughts day after day, desperate for a means of escape. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts

Going Away, Again

June 24, 2016

Part 1 of this essay was published at:

By Melissa Ballard

 One Month Before Going Away

  1. Think about going away. Do this without your stomach churning, your heart pinching, and your limbs tingling because you have found a daily medication that helps your brain function the way it’s supposed to, without sedating you or making you feel light-headed. And now, finally, all the other things you’ve done to manage anxiety including, but not limited to: therapy, meditation, yoga stretches, and positive-self talk are really working.
  1. Look forward to going away. Remind yourself it’s something you want to do, will most certainly enjoy and, anyway, worrying in advance serves no purpose, as you know. While it’s true you still prefer being at home, it’s nice to have a change of pace, and who knows what you’ll discover.  Remind yourself that for much of your life, and especially the last six years, you’ve known these things in your head, but you haven’t been able to feel them in your body.

Continue Reading…

Adoption, Guest Posts

With Child

May 1, 2016

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

During the adoption process for our second child, I packed on a good twenty-plus pounds. As a number, twenty isn’t so much. Twenty bucks won’t get you far. Twenty minutes pass in a flash. And at twenty years old, most can’t find their way out of a paper bag. But if you go to your local farmer’s market, pick out two ten-pound pumpkins, strap them to your arse, and walk around for a day, you’ll quickly realize that twenty pounds is a heck of a lot of weight.

Physically, there was no reason I should have gained any weight at all. It’s not like I was growing our child in my womb and had to feed it. But emotionally, for nearly two years as we went through the adoption process, I was eating for two. Emotionally, I was trying to feed this faraway baby in a Chinese orphanage who I didn’t even know, yet who I knew was not getting enough love or nutrition or food or stimulation…all those things babies need. From thousands of miles away, I was eating and eating and eating, trying desperately to give our future child everything he or she needed to thrive until we could scoop them up and bring them home.

I was also feeding my own nerves. If you’ve ever been through the international adoption process, you know that it’s an extended exercise in frustration and futility, from the required “this is the worst it could be” class with a social worker, which is kind of like “Scared Straight” for wanna-be parents, to the filling out of 3,901,277.89 forms, to the scrutiny of the home study during which you’re petrified that that one not-so-great choice you made in high school will blow your chances at parenthood, to the mind-numbing hours spent scanning, copying, and collating documents. Believe me, this shit can send you over the edge.

In my case, it sent me to Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, the local pizza place, the ice cream aisle at the grocery store, second helpings of everything, and…

Since we’d successfully navigated the adoption process once before and brought our daughter home from Vietnam in 2008, you’d think I would have been better prepared for the rigor and demands of the process. But in the mid 2000s, we lived in Shanghai, China, and I had a lifestyle that afforded me a heck of a lot more time and patience than I have now. First, we employed a woman who cooked meals, cleaned our house, and did our laundry…three tasks that when done by someone else free up a shockingly large amount of time. Second, I wasn’t a parent yet, so I wasn’t battling sleep deprivation or running around hollering, “No dirty gutchies in the living room!” And, third, I did not have a demanding full-time job. Yes, I was working on a novel and exploring the nooks and crannies of China, but I had oodles of time to fill out forms and lay bare the most intimate details of my screwed-up childhood for a nosy social worker.

By the time we started the adoption process for our second child, we were back in the United States and I was living the high life that many American women writers do—mothering my daughter, cooking meals, cleaning the house, folding laundry in the wee hours, trying to be a good partner to my husband, doing a happy dance if I got to wash my hair more than once a week, holding down a rewarding but hella-consuming full-time job, and getting up at 4:30 every morning to steal a single hour to write. “Sleep deprived” was emblazoned on the bags under my eyes. Needless to say, getting through the process the second time was bloody hell, and within a month of starting the process, I morphed into the not-so-charming adult version of Eric Carle’s gluttonous caterpillar. It went something like this:

While completing our application to the adoption agency—a smeary form that looked like it hadn’t been updated since it was created on an over-inked mimeograph machine in 1970—I ate 3,802 pieces of pizza.

While filling in child abuse clearance forms for every state and country in which I’d ever lived, my wanderer/adventurer/writer lifestyle as a young adult came back to bite me in the ass (good god, I’ve lived in a lot of places), and I ate 692 pints of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream.

While studying the extensive list of documents I had to gather for our adoption dossier (birth certificates, marriage certificate, home study, letter of commitment, reference letters, letters of employment, certificate of financial status, and so on), I slurped down a chocolate milkshake. Then a vanilla milkshake. Then another chocolate.

As I answered the same questions by hand on the nearly four million forms referred to earlier, I fantasized about interactive PDFs and devoured 7.2 million cheeseburgers.

As I rushed from my day job at lunchtime to retrieve “good citizen” forms from our local police department, I wolfed down three chocolate crullers in less than 30 seconds. A week later, when I discovered that the police department notary had screwed up the notarization on the “good citizen” forms by not including a raised seal—delaying our process until a new form could be acquired—I resisted the temptation to ruin my good citizen status by throwing a hissy fit at the station, and, instead, devoured a half dozen more crullers.

As I listened to an official tell me, after I’d filled in and submitted form No. 3,482,900, that it was the wrong form and that our process would be—once again—delayed, I ate the dashboard of my Subaru.

At month twelve, when I caught the pockets of cellulite on my thighs waving to me in the mirror on my way to the shower, I bought three pairs of bigger pants. Later that week when my daughter called me wobbly, referring to my new layer of chub, I vowed to stop the madness and immediately grunted out a handful of sit-ups on the dusty exercise ball in my office. While I certainly hadn’t started out with Sofia Vergara’s crowd-wowing figure, after a glass of wine in a dimly lit room without my glasses on, I’d been mostly satisfied with the state of things. I could get there again. I knew I could. So with Katy Perry’s crescendo-rich “Firework” blasting in my ears, I spent the next week nibbling leafy lettuce and tearing it up on the elliptical at the gym.

Not surprisingly, my stalwart resolution lasted just until our dossier of required documents was one hundred percent complete. At this point, with the pressure rising, I caved. I hobbled about with my new pumpkins strapped to my arse, discovered just how emotionally satisfying a good mozzarella cheese stick could be, and began gathering the four necessary blessings:

  1. notarization at the local level, which must include the notary’s signature, stamp, and raised seal;
  2. certification at the state level, which, in our case, meant two trips to the Secretary of State’s office in Boston where not a single person had any expression whatsoever on their face or inflection in their voice;
  3. authentication by the U.S. Secretary of State in Washington, D.C., during which our dossier was dipped in gold filigree and danced around by a gaggle of bureaucratic fairies; and
  4. approval from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., a group with whom you do not want to fuck.

To mitigate the worry that one of the powers-that-be would find something wrong and bring our process to a screeching halt, I stocked up on non-perishable items that would serve me well in either an apocalyptic event or a nervous breakdown: Milano cookies, bigger-than-my-head bags of M&Ms, and chocolate-on-chocolate Pop-Tarts. Believe me, when the woman from D.C. called to inform me that the notarized copy of my husband’s birth certificate from Ireland wasn’t sufficient and that our case would be delayed until we could provide an official copy of his Certificate of U.S. Citizenship from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), I was ready. By the time “USCIS” left her mouth, I was shoving M&Ms into my mouth so furiously they were popping out my nose.

Of course, it might have helped if my husband and I had told people we were on the road to a second adoption. If we had, instead of gorging myself, I could have uttered, “I am with child,” then collapsed into someone’s lap, sobbing from any one of the emotions that gripped me daily: frustration, fear, worry about our child-to-be, worry about his or her birth family, writer’s cramp, pissed-off-edness at the process, panic about how I’ll teach our daughter or son to know and honor their birth country, consternation about whether or not my plan to raise my kids as global citizens so they are comfortable all around the world is just a bunch of new millennium hogwash, and so much more. Perhaps most of all, I worried about how I’ll help our child manage the wound carved by abandonment, loss, and the inevitable, driving wonder of “who am I.”

Good gracious, if we had just shared our news, any kind, stable, sympathetic person could have tackled me, barred my entry to Dunkin Donuts, and belted out, “Woman, put down the cruller! You will explode!”

But because there are no visible signs of being with child when you adopt—no whispered stage of “Is _____ prego?” when a woman is just beginning to show or an all-knowing “oh, yeah” stage when a woman’s belly has popped—it’s up to each adoptive family to figure out when and how to share the news. This is not always an easy decision. When my husband and I adopted our daughter in 2008, we told the world early on in the process. But with our son, we told no one. Not my parents, my sisters, my husband’s mum, colleagues at work, or close friends. We didn’t even tell our daughter, whose longing for a sibling was deep and complex. We told no one except the three friends who wrote us reference letters and one of my husband’s sisters in Ireland. Even them, we swore to secrecy.

I simply couldn’t put it out there. The longing I felt to be a mom to two exposed my raw, thumping heart in a way I just couldn’t bear, and if for any reason our adoption didn’t happen (not an uncommon occurrence), I was pretty sure I would have disintegrated and blown away like a dandelion poof. This time around, I was just too fragile and the process was just too daunting, too time-consuming, too life sucking, and too fraught with possible mine fields. It was all I could do to put my head down and make it all happen privately, baby step by baby step.

After getting my husband’s Certificate of Citizenship, our dossier cleared all hurdles and was shipped off to China. While at first glance this seems like an opportunity to celebrate, in truth it simply marked the beginning of a period of waiting that I consider comparable to being water-boarded. The litany of required approvals and stamps and nods from such a variety of offices in China was so long that I couldn’t keep it straight:

First this, then that.

Then this and that.

If not this, then no way that.

Definitely none of this during Chinese New Year.

When this, then that.

Without this, none of that.

All of the this’s and thats would lead, I was told, to the referral of our child-to-be and, finally, travel to China to bring him/her home.

During this period of time—perhaps my darkest, most ravenous—I started each day with a solid “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” checked my email obsessively, and decided it best to eat everything in sight. Then everything not in sight. Those pumpkins firmed up beautifully and started to draw the attention of friends, family, and colleagues who still had no idea that I was with child. I couldn’t help but notice the raised eyebrows, winces, and big eyes behind my back signaling the “Yikes, what is going on with Kristin?”

When our agency finally matched us with our new son and photos arrived in my inbox, I fell head over heels. With the equivalent of an ultrasound pic in hand, I wanted to rejoice, climb to the mountaintops, and shout our news to the world, but since we’d waited seven hellish months from referral to bring our daughter home, I knew the wait to bring our little guy home could go on for an excruciatingly long while. Instead of telling the world at this point, I loaded all the photos we got of our little guy into my phone and scrolled through them obsessively…in bathroom stalls, stairwells, my car, and so on.

At night, alternately chewing on worry and chocolate, I silently chanted, “Please hold his heart open. Please hold his heart open. Please hold his heart open.” Children who begin life in orphanages may not get great nutrition or outside time or toys, but the nannies who care for them often succeed in what I consider to be their most important job: holding open the children’s hearts until we, the adoptive parents, can get there.

In July 2015, when we finally traveled to China and the nanny placed Yao in my arms, I immediately stopped eating like a crazy person. With the Yaoster right there, leaning his little bewildered self against me, my insatiable hunger waned and my desperate attempt to nourish him from afar was no longer necessary. From that moment on, I would love, feed, teach, and nurture our little guy live and in person.

My obsessive worry, as I knew, wasn’t unfounded. We quickly learned that while Yao had been kept clean, he hadn’t been properly fed. At two years old, he’d never had solid food. He had a red, swollen cleat at his hairline from slamming his head against the wooden bars of his crib—a natural response to boredom, loneliness, loss, and need—and when he’s scared or nervous, he punches his own head as hard as he can with the pointy end of a knuckle. They had not let him learn to walk until he was matched with our family; at two years and three months old, he toddled about like a brand-new walker. He had H Pylori in his system. He wasn’t able to speak a single word in Mandarin. Not a single word. At two years old. And from the joyful way he now ogles the sky, it’s pretty clear he never spent any time outside. But still—still—his cleft lip had been repaired quite well and, hallelujah, the nannies had done their most important job: Yao’s heart was open. Not flung wide, mind you, but just wide enough.

Today, at home, Yao is silly, funny, and curious. He is super bright and loves music. He’s crazy about bananas and Nutella, and he’s got a giggle that melts glaciers. The head banging and punching, thankfully, are slowly becoming things of the past, and, yowza, that boy loves to play chase with his older sister. He babbles like crazy and is pretty close to uttering whole words. Most importantly, he’s bonding well. In the four short months we’ve had him, he’s become a true cuddler who doles out hugs and smooches like candy. While it’s going to take a whole lot of love and time and work to get him centered and sturdy in our big old world, I’m confident he’ll get there.

As for those pumpkins, well, as most know, putting on twenty-plus pounds is way easier than taking off twenty-plus pounds. Since returning home to the United States, I’ve dropped some of the adoption weight and suspect more will go as I chase our busy toddler through sandboxes, up ladders, and down slides. Every once in a while, when I catch sight of my and Yao’s reflection in the window as we’re racing through our back yard, I get startled by the chub and wobble of my newly altered self and yell, “Holy crap! Who the hell is chasing my son?” But grappling with the emotions around my own physical identity is superficial crap compared to the ecstasy of finally, finally, finally being able to climb to the mountaintop with my bullhorn in hand and Yao on my hip, and shout for the world to hear, “It’s all good, people. I was with child.”


Kristin Bair O’Keeffe is the author of the novels The Art of Floating and Thirsty, as well as numerous essays about China, adoption, parenting, bears, off-the-plot expats, and more. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Baltimore Review, HyperText, Poets & Writers Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. She’s also a speaker, writing instructor, cultural spelunker, and mom to two marvelous kiddos via adoption. Find her on Instagram and Twitter at @kbairokeeffe.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.


Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a special Mother’s Day weekend retreat in Ojai Calif, May 6th, 7th, & 8th, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.