Browsing Tag

surviving

depression, Guest Posts

When Depression Gets Too Heavy

November 5, 2018
depression

CW: This essay discusses ideation and/or suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Kari O’Driscoll

There’s a reason darkness is used as a metaphor for depression. In my worst moments, I felt as though there was a black spot in my head spreading like an oil spill, creeping outward, sinking in to the valleys and crevices of my brain and obliterating any possibility of light permeating. Perhaps the most shocking thing about it was how tired it made me. Never had I known that depression was so exhausting.

There is a television advertisement for an antidepressant medication whose tagline is “Depression Hurts.” The first time I saw it I felt right, like the ad writers had seen me in my natural habitat and sussed out something nobody else had noticed. I remember curling myself into a fetal position, rocking back and forth, feeling a weight and a soreness in my ribs – between them, an accordioning of my chest around my heart and lungs. My limbs ached as though I’d just climbed 4000 steps, my head hung low with fatigue. A fog settled over the top half of my brain that made focusing a chore. Depression was heavy. It was effort. It was draining, physically, mentally and spiritually. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

F*ck Self-Help

October 21, 2018
By Zoe Brigley

Because I work and teach on domestic violence, people sometimes write to me unexpectedly with their own stories. They are usually women (though abuse does happen to men and non-binary folks too), and often they have questions about whether a partner’s behavior is abusive. Very often it is.

Sometimes these can be liberating stories. A woman once wrote to say that finally, after ten years of an abusive relationship, she had left, and her life had changed irrevocably. Food was more flavorsome, smells were more vivid, colors luminous, as if she had been imprisoned in grey world.

Other stories are less comforting. I spent a month writing back and forth with a friend on Facebook living in another country. Her abusive boyfriend had dumped her, except she wasn’t really dumped: it was more a test to see how much she would put up with before he took her back. We talked many times about working to forget him, and to create a new life. Then one day on Facebook, she posted a photograph of the two of them on vacation, relaxing at a beachfront hotel. She stopped writing to me then, and while I hope that she is happy, I can’t help thinking about what I could or should have done to help her. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Love Is A Hell Of A Drug

September 20, 2018
love

By Jasmine Sims

You fell in love with the word long ago. You watched the movies and figured out that was something you wanted. You didn’t realize that you had, early on, fallen into an addiction that you’d spend your life looking for.

You looked for it in the eyes of your father. Prided yourself in being daddy’s little girl. You lived for his laugh and nod of approval like an addict. The mere acknowledgment of your presence and masquerade of acceptance was enough of a hit to keep you pushing until the next time. You didn’t know you were the daughter of a drug addict, because he hid it so well that you didn’t realize when you visited his friends and left you in the car you were at a crack house. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Young Voices

The Day You Lose Your Mind

August 2, 2018

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GPYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Jessica Young

It’s funny what they don’t tell you on the day you lose your mind.

Rhyme, reason, it all just dwindles away and you’re left with the bare bones…the soot.
The soot that is left is all of the debris you’ve left “for later”,
the “I can’t possibly handle this kind of emotional baggage” kind of debris.
The particles of dirt that gather at the base of your neck, weighing on your shoulders,
tangling up and knotting the muscle so you feel bogged down… weighed down… too heavy.

It’s funny what they don’t tell you on the day you lose your mind.

The weeks leading up to my Bipolar diagnosis were some of the most agonizing moments of my entire existence;
dissociations, delusions and absolutely no chance of sleep.
Sleep never comes.
You want it, you need it, you beg for it, but it just never comes.
The effects of sleeplessness on most people include many of the same effects for a person with Bipolar.
If you take that period of no sleep, combine it with some over the counter sleep medication
(twice the recommended dose because that’s all that seemed worked at the time),
combined with a prescription for Celexa (a drug that exacerbates the symptoms of Bipolar disorder)
and you get a recipe for a Manic disaster. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts

This is not the end

July 8, 2018

By Tina Porter

In the Fall of 2014, when I knew the job I had held in a place I’d been working for 10 years was ending (though not yet officially), I did what anyone would do: I went on a trip with my mother and sister to Northern New Mexico.

Actually, this story starts much earlier. Does it start in April of that year when I am offered a demotion or no job at all and I take the demotion because we are in the process of closing on a condo for our daughters to live in while they attend Indiana University in Bloomington? Or a year earlier, when it is obvious I am struggling while juggling different roles and different requirements from different stakeholders?

Or does it start in 2009, when I take the promotion I think I want and that I am kind of good at, as it is defined in 2009 and three weeks later I am diagnosed with Lupus? Or does it start in 2008 when my father dies? Or in 1986 when I am a young woman at odds with her understanding of herself, or in 1976, when I am a teenager who doesn’t fit in and finds the options available unsatisfactory but I don’t know how to ask my mother or anyone for help? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, loss, Surviving

Cross Purposes

June 1, 2018
cross

By Aimee Ross

A cross has stood in that field for three years.

Three years since he smashed into me and the girls in my car that summer night. We were on our way home from dance camp.

The girls escaped the wreck with minor injuries. I barely survived.

He died.

Fifteen minutes from home. We were almost home.

Dear Zachary,

 I’m writing this letter to you because I feel like I have to, even though I don’t know you and never will. I can only know my version of you, and to be honest, it’s not good.

 I know you were the driver of the red Mini Cooper who ploughed recklessly into the side of my gray Saturn Aura that warm July night. I know you were only nineteen, and not one of my former students. And I know that doctors declared you “brain dead” the next day in a room near mine at Cleveland Metro Trauma Center.

The cross was first pushed into the earth less than two weeks after the accident. My mom, who drove past the site twice daily on her way to and from the hospital, was infuriated by it. She thought it was made of Bud Light boxes. I’d been past the site since then a few times, but I had never stopped. I never wanted to be in that space long enough to think.

Until now.

After the accident, visitors told me rumors about you. Even my own daughters. They knew people you partied with. They also warned me of your Facebook memorial page, but I didn’t listen.

I looked too soon.

You—the party boy with swag—were loved, and by many. They called you Zach. Throwing bangers, getting baked, and blowing smoke at the camera consumed the posted memories and fuzzy photos.

 Something kept telling me to visit the scene.

And I needed closure.

So, armed with notebook and pen and ready to record the epiphany I was sure to have, I drove there alone one mid-summer afternoon. I expected to cry, feel relief, be cleansed. The trauma would finally make sense.

As I approached the busy state route’s intersection, I noticed the warning signs of road construction—at least I wouldn’t have to worry about traffic. I parked along the berm across from the site, realizing I had no intention of leaving my vehicle anyway. I would just be here, feel here.

A friend of your mother’s told me you had trouble with the law, and I know your driver’s license had been suspended at least twice before. You even spent time in a detention home. I wonder if other rumors about you and your buddies playing a very dangerous driving game to earn points for traffic violations were true.

Beyond the intersection, a cross made of two perpendicular skateboards—not beer boxes—jutted crookedly out of a grassy slope. The ground climbing from the ditch to the tilted cross was still scarred. Dry brown gashes in the earth, like my three-year-old wounds, littered the rise where energy from an inelastic collision was absorbed. The scars, evidence of an outside force. Inertia disrupted.

 And then there’s your family. Good people, I heard. I know you had dinner at home with them that evening. You asked your dad for the car, the one titled to him but given to you, so you could go to a friend’s house. You were on your way when you crashed into us. I also know your family loved you. Just moments after finding out you had passed—after being asked about donating your organs—your father and sister hugged my brother. They cried, said they hoped I would “pull through.” I imagine your mother was broken in a corner, lost in a sea of tears. I know your parents—an older, more settled couple—adopted you and your sister from another country far away. Maybe they couldn’t have their own children. Now they can’t even have you.

Why did he run the stop sign? How fast was his car moving?

 The most devastating thing I know about you, however, isn’t that you disregarded a stop sign or might have been speeding that night. What’s most devastating is that you were driving under the influence. The highway patrol officer who came to inform me I was the “victim of a crime” said so. They don’t know how fast you were going, but they do know that you had marijuana and benzodiazepine in your bloodstream.

And then the toxicology report. I researched. Benzodiazepine, an anti-anxiety medication, can induce everything from euphoria to a hypnotic state, just like the recreational drug marijuana. Together, the two would have produced an amplified high, as well as an amplified tranquilizer effect. He might have been so high he didn’t know what he was doing. He could have been asleep at the wheel.

Why did you do that, Zach? Why?

Did you smoke pot and do drugs so often you drove stoned all the time?

Did you forget you had family and friends who loved you, a whole life ahead of you?

Did you think you were invincible, maybe even above the law?

But none of that matters. The outcome is the same.

Three beautiful girls, teenagers on the dance team I advised, were riding with me on the way back from dance camp that evening. I couldn’t protect them from you. You could have killed them. You almost killed me. I believed my daughter, also on the team, had left ahead of us, but in fact, she was only moments behind in a different car. You could have killed her that night. The thought makes me sick. I love her, just like your parents loved you. Our worst fear as parents happened to them: you didn’t come home.

I stared at the cross, thinking about what onlookers would have witnessed that July evening. A car shooting from the darkness and crashing into another. Impact in the intersection. Crunching metal, shattering glass. A body catapulted through a car’s sunroof and against the unforgiving road, as momentum propels both vehicles over a ditch to rest less than twenty feet apart. Airbags deployed, windshields buckled, a smoking engine. Four trapped inside mangled metal. Passersby stop, phone calls are made, and moments later, the chaos to save lives ensues. The scene is flooded with light, engulfed in disembodied voices, and swarming with firemen, ambulances, and highway patrol.

 Your parents must miss you desperately. I imagine they didn’t know about your regular drug use. I wonder if they were shocked, horrified maybe, to find out. I’m sure they have forgiven you by now, though—you were their only son.

 It is quiet here today at this place. Peaceful, even. Bright sunshine, a gentle breeze, midsummer warmth. The perfect setting for something—anything—to offer understanding. Redemption maybe. A setting to offer forgiveness.

But I am finding it difficult to do.

I am alive, but another mother’s son never went home.

We all make mistakes and poor choices. I know this. And if you had lived through the accident, maybe you would have apologized. You probably would have been sorry, too. If you had lived through the accident, maybe you even would have changed. You probably would have stopped being reckless, too. But maybe your life ended because of how you chose to live it. Maybe change would not have been possible for you. I don’t know.

I wait.

I don’t want to hate you, Zach.And I don’t want to be so angry . . . still. I even want to try to forgive you.

Nothing happens. I don’t even cry. I slide the pen back in my purse, toss the notebook to the front passenger seat, and head home. If only the intersection had been closed three years ago. If only we had taken another way home. If only he had been sober. If only he had stopped at the intersection’s sign. Then we would not have had our path crossed. T-boned. Crushed.

But I just can’t yet.

 Four lives altered forever, another life lost.

Sincerely, Aimee, the woman whose life you changed

A cross marks the spot.

Aimee Ross is a nationally award-winning educator who’s been teaching high school English at her alma mater in Loudonville, Ohio, for the past twenty-six years and an aspiring writer for as long as she can remember. Her first book, Permanent Marker: A Memoir, was just published in March 2018 (KiCam Projects). She has also had her writing published on NextAvenue.orgwww.lifein10minutes.com, and www.SixHens.Com, as well as in Beauty around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia (ABC-Clio, 2017); Scars: An Anthology (Et Alia Press, 2015); Today I Made a Difference: A Collection of Inspirational Stories from America’s Top Educators (Adams Media, 2009); and Teaching Tolerance magazine. You can find Aimee online at www.theaimeeross.com.

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo to read about Julia, who lost her baby, and learn why we established the fund.
Join Jen at her On Being Human workshop in upcoming cities such as NYC, Ojai, Tampa, Ft Worth and more by clicking here.

#metoo, Activism, Guest Posts

When your 79 Year Old Mother is Raped

May 23, 2018
raped

Barton Brooks is a dear friend of mine, and his mom, Carla, was my English teacher in high school. My heart hurt when I learned she had been assaulted, and it sang when I learned how she is refusing to let the assault define her. Instead, she is using this experience to advocate for other victims. I couldn’t be more humbled and proud to know these two humans. Read Bart’s words below, and I dare you not to be inspired. Learn about Carla’s spirit, and help if you can. -Angela

CW: This essay discusses sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been assaulted, find help and the resources you need by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or visit www.RAINN.org.

By Barton Brooks

In the middle of the night on April 17th, a man entered my mother’s home, crept into her bedroom, and started stroking her hair.  She awoke to this stranger looming above her and began a fight for her life – absolutey terrified as he gagged her, slammed her head against her headboard, and held her down as he brutally beat and sexually assaulted her.  My beautiful mother – who turns 80 in less than a year – violently joined #metoo at age 79.

I can’t type any more of the horrific details, because even though it’s been a month since it happened, my heart and eyes continue to weep for her.  My fellow adventurer, my kind, dignified, and resilient mother – we’ve cried more tears in the past month than we may have cried ever before.

Instead, I want to focus on her strength, because my God, this woman is strong! Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Guest Posts

Darwin’s Island

May 14, 2018
galapagos

By Diana Odasso

Within a week of turning sixteen in 1983, my cousin Raine flipped her first car, a brand-new cherry-red Saab, onto the beach in South Florida, amidst the hysterical laughter and shouts of her friends: a slow-motion disaster that luckily ended without injury. It was the kind of thing that only sixteen-year-olds could find funny and only because tragedy had avoided them thus far.

Once the sirens sounded in the distance, the teenagers dispersed in all directions. Raine was nowhere to be found when the police knocked at Uncle John’s door.

During college, there was that Outward Bound trip she was supposed to be leading. Raine broke her leg after an unsuccessful trapeze act above a waterfall. While she waited besides the freezing waters, her body plunging into shock, a group of terrified tenth-graders trekked alone through the woods to radio for help. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, loss

Dear Benjamin

May 13, 2018
boy

By Jennifer Roberts

My sweet boy,

I am sorry it took me so long to write to you. There’s so much I’ve wanted to say, but didn’t know where to start. How does a mommy write a letter to her baby that died? Mommies should never have to think about that at all. This is going to be full of words that are so different than what I would be saying to you if you were still here. I’m sure if you were here I wouldn’t feel the need to write you a letter at all, I would just tell you to your sweet little face how loved you are.

Next week you would be turning 20 months old. I can’t believe it’s been that long since I became your mom and since I last saw you.  I could have told you already that I’m sorry my body failed you and you had to be born 8 weeks early, but most likely I wouldn’t even be worried about that anymore. I might have told you that I am sorry for complaining about the heartburn and hip pain while you were growing inside me, but possibly I wouldn’t even feel bad about it now.

Since things turned out the way they did and you are not here, I have felt the need to let you know that I am sorry that I complained. I am sorry my body didn’t do what it was supposed to. I am sorry you were robbed of your life so early and never got to come home. I am sorry I needed a C-Section and you never got to be held until you were gone. I’m sorry that all you ever felt was the NICU bed and needles and stuff stuck to your skin. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, postpartum depression

Postpartum: An Inventory

April 27, 2018
inventory

By Laura Dorwart

I have taken the postpartum depression inventory a total of five times: one time honestly, the other four times lying to varying degrees. (I had good intentions, I promise).

Louis-Victor Marce is often described as the first clinician to write openly about postpartum depression and other mental health conditions. His 1858 “Treatise on Insanity in Pregnant, Postpartum, and Lactating Women” has been widely cited as the “first” depiction of pregnancy-related mood disorders and anxiety before his monograph went largely untouched for 100 years (except, sometimes, to justify the involuntary confinement of recently pregnant women), prior to the reopening of a dialogue about postpartum depression in the 1950s when the field of psychiatry took hold in the United States. His wasn’t, of course, the actual first documented mention of postpartum mental health issues—a female physician, Trotula of Salerno, wrote in the 11th century that if the womb was too moist, the brain could become filled with water and cause women to cry involuntarily and excessively, perhaps referring to conditions leading to an excess of amniotic fluid—but it was the first extensive one in Western, conventionally documented, male-dominated medical history.

He seems like he was kind of a dick, but that appears to have been a requirement for early psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, especially 19th– and early 20th-century ones (many far worse than the most obvious Sigmund “Literally Everyone Wants to Fuck Me So Badly It Makes Them Neurotic” Freud). Besides, the fact that his writings about fairly inarguable realities—“hey, so, women undergo huge hormonal shifts during and after pregnancy and also quite possibly the most physically painful and exhausting experience possible right before their entire lives change permanently and maybe that can be traumatic?”—were used as excuses to get all Yellow Wallpaper on a host of middle-class women and to institutionalize lower-class ones can’t be blamed solely on him, really.

Regardless, Marce started the clinical dialogue that eventually led to the development of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, now used as the primary diagnostic tool in determining whether a woman has or is at risk of developing postpartum depression.

The test, which alternately starts with one of two fairly sinister statements (either “as you are pregnant or have recently had a baby, we would like to know how you are feeling” or “postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbearing”), requires you to respond as to whether a series of ten statements apply to you in the past seven days (always bolded) with one of five answers. The answers seem awkward and vague if you analyze them too carefully—“not as much as usual,” “about as much as before,” and such—but the test has been proven to be clinically significant for years. Women considered “at risk” of developing postpartum depression are given the screening regularly throughout pregnancy and usually twice postpartum, once after delivery and again after four weeks, when the risk of developing postpartum depression or psychosis lowers significantly. I am “at risk.”

I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things.

The day I went into labor, my husband Jason and I were in Whole Foods desperately buying castor oil; one of the midwives at UC San Diego had suggested it to induce labor naturally. She had a voice like a meditation track and disarmingly perfect cheekbones, so I was lulled into a false sense of trust before I saw the warning label on the castor oil—“not to be consumed.” A beleaguered Whole Foods employee told us frankly, “No, it’s safe to eat, you’ll just have the runs really bad.” “Sure you want to do this?” Jason frowned at the bottle. I wasn’t, but I was big as a house. Jason is a quadriplegic; his service dog had started to have to help both of us pick up our underwear because nobody in our household could bend over properly. I was ready.

Luckily, we didn’t need it. We went home and I promptly started contractions that sped up to every four minutes. Jason read children’s books aloud to me, part of his job description as my personal anxiety coach. My water broke, a pop and a hiss, right around midnight, while he was reading to me about Rosalie the fairy helping Jack Frost get a makeover that seemed at the time to be gesturing at gender-affirming surgery. He wanted long hair and he needed fairies to give it to him, but they wouldn’t, presumably because of fairy codes that I think represented health insurance issues.

Jason stuffed towels under me in the front seat and a heavy overnight pad into my underwear. I started shaking and I didn’t stop for the next 30 hours.

In triage, they announced I’d need an IV. I was GBS-positive, which meant I could pass infection-causing bacteria along to my baby (a girl, presumably eight pounds according to the latest ultrasounds) if I didn’t get several doses of antibiotics. The first nurse was impossibly blonde-pretty, like a contestant on The Bachelor. I didn’t trust her; she lacked grit. I like my nurses slightly mean. She jammed around inside my veins for a while while making soft little “hmm” sounds for a while, usually right around my contractions. I tried to have polite contractions, smiling shakily at her whenever she made one of those high-pitched “hmms.” I have heard those before. that meant “I am never, ever getting this IV into you and I will have to call someone else.”

She did. And that one had to call another. “Your veins are tiny,” they said, one after another, always scoldingly as if I’d made them myself. When my arms failed, they tried one of my hands. “Is this what junkies go through?” I joked weakly (and problematically) through a contraction. No one laughed.

All told, I was not getting an IV put in for nearly four hours; near the end, during one particularly painful (and still unsuccessful) poke, I finally let out a scream that brought all the midwives on call in to look at me pityingly. When the three nurses finally left, muttering about calling anesthesiology, Jason (who had been squeezing my non-abused hand the whole time) decided to entertain me with an ironic sexist joke about how if the anesthesiologist was male, he could finally get something done around here. I laughed wryly and told him I hated him.

The anesthesiologist showed up four hours into my labor. He was, indeed, male. “You have great veins,” he said, sliding the needle in with aplomb, the slight slice tingly-pleasant like acupuncture. Jason and I looked at each other and grinned sideways. A punchline.

I have felt sad or miserable.

“This is Laura Dorwart, 28. She is six days postpartum and had a vaginal full term delivery of her first baby. She has a medical history of depression and chronic PTSD,” the nurse read, monotone, to her replacement, as my parents watched. My mother’s eyes flew open and her lips pursed in disapproval, I thought—or maybe it was all in my head. The nurse didn’t notice. I laid back in my gown and closed my eyes, feigning exhaustion.

Three days after our daughter was born, with Jason asleep on the table, I tried to make myself hate her, or to become so obsessed with her that she could transform into an object of sadism, masochism, something. I hadn’t felt any guilt when others picked her up or any resentment when she was handed back to me. I didn’t feel like a worthless mother. I looked into her eyes and snuggled her baby-skin. I weighed the burden of her. It was baby-sized. Not the weight of the world.

I began to realize on the fourth day postpartum that I was perhaps hoping for a crisis. Catastrophes wipe things away, don’t they? They start things new, they erase what was. They break and then you’re forced to rebuild.

Plus, I figured with my prior reactions to the mundane, a real catastrophe could do me some good. Some guy breaking up with me when I was 17 caused me to seriously consider dropping out of school. I seriously considered leaving town rather than going into work late once. I had five lemon vodka shots and threw up in a cab after a frat party in college and slept on the tile floor of my dorm room in despair. I still obsess over my breakup five years ago from a girl I knew for a total of eight months; in my mind, it’s sometimes reached Tristan and Isolde levels of tragedy.

Then there are the real crises: The day after I was raped by my then-girlfriend, I went in to work on time and copy edited a fifty-page curriculum booklet. I went to lunch and a meeting. I had chicken wings. I did not cry.

The night that my best friend died, I played a game on the computer that required me to digitally bob for apples. I felt like a sociopath for experiencing satisfaction at hearing the crisp sound bytes of capturing the pixelated apples one by one. Crisis, I remembered, does nothing for me.

Still, I tried to create one. I stared at my baby and attempted to muster some kind of resentment, some kind of foreboding warning sign of synapses misfiring in my brain and causing me to detach. No dice; sometimes I felt an overwhelming love, sometimes the lighter affection I feel for all babies, and on the negative end, nothing but mild annoyance in my most sleep deprived states.

I had wondered, alternatively, if I would feel grief and loss. Some women describe feeling empty after their babies are born, their wombs like voids aching for the return of togetherness, their tiny soulmates now skin-separate. Not me. I felt intact. I was intact. Heavy as I always ways, just thirty pounds lighter. Filled to the brim with the same longing as before, no different. It’s been four weeks. There was no crisis, no catastrophe. I did not break.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed.

The thought of harming myself has occurred to me.

Never check yes on this one.

Never let them see you sweat.

I have been so unhappy that I have had trouble sleeping.

I checked my medical records after all was said and done. For me, nothing I didn’t already know: For Ruth, her medical conditions: a CPAM—congenital pulmonary airway malformation—that we’d known about since the beginning. A benign cyst hiding in her lung. Meconium. And: “Child of depressed mother.” Born of a sad woman: A preexisting condition. A diagnosis in and of itself.

It stuns me, hits me hard in the chest, a clenched fist like a heart attack—just a slower squeeze. I show Jason, and he doesn’t get it, not really. “What are they afraid of?” he asks, though he knows. Postpartum depression makes everybody angry, even Tom Cruise, who took up quality potential Scientology-pushing time to rant about Brooke Shields’ baby blues.

Some people baptize their babies. I’m an atheist on my best days (on my worst, I assume God is a menace), but it turns out, even nonbelievers want to cleanse their offspring of original sin: Our new pediatrician asks us to forward our hospital medical records, and I opt out. She’s going to be nothing like me, no stains on her record, no sorrow-as-birthright. She’s going to be free.

Laura Dorwart is a Ph.D. candidate at UCSD with an MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University. Her work has appeared in Catapult, McSweeney’s, The New York Times, VICE, BuzzFeed Reader, Lady/Liberty/Lit, The Eunoia Review, Blanket Sea Magazine, and others. 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

 

Join Jen at her On Being Human workshop in upcoming cities such as NYC, Ojai, Tampa, Ft Worth and more by clicking here.

 

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Boys of Winter & Prairie Things

April 25, 2018

By Shannon Haywood

I was sitting in Dairy Queen on Saturday, grabbing a quick bite before heading to my friend’s husband’s memorial service, when I was suddenly, and without any control at all, overcome with tears. I sat there for a few moments, trying to stop the flow, and kept my head down, in order to hide my face from those at tables surrounding mine.

People that were with their children, no doubt fueling up prior to spending a Saturday running errands, taking the kids to indoor leisure centers or movies or even the pool. Endless possibilities and even more activities that every Canadian family has spent Saturdays doing.

Maybe even headed to play hockey. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

Closet Shots

April 20, 2018
closet

By Adele Zane

Your father just shoved you into his bedroom closet and slammed the door, entombing you. You tell yourself to get a grip, but your ears still pound and your hands still clench. You pant through your nose, purse your lips, squeeze your eyes shut, and grit your teeth. You do all of this so your head won’t explode like a watermelon rifled against a wall. So what, you tell yourself, this is nothing. Why not view it as a refreshing alternative to his usual forms of discipline? This one beats a harried chase through the house till he corners you in the dining room where you drop to the floor and curl up like a pill bug.

His fancy eel skin belt, the buckle flying, raining down on your back and thighs. In fact, when you think back through the fifteen long years of your life, as far as his punishments go, this shut-in-the-closet one is easy. It hasn’t involved belts, wooden spoons, or yanking of hair. So get ahold of yourself, calm down, and above all, do not cry. He hates that. He says it’s manipulative and that he’s way too smart to fall for what he calls crocodile tears. Whatever that means.

It’s Saturday afternoon and time for his nap. No one in your family will want to wake him once he falls asleep. Even as a toddler you knew not to go near him when he slept, but if you had to, to wake him for a phone call or because it was dinnertime, it was safest to stand at the foot of his bed, and say, Daddy, Daddy, several times with increasing loudness. If that didn’t work, then you would touch his big toe lightly, recoiling fast so he couldn’t clobber you when he came up from his dreams, arms swinging at imaginary assailants.

You realize you could be in here for hours. The door doesn’t have a lock; you could open it if you wanted to, but you won’t and neither will anyone else. Now that you’ve calmed down, you better find some way to entertain yourself. You slowly turn around and move your arms like you’re doing the wave at a football game until you find the pull chain to the overhead light. You wonder if turning it on is against the rules of his new made-up-on-the-spot punishment. You decide to chance it and pull the chain, real slow so it doesn’t make a clicking sound. The bare 40-watt bulb illuminates two identically tailored pinstripe suits, one brown and one navy, from Roos/Atkins, his favorite store, and lots of work pants and shirts from Penney’s and Sears.

On the floor are his polished black dress boots and his dusty work boots—the ones he whistles for you to come and remove from his feet when he gets home from work. You quell the urge to kick his stupid shoes and yank his dumb clothes from their hangers because you know your father can go from charming to ballistic in less than a second without discernible provocation. This would be too discernable an act of provocation. You could go through his pockets—maybe there’s something interesting in them—but he’d know you looked, for he’s all-knowing or so he tells you and you can’t take that risk even though you doubt he would really know. You dare yourself to look in his jacket pockets anyway. Nothing much—a silver lighter, a toothpick, and a couple of pennies.

What is interesting is what’s lined up against the wall to your left, almost as tall as you are. Careful not to touch, you use your index finger to count them. There are a total of nine zippered cases of soft beige suede, each holding either a rifle or a shotgun. You don’t know what makes a rifle a rifle or a shotgun a shotgun. Is there a difference? You’d never realized he had this many, but then again, you’ve never hung out in his closet either. To your right are shelves he built. On the shelves are boxes and boxes of bullets and a pair of sheathed hunting knives. He’s got enough firepower to kill every deer, duck, and quail in the state of California, and maybe Nevada too. At least that’s what it looks like. He’s even got handguns nestled in boxes. You read their labels: .44 Mag, .357 Mag, and something called a 1911. Why the heck does he need all these? To sneak up on an unsuspecting pheasant? You think it’s extreme overkill to own so many guns and smile to yourself at your wittiness.

You hear the thwack, thwack of a tennis ball being hit back and forth. Your father, now lounging on his bed atop a faux fur bedspread the unnatural color of a teddy bear, smug in the knowledge that his oldest daughter is confined ten feet away, has resumed watching the Wimbledon finals, a match between Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe. You hear him fire up a Camel no-filter. His chain smoking makes your family and your house smell like you all roll around in dirty ashtrays.

But back to the guns. He didn’t put you in here so you could peruse his gun collection, choose your favorite one.

For a moment you flirt with the fantasy of hurting yourself, but it seems too obvious a move given the situation. Too bad you didn’t pay more attention when he first showed you how to load his BB gun, then how to aim and shoot at the paper target he’d taped to a stepladder in the basement. A good starter gun he’d called it. You’d bawled and made it clear that unlike him, you weren’t interested in weapons or hunting or killing animals. Besides, your eyesight is so bad you didn’t even come close to hitting the target itself let alone the bullseye.

To kill time, you imagine the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle, if you successfully loaded a gun, and managed to fatally shoot yourself in the closet’s three-by-six-foot space. Poor Misunderstood Girl Shoots Self Dead in Father’s Closet. Now you’re feeling sorry for yourself. How about Trapped Teenage Girl Shoots Self Because of Idiot Dad and Stupid Family. Your attempts at amusing yourself wear thin, and you collapse down to sit cross-legged on the cherry red shag carpet to wait him out. You cover your face with your hands.

You’re lulled into sleepiness by the sound of the television audience’s polite applause and the announcer’s soothing voice as he loudly whispers Love, Fifteen. Your dad’s rooting for Connors. You think Connors is a hotheaded jerk and hope he loses to the black guy Ashe. If your father knew you were dozing during your punishment, it would anger him even more. You don’t want to do that because he can be inventive. Besides his trusty belt, he has a dog whip for special-occasion infractions. It stings like hell and leaves the nastiest welts, worse than the belt buckle. He’s careful to hit you above your knees so the marks aren’t visible below your skirts, but his thoughtfulness doesn’t keep you safe at school. It’s against the rules to take your gym clothes into a bathroom stall to change, but you do it anyway. You don’t have a choice, you have to; you know instinctively that if anyone were to see your body, it would be too difficult and embarrassing to explain.

You imagine standing in front of your dresser and contorting your body in the mirror so you can count the multicolored welts that adorn your butt and thighs, fingering them gently, monitoring them day to day as they change from angry red to mellow yellowish purple. Proof of his unfairness or your uselessness. You’ve dozed off but wake up fast when you hear your mother’s voice. Maybe she’s come to remind your father you’re still in the closet.

“Manuel. Wake up. Ashe won, but Wide World of Sports is about to start or maybe there’s some soccer on. Want me to get you some Sanka?”

You’re happy Connors lost. Then you hear the jingle of the keys that hang from your father’s belt. A sound that elicits fear in your family because it tells you he’s coming but doesn’t telegraph what mood he’ll be in when he gets to you. The closet door opens before you can jump up to pull the chain and turn off the light. You pray he doesn’t notice.

“Had enough?”

He looks down at you on the floor. You look up, squinting against the daytime brightness. You pull yourself to a standing position using the ammo shelves as leverage. Your legs don’t quite cooperate. You remember to drop your eyes to the carpet because looking directly at him is considered a challenge to his authority. Yes, I’ve had enough, you tell him, because that’s what he wants to hear.

“Good, I hope you learned your lesson,” he says.

“Can I get back to my algebra homework, Daddy, please?” you remembered to say please.

He flicks at a speck of cigarette ash on the ratty terrycloth robe he wears over his work pants.

“Say sorry to your brother then go make me some Sanka. Not too hot, and don’t fill it too full either.”

“Yeah, say you’re sorry.”

You raise your eyes at the sound of your seven-year-old brother’s voice. Across the bedroom, he stands next to your mother and little sister, his arms folded across his chest like an angry genie-child denying wishes. You grit your teeth and take a deep breath through your nose, careful to keep your face blank. He is the worst brother anyone could ever have in your opinion, but you don’t want to sit in a gun-filled closet for the rest of your life so you apologize to him.

“I don’t believe you,” he says, tapping his foot for emphasis.

“That’s enough Mark,” your mother says, “she’s been in the closet for hours.”

You blink your eyes slowly and force your mouth into what you hope passes as an apologetic smile and try again.

“Really Mark, I’m sorry,” you say, “sorry I yelled at you. I just got to study.”

Your brother looks at your father, then back at you and states, “I can come in your room anytime I want.”

You admonish yourself to stay calm. Yes, your father shut you in the closet because you yelled at your do-no-wrong brother, interrupting an important tennis match, as well as your homework; however, this closet punishment trip wasn’t so bad, you handled it.

“Sure, anytime you want, Mark.”

He smirks with triumph.

You remind yourself that in three years you’ll graduate high school, you smile for real at the thought and head to the kitchen to try to make your father the perfect cup of Sanka.

Singer and songwriter Adele Zane was born in Brazil, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with the fine artist Richard Rosenblatt and their rescued terrier, Wally. She has taken memoir writing classes at both FreeBird Writing Workshop and Gotham Writers Workshop.

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Guest Posts, infertility

Five Years and a Baby’s Life Ago

February 28, 2018
infertility

By Jennifer Roberts

Josh and I got married in November of 2012. We’ve been married for 5 years now. In a way I feel like we met yesterday, and in a way I feel like it could have been a lifetime ago.

I grew up in Florida and Josh and I met there in early 2009. When I met him, I had just gotten over one of those “friends with benefits” things that women get into at one point or another of their single years. I wasn’t looking for a serious boyfriend at the time, especially one who was 6 years younger than me who played professional baseball. There were many pro athletes in that area, and because I lived there I made a few friends that played sports professionally over the years, so I knew the stigma attached to dating one of them and that sometimes stereotypes are true.

Needless to say, I ignored my somewhat bitter thoughts and let Josh charm me into what became a relationship worth more than I could have ever dreamed. I knew from the very beginning that when Josh was done playing professionally, he would prefer to move back to the Pacific Northwest permanently. After we got engaged, I finally made up my mind to leave everyone I knew and give the PNW a fair chance to ‘wow’ me and become my home. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Unwelcome Guest

February 23, 2018

By Rebecca Marks

I wait outside your door knowing that you have just hung up the phone, that you have just received the worst possible phone call, the one every parent dreads. Right now, you are unable to move. I will wait for the shock and disbelief to loosen their grip enough for you to let me in. I will surround you, insulate you, protect you but all you will feel is the void, the chill, the despair.

Uninvited, unwelcome, I know you are sorry to meet me. You will wish me gone over and over, but you will also be afraid to let me leave. You may send me away for a while but you know I will return.  I am persistent and I will be here until the work is complete. We will probably be lifelong companions.

I am here because of love. It is my source; it both sustains and weakens me. In the end, it will be the force that puts you back together in some different configuration. It is only pain now, but there will be room for other things. Continue Reading…