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coming out post

depression, Guest Posts, Owning It!, Sexuality

The Coming Out Post

June 23, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Renée Greiner.

I wanted this to be eloquent and researched with facts and figures to legitimize my pain. I wanted a weekend of three days to write this post to y’all but it can’t wait any longer. I’m in a 14 month program at Johns Hopkins University for nursing; and I’m being inundated with information and rules and patients with cardiovascular disease comorbid with obesity that beg some real empathy, the kind of empathy that everyone deserves and is lacking in our fast-paced system.

I thought at one point that yoga could heal it; or that I didn’t need therapy; or I didn’t need support; or my ingrained homophobia would just poof disappear. Because it seems so antithetical to be carrying around this deep shame when so many states and people are starting to finally realize that we aren’t child molesters.

And for the record, I used that term on purpose. I’m sick to my bones with the fact that even a teeny, tiny or maybe a bigger portion than I know associate me and the LGBT people I know with people who do awful things.

I am gay. I’ve toyed with the word bisexual because my sexuality is somewhat fluid, and I don’t know exactly where I’ll be in 10 years or so; and it just seems so nice to have a partner who can impregnate you, and then have a child who resembles you both.

But really I’ve toyed with word bisexual to avoid the bigoted stuff that lesbians face in large. The stuff that doesn’t go away if you chose to love the same gender. 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.

 

Guest Posts, Manifestation Retreats, travel

Turn on The Light, Mother F*%cker. Post Italy Blog.

July 2, 2017

By Jen Pastiloff

I don’t blog often here on the site anymore but I wanted to share about my last Italy retreat. I so rarely stop and write things down and for that I beat myself up. I regret that I didn’t do it because I forget details so quickly. But do we? Do I? Don’t they stay in us somewhere? All the things, all the people? All the forgottens? My son is clawing at my feet and I am trying to type this quickly in my terrible nogoodineverlearnedtotype typing fashion. He is trying to grab my coffee cup. He wants to push the keyboard. He wants my boobs. (How does anyone ever get a thing done with a toddler?)

Jet lag has been rough. I have been to so many places and dealt with far greater time differences but this go-round was particulary rough. Charlie couldn’t adjust so our whole house (the 3 of us) were backwards for a few days. I feel like I am just coming out of a fog and I am missing Italy and the people who came something awful. Continue Reading…

Child Birth, Guest Posts

Postpartum Bleeding and Power Chords

June 25, 2017

By Bess Vanrenen

It was a Friday, six days after the birth of my first child, Marcel, and I was bleeding. Almost every nurse, doctor, and aid who had come into my hospital room told me that while postpartum bleeding was normal, I should tell them if I filled a pad in under an hour or passed a clot larger than an egg. After Marcel and I were discharged from the hospital, I kept a running list in my head of symptoms I should look out for in him and in me. We had already dealt with weight gain issues in him and had bought formula to supplement my breast milk, and six days later, I thought we were beyond the intensity of the postpartum period. Then I started bleeding. The kind of bleeding they tell you about. Though I hadn’t filled a pad in under an hour, it was a heavy flow. Pacing our tightly woven living room rug, I called the advice line at Kaiser, and the nurse who answered the phone ran the all-too-familiar questions by me. No, I hadn’t filled a pad in under an hour and no, I hadn’t passed a clot larger than an egg. So far, my situation was within the normal range.

An hour or two later, I sat on the toilet changing my pad yet again when I felt something substantial slip out of me. Fear coursed through my body, and I jumped up from the toilet. I knew what it was—a blood clot significantly larger than an egg—but I had to be sure. I could only manage a quick peek in the toilet. There, I saw what looked like a baseball-sized clot—impossibly large, red, and viscous. I called out to Jared, my husband, “We have to go to the emergency room. Now.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Dangerous Mouths

December 11, 2016
zombie

By Kimi Eisele

On your journey you will come to a time of waking. The others may be asleep. Or you may be alone.
-Muriel Rukeyser

One summer I watched 60 hours of the zombie apocalypse on Netflix. Four seasons of The Walking Dead. Then, because I couldn’t wait six months for the next season, I watched that on free TV web sites, which, because they were illegal, shuffled on and offline in mysterious fashion.

I’d make popcorn and pour myself a glass of wine then move the laptop to the coffee table and sit and eat and drink and watch. Usually two episodes in a row. Sometimes three. Or four.

Watching between two and six episodes of a show at one sitting is considered “binge-watching,” according to a 2014 Netflix survey. Of those surveyed, 61 percent reported binge-watching regularly, and 73 percent said they felt good about it. Binge-watching was a better way to experience a serial drama; it offered a welcome refuge from modern-day, busy life.

I didn’t watch to escape busyness. I was trying to recover a mangled heart and didn’t know how else to staunch the bleeding. Continue Reading…

SOLD OUT. The Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human. The Only Los Angeles Event with Jen Pastiloff.

October 31, 2016

Join Jen Pastiloff in her signature workshop and see why she sells out every time. She very rarely does L.A. workshops so book asap as this one is her smallest workshop. It will be capped at 30 people whereas all the others have 60.  Please note that it is non-refundable and non-transferable. This is a perfect holiday gift for someone. Women and non-gender conforming people only.

 

This isn’t your typical yoga workshop nor is it about the poses, although there will be some yoga sprinkled in here and there. It’s about being human. It’s about letting go of fear. It’s about connection and telling the truth. A yoga workshop that’s not just about yoga (and can sometimes be not about yoga at all). A writing workshop for struggling writers, to-be writers, and non-writers. A dance party and a sing along for dancers, singers, klutzes, tone-deaf, actual deaf, and hard of hearing singers. A trust and love circle. A place to make shit happen. A workshop for humans.

The workshop combines body movement and writing (and has been known to have a few dance parties and singing).
All levels welcome, no yoga experience required.
People Magazine says: “Jennifer Pastiloff is changing women’s lives with her empowerment workshops.”

“Dear Jen, from you I have learned to alchemize fear with love, to redistribute love through compassion, to enter a room with others.” – Lidia Yuknavitch

 

“Jen Pastiloff is a conduit of awakenings.” – Cheryl Strayed
“The best 3 hours of my life.” ~ Mary, Atlanta 2016

“My spirit is still soaring after our soul work in NYC.” ~ Melissa, NYC

“There was a time- when I was 13 years old-ish- that I can remember feeling consistently and fully ME, without excuses or apologies. Coming to your workshop gives me that feeling again.” ~ Vicky
Please note:

There will be much laughter. Maybe a few tears. It’s been known to change lives.
Bring an open heart. Expect to go beyond your comfort zone. Come see why Jen travels around the world with this workshop. Bring journal/open heart/sense of humor. This experience is about life: unpredictable, sometimes messy, beautiful, human.

Cost: $85.00 Non-refundable. Non-transferable.


 

Click pic to book workshop.

 

Please note: Bring a journal and pen and a yoga mat if you prefer your own. The next event after this is the New Year’s Retreat in Ojai, Calif. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com to book that one or put a deposit here.

 

*Women and non-gender conforming people only.

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

What David Bowie Taught Me about Art, Death And Letting Go

October 14, 2016

By Grace Loh Prasad

The Montclair Railroad Trail is a mile-long, tree-lined path carved into the side of the Oakland Hills. From 1913 until 1957, the trail was part of a passenger rail line that ran from San Francisco through Oakland to Sacramento and Chico. Today it’s hard to imagine that trains once rolled on this narrow path through abundant eucalyptus and oak trees; no traces remain of the railroad or the station that once sat at the foot of Paso Robles, an area now occupied by a row of large, immaculate homes with two-car garages and shaded patios.

We go running on the trail almost every week. Years ago I pushed my son Devin in a stroller here; now he runs beside me and we race the last twenty yards over the footbridge to the stairs that lead to Montclair Village. Every now and then I run alone. I study the trees and I think about how old they must be, about how they have witnessed so much – the railroad being built then abandoned; houses rising one by one; families arriving, expanding and eventually leaving, to be replaced by new families. Time passes, but the trees always remain, season after season, year after year. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

The Thing About Being Raped

October 9, 2016
raped

TW: This essay discusses rape. 

By Perveen Maria

The thing about being raped is that for most or the rest of your life, you believe in your skull and feel in your heartpools like you don’t have a choice in certain situations or with certain people. You think you have to do this or you should do that because when you tried to say no before you were overpowered and shut down and yelled at and screamed at and hit with drunken hands and pinned down with a manbody who believed he was king, but was really a nobody who stole my virgin ring.

When you are raped, you have a rage inside that demands to be heard and recognized and appreciated and valued, but this rage inside can’t be visible on the outside because this is why girls and women are raped. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Women, writing

Our Becoming

September 23, 2016

By Carol Reedy Rogero

“There is no tidy end to any story, as much as we might hope. Stories continue in all directions to include even the retelling of the stories themselves, as legend is informed by interpretation and interpretation is informed by time.”  Garth Stein -A Sudden Light

The End. Those are two powerhouse words not necessarily written at the culmination of a book or story. Two words that elicit impassioned pleadings of “More, More” at children’s story-time. I can close my eyes and remember my own children reciting those words and then begging for a repeat of a favorite tale or questioning its end with a chorus of “what happened next”.  As an adult reader I’ve stared transfixed by the print on the last page of a book and felt an actual pang, a physical longing for more. I’ve ached for the adventure to continue, the pleasure to remain, the unanswered to be answered, the gutted feeling to dissipate and for the smile in my heart to keep radiating warmth.

Some stories have epilogues or sequels, but not all do. Or do they? Is there always a definitive point on that final page where there is no more that could or should be added? Fiction may often seem to have natural stopping points, resolutions or tidy endings but what about the narratives of our lives? What about the non-fiction realities we’re born into, exist in, grow and create in? While we may have lived, loved, and walked away, did those particular stories really end there? Have they been put to rest, packed away, buried or burned on a funeral pyre? Or do chapters of our narratives continue to live and breathe in hibernation? Are they continually regenerated and assimilated into our “becoming”? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Medication, Mental Health

Unbecoming

September 15, 2016
sleep

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…

Grief, Guest Posts, Pets

What I Think About My Dog’s Death

August 26, 2016
dog

By John Coleman

He who understands everything about his subject cannot write it. I write as much to discover as to explain. —Arthur Miller

Two days ago at this time, wife Kathy and I sat in our living room, not watching whatever cooking program was on television. Son Micah was in the attic having a go at his electric drum set.

When I got down to the last bite of my cold breakfast sandwich, I said, “I was just going to give this to Watson.”

But rigor mortis was setting in about this time, our old buddy having received the injections that cemented our decision to euthanize him. The first shot made him snore deep in his throat. The second killed him almost immediately. Once the syringe of blue pentobarbital started to empty, I wondered how often pet owners say, “Hey, stop, wait, I changed my mind.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Five Things I Remember About Being Raped

March 6, 2016
rape

Trigger warning: This essay discusses rape.

By Marianne M. Porter

Memory #1: The Sound

At 1:15 in the morning, on a bitter cold February night, the sound of clunky boots pounding on the wooden steps that led to my door woke me from a peaceful sleep. Then I heard frantic knocking. Prior to the banging, I thought it may have been the guy I was dating, a casual relationship over the past month. I opened the door, but it was someone else, someone I had knows for about half a year, but I trusted him. He must have needed help.

I didn’t think about the possibility that soon I would need help. This guy and I hung out with mutual friends. He helped me find my studio apartment above his friend’s garage six months earlier. He was married, soon to be divorced. I could see he was drunk when he stepped into my room. He sat next to me on my makeshift couch, lowered his head and cried. He wanted to talk, said he felt lonely, said he missed his wife.

We talked for a few minutes about his impending divorce and as I consoled him with positive talk about his future, I wondered simultaneously how I would get him out of my place. My apartment was isolated from the house it was attached to, a lone room above a garage. In fact the downstairs homeowners were both alcoholics and one of them was on oxygen, a few months away from death. He was the kind of man who cheated on his wife with young girls while she was at work. I caught him once when I made a surprise visit to my place in the middle of the day. A girl with long blonde hair hurried out his front door to her car in the driveway, laughing and giggling at the man in the window. My landlord waved at me, oxygen prongs stuck in his nostrils, finger raised to his lips to indicate this was a secret between him and me. Continue Reading…

courage, depression, Grief, Guest Posts, Miscarriage

After The Miscarriage: A Letter to My BFF about my PTSD

December 14, 2015

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses the trauma that can come with miscarriage.

By Jessica van Alderwerelt

There is so much I’ve wanted to say but haven’t been saying because it is hard for me to talk to you about what I’m going through, writing seemed easier. There are a few important things I have to communicate to you that have been going on because not saying them, I think, has created expectations that I am doing better than I actually am.

In hopes that you’ll understand me better, I’m going to share some pretty dark shit with you that I’ve been working on in therapy. I’m chipping away at making sense of my trauma but it’s a process that takes time and I will never be the same as I was before. I wanted to die. I wanted to stop the pain so much I was considering killing myself to make it stop. It was the scariest. Not only was it the immediate trauma related to my pregnancy loss but it dredged up so much past trauma, like my rape and my parent’s divorce, and my mom’s cancer (and my cancer scare), and my dad being absent for all those years. Trauma (and PTSD) is like that. It brings up all the stuff that felt the same, every time I felt robbed, scared for my life, abandoned, etc. Some days I physically cannot get out of bed because there is 2,000 pounds of weight bearing down on me. I can’t lift my arms or head. If I don’t have plans or obligations and no one is watching, I literally do not get out of bed to eat or shower or see the sun. Often for days at a time. I am debilitated.

Here is something I wrote in therapy. Maybe it’ll give you some insight into what I’m going through:

I wasn’t supposed to get too excited about my positive pregnancy test or tell anyone until I was sure and because so much can happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. For me, I experienced 12 weeks of sweating every night, hugging my belly, dreaming about my new future, celebrating to myself that I was finally pregnant.

I was so excited about what motherhood would bring– making plans for vacations to Iceland (where I honeymooned) with my little Olive and her daddy. I bought things for her room– my favorite being a beautiful, small hand-carved and painted wooden elephant that opens with a little latch securing a tiny hiding spot. She would have it on her dresser as a baby with a love note from me in it, she’d hide her diary key in it as a kid, put it on her desk as a teen to store her forbidden lipstick, and she’d move it with her to her dorm room to stash some pot– she would always have Ellie the elephant as a tether to home. Continue Reading…

Compassion, death, Grief, Guest Posts

Out of Death, Something

November 22, 2015

By Mark Liebenow

In late April we gather our dead and cry. For some it has been a year since our lives were ripped apart, for others barely a month. Emotions are on edge.

We are the families of those who died and donated their organs, and we have gathered at Chabot College in Northern California to honor our loved ones. My mother-in-law Marjorie has come with me. She is doing better after burying Evelyn, her youngest child and my wife, and is back to running the office of her retirement community.

I think of Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. He went to college here at Chabot, and there is a life-sized cutout of him in the lobby. He plays a man who struggles to survive physically and emotionally after his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. In one scene, before learning how to make a fire, he eats a raw, gelatinous fish. The look in his eyes as he chews is of a person wondering what’s the point when it’s unlikely he will ever be rescued. I know that look. When he gets back home years later, his wife has remarried, so he begins a new life with what he has left. I sense he will be happy, and wish that life was like it is in the movies.

Reg Green is the main speaker and talks about the desperate need for organ donations. The wife of my friend John was one of those who died waiting. In 1994, robbers killed Green’s seven-year-old son, Nicholas, when the family was vacationing in Italy. He and his wife donated their son’s organs to seven Italians. Because of their selfless act, the organ transplant movement finally took hold in that country. Donations doubled and thousands of people are alive because of them. A movie was made about it, Nicholas’ Gift, which starred Alan Bates and Jamie Lee Curtis. “Each year in the U.S.,” Green says, illustrating how often even the very young die, “five thousand families donate the organs of a child.”

After his speech, the smiling face of each donor in a time of happiness fills the large theater screen, and a hush settles over us. Music fills the auditorium as image after image bring back the childhood joy of Danielle, age fifteen, red bandana on her head; Dexter, two years old; forty-eight-year-old Bill with a Fu Manchu moustache; Maribel, a young mother dead at twenty-six; three-year-old Eddrick in his new sweater; nine-month-old Alexandre in knitted cap; and the photos and names of one hundred and forty others, including Evelyn’s, her face shining with hope.

Ev died in her forties of an unknown heart problem, and I think of the dreams we had for our future that now lie in ruins. In the memorial booklet I read the words I wrote that begin: “Evelyn’s soul was sweet like dawn in the Sierra Nevada. She was intoxicating like alpine air. The light in her eyes illuminated the dark paths through the forest of my heart….” Continue Reading…