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Guest Posts, suicide

Chester Bennington is Dead

August 19, 2019

benningtonCW: 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 Nikki A. Sambitsky

“Just ‘cause you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it, isn’t there.”
-Lyrics taken from “One More Light” as performed by Chester Charles Bennington,
 March 20, 1976-June 20, 2017

Chester Bennington is Dead.

Chester Bennington is dead; I sit struggling with my feelings, knowing what it feels like to reside in that same dark space, grateful to that angelic light, that blessed essence, for guiding me out.

Chester Bennington is dead; his family, bandmates, fans, the world, and I mourn a life who departed this earthly plane too soon. Forsaken youth around the world, in their disbelief and sorrow, crafted makeshift memorials. Some stood singing, some stood in silence, all held slim, white candles that glowed and flickered through the night’s shadowy shroud during poignant vigils.

Chester Bennington is dead; the sadness is all balled up inside my chest, knotted, tangled, coiled, yet, still tethered to my own demons, my own depression that lingers within me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

Call Me What You Will

August 18, 2019
illness

By Rebecca Chamaa

I am one of them, a “mentally ill monster,” and let’s be honest it isn’t just Trump that uses that language. The President might be divisive on many issues, but on this one, he’s in the majority. How do I know? What statistics or facts am I basing my statements on? Life as someone with paranoid schizophrenia. I am making an observation. True, there is a portion of the population that is battling against the stigma of severe mental illness. I can easily name twelve people who live with the same diagnosis I have. I can name them only because those people are brave enough to publicly admit to having a disease that sufferers are demonized or criminalized for having.

Once there was a saying that leprosy was the only illness that was also a crime, but that saying isn’t true now that people with schizophrenia are let alone to eat out of garbage cans or locked up for crimes directly related to their symptoms.

Of course, I want to speak out against the treatment, so many of us struggling receive, like living with delusions, voices, mysterious smells, tastes, and other forms of hallucinations. Speaking out doesn’t make people care, though. I know parents who have a child with this illness who blame severe mental illness for mass shootings. The illness, even if it impacts someone you love, can carry a deep and insidious stigma. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, self-loathing

From Cutter to Mother

August 16, 2019
writing

By Marni Berger

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy!
From “Letter to a Friend” by Fra Giovanni, 1513

When I was eighteen, my grief over the death of my grandmother, who was like a second mother to me, manifested in cutting. I began cutting my arms and legs and thinking of dying. I didn’t want to die, really, so I didn’t go too far, but I’d sit alone in my room and carve away with one of the dull steak knives we had in the drawer, or the Swiss Army Knife my oldest brother brought me from his first study abroad trip, whose adventures I remember made him so happy to retell. I’d watch the blood come out like beads, so small, but so clear that something was hurting me.

I had made friends, in high school and the summer after starting college, with other intense souls who did similar things to themselves, and we fell in love with each other in a friendship sort of way. There are two sweet friends who come to mind now, pale-faced, full of light. With one, I spent a summer drinking smoothies and iced coffee and imagining how the English language sounded to someone who didn’t speak it while cracking up on too much caffeine and dreaming of kissing boys; the other taught me to juggle with a few hacky sacks I kept in my room, and I dreamed of kissing him. No one understands me, we said to each other often. But you. They both died in the span of five years, one drowned, an accident. But I raged when my second friend died, when I found out she had hanged herself. I was living in New York City, not far from where her body had gone unnoticed for days, and bloodied myself worse than before, so now I have scars.

No one understands me, but you. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, Fear, Guest Posts

Paranoid Anxiety

August 12, 2019
gut

By Stephanie Scott

My grandma said, don’t ever come back to her house. She said she’ll defend the son she birthed; “parí” is the word she used, specifically. She said in all the history of our family names no one had ever been a criminal and the first one wasn’t going to be a son she birthed, “parí,” again. It’s the same word used for animals, I use that word because I’m not the delicate type. But I’ve always heard my grandma use the delicate, upper-class term: “dar a luz”. It means to give to the light. I guess even she realizes her son is a creature of the shadows. But that won’t stop her from defending the family name. What she means is no one has ever been formally accused. There’s been no record. No files at the prosecutor’s office thicker than my Master’s Degree portfolio. For generations there were only whispers and warnings; gasps and forced smiles at gatherings; years that passed by until it was “forgotten,” perhaps by the conscious mind, but not by the body. Certainly not by the body of us women, the clan of anxious worriers. I’ve sinned against our name. I’ve formally accused my uncle of “Intimidación.”

I walk into my apartment and leave the door open. First, I check my daughter’s room and look at the terrace through her window. It’s dark outside and no one’s there. Then, I look inside the bathroom—I leave that door open when I leave the house. Next, I forcefully push the closet door—I leave that door closed every morning. Then, I go back and close the door to the apartment. Last, I look out at the terrace through my window and close the window, which I leave open all day to air out the tiny, cramped apartment.

As I hang my keys up next to where the chalinas are hanging, I think to myself: this is my new routine. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, travel, Young Voices

Camino

August 11, 2019
santiago

By Anna Linskaya

“So you’re doing Camino, right?” the Argentinian sitting next to me said, nodding at the trekking pole squeezed between my knees.

“Yep,” I replied.

“Alone?”

“Yep.”

“That’s a bad option in winter, especially for you.”

“For me?”

“For the girl.”

I shrugged, and he continued: “Do you even speak Spanish?”

“No, but it’s not a big problem,” I answered, thinking to myself, everything happening right now is a big problem.

“Let’s see when exactly the sun goes down,” he said, taking out his phone, “Ok, you have to be at your overnight stay by five.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving

Rewriting Scars

August 9, 2019
trash

By Rachel McMullen

When the city started charging for collection, my family started to burn our trash. We didn’t even dig a hole, we just tossed a white plastic bag full of mixed garbage on a grass-less part of the backyard and poured enough gasoline on it to start a fire with a huff. We would watch the flames struggle to dismantle the various materials, melting them down into a colorful liquid that simmered with viscosity. As any child would be, I was curious about this unintended chemistry experiment: like a bonobo probing the earth for a protein reward, I poked the blue of the fire to return the plastic syrup cooking within. I dropped down crossed-legged in the dirt and lifted my prize eye-level, admiring the aquamarine ooze of a what was once a toothpaste tube. Bubbles popped in the muck as huge drops curdled from the end of my stick and fell back onto the edges of the still-burning refuse. Suddenly, my skin sizzled as melted plastic tore through my left leg, breaking down each layer as if it weren’t even there. I remember thinking that tin cans were stronger than my own body. As a knee-jerk, but still delayed reaction, I ripped the now hardened drop of plastic away from my skin faster than a Band-aid, ripped it away with all the now-dead skin underneath, ripped it almost hard enough to not feel the pain before the blood came. And when it did, when it cascaded down my leg and ran toward the fire-torn earth, it drew my blood away toward its dusty innards. I sat in quiet meditation, bleeding but transfixed by the mirrored shape still hot in the palm of my hand: a figure-eight, a bowknot without its tails, infinitely emblazoned in discolored tissue. A symbol of our trash, of my body, burning hot in the backyard. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, Trauma

TRAUMA, MARY OLIVER, AND ME: HOW POETRY SAVED MY LIFE

August 7, 2019
oliver

by Nadia Colburn, PhD

Mary Oliver, who died recently at 83, lit the way forward for me when I doubted that I could ever move past suffering into survival, let alone beauty and joy.

In 2011, I was a poet who had stopped writing poetry. Although writing had long been a trusted friend, holding my hand as I remembered being sexually abused as a child, writing also seemed to hold me in place, to mire me in pain.

Much of the poetry I had once loved now seemed to mirror back to me violence and suffering.  I didn’t want to be the cliche of the unhappy poet, or worse. Two of my poet friends, both also graduates of the my PhD program, had recently committed suicide. I often thought back to Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, two mother poets who had famously committed suicide. I couldn’t help but wonder if poetry was doing us more harm than good.

I was a mother of two young kids when memories of a babysitter abusing me came flooding back. If for a while writing poetry allowed me to express my feelings, I soon worried that the form was holding me in my pain with no way out. I decided to move away from poetry, to write non-fiction instead. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Hope, Young Voices

Hope, The Minotaur

August 5, 2019
hope

By Amanda Loeffelholz

Hope. I spend a lot of time trying to understand it. On one hand, it kept me alive and still does. On the other, I’m not sure if that constitutes it as good. Hope is heroin for the masochist. It provides the justification for repeatedly putting oneself in painful situations under the guise of waiting for the probability of one percent, the one scenario that never happens. Hope never involves the expectation that something will happen. Hope is the barely hanging on, the prayer opposite the barrel of a gun.

What is the one percent anyway? What we all want so desperately that we put a piece of ourselves on the line for it, aware we may never get it back? What we close our eyes and kneel at pagan alters for against all odds? Something is behind the whisper in an otherwise empty room, the clenched fists and the held back tears. The one percent is not situational. It transcends what an individual merely hopes for. It is the thing that cannot be given up on, the thing that is shameful to need and impossible to disregard. Continue Reading…

Child Birth, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Do You Remember

August 3, 2019
shock

By Emily Neuman Bauerle

“Do you remember that moment?” Kalie asked me, “Do you remember what you kept saying?”

As social workers in the emergency department, Kalie and my friendship had been birthed out of a shared experience of “How the fuck do you sleep at night?”

We both knew trauma well, too well. We both knew what shock looked like, how the brain and body respond in moments of catastrophe. We both knew because, for a living, we sat with people in their darkest hours. Every day we went to work, we greeted tragedy, illness and death, like a familiar friend.

“You just kept repeating yourself, over and over. Do you remember?” she asked again.

My mind drifted back to earlier that month when I had held a man who had lost his wife to an unimaginable accident. “You’re telling me my wife is dead?” he said, eyes vacant, voice distant, as he held her limp body. “She’s dead? She’s dead? She’s dead? Just, completely, dead?” Over and over he said the words. As if he was telling himself for the first time, each time

Kalie and I, we knew what the textbooks said. We knew about how the brain gets stuck in a loop and cannot get out. We knew that trauma triggered these responses, that it was the body’s way of dealing with something the brain could not quite process. We knew all about it. And in our own ways, by nature of the work we did, we had both experienced our own vicarious trauma and the subsequent shock that resulted.

“Do you remember?” She asked again, and I realized I didn’t know what she was asking about, my mind had been back in the rooms, with all the families. “Do you remember what you said?”

She was there. She remembered.

“The moment you first touched him. The moment you first held him in your arms. Do you remember?” Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, Self Image

A False Sense of Security

August 1, 2019
self-worth

By  Jamie Carmichael

It’s 6:50pm when I pull in to the condo complex in the minivan. My 12-year old daughter is next to me and her toddler sister is in the back.  The timing is deliberate.  I don’t want to be home too early and I don’t want to be back so late that we have to stress through the nighttime routine. The large white van is parked in front and I sigh. He’s home.  Not surprisingly since he usually gets home between 330 and 5 but still.  Once in a while he’ll work late and I’ll be giddy with the quiet space that will welcome us. I can unload the bags. The girls will shake off their coats and let out some energy. We’ll eat whatever we picked up from McDonald’s or the pizza place or I’ll make something and then put the dishes in the dishwasher, fold the laundry and just be in peace.

But those days are few and far between.

Usually what happens is that we’ll come back from the library or the grocery store and my husband will be upstairs in the bathroom where he spends an inordinate amount of time doing whatever it is that he does.  I’ll be in the kitchen or helping with homework with our older daughter and then at some point he’ll come down instantly ramping up the tension.

Will he acknowledge me or go straight to asking the girls how they are as if I’m not there?  Will I greet him in a measured way so I’m not being superficially upbeat but also not ignoring him? The thing is that I’m not ever entirely sure where we stand that day.

Partial disclosure:  We have been married for 16 years. We haven’t slept in the same bed for 12.

Full disclosure:  I had an affair 6 years ago and filed for divorce.  After confessing both to my husband said he eventually said he wanted to stay together.  I didn’t think it would work out but the fact that he wanted to stay together automatically made me want to too. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Making Shit Happen

Clearing A Landing Pad

July 29, 2019
landing

By Sarah Clayville

The clutter had won, and it wasn’t the first time.

My children and I live in a small ranch house in the sweet center of Pennsylvania. Our bedrooms are within inches of each other, and it’s an easy to race from the kitchen to the bathroom in one breath. Fewer rooms should mean less cleaning, right? Modest living and all? Yet I found myself smack dab in the middle of our family room wondering how I had managed to get there without breaking an ankle tripping over my son’s tennis sneakers or my daughter’s dolls laying askew. The scene recreated a World War II photo. In fact, we were in a war – with our things.

“Ten-minute cleanup. Let’s go,” I chirped, singing the chorus of our nightly family theme song.

The three of us scattered and tossed everything we could reach into bins and baskets. The floor was temporarily clear, but no one felt satisfied or relaxed. We all silently acknowledged the looming truth. The next day those nefarious piles of junk would be lurking, and we’d inevitably need something from the bottom of the stacks, forcing us to dislodge the mess and face our enemy anew.

I realized that this game of tug of war, both with my children and with the mess, offered no resolution other than momentary band-aids and alternating cajoling and crisis. The clutter had learned to pull the ultimate gremlin trick of multiplying. And the disorder was never resolved. I’d love to say that I’m going to teach you to become a de-cluttering wizard who finds the strength to discard half of your possessions and sequester the other half to their proper spots. But I’m not that wizard. Instead I’m a lowly apprentice who collects odds and ends because some day I firmly believe I will use them. And my children follow suit, preserving the confetti that springs from small toys or tickets stubs that could later populate a collage or school project.

And so, we found ourselves at an impasse one night when the clutter had won, everyone was grumpy, and I realized that I had to approach things differently. For myself. And for them. As a parent, nothing is quite so soul-crushing as the realization that your faults may have subtly attached themselves to your children. I retired to my bedroom, determined to beat the weight of things while avoiding sacrificing nostalgic pieces we cherished. I settled into my desk where the pens were neatly arranged by height and extra pushpins aligned to form stars and faces on my bulletin board. Sitting in this uncluttered and orderly space allowed me to tune out dirty dishes in the sink or the toilet paper roll the dog had chewed into modern art behind one of the sofas. These several feet by several feet saved me. They made a landing pad where I could touch down and breathe. And while I knew that there was no way the three of us could attain this ultimate zen space in every room, every day, I had a revelation.

We could create several landing pads in several rooms that helped us forgive the mess elsewhere.

Let’s be honest. Life is messy more often than not. Mess can even be joyful, yet emotionally draining. But landing pads would be sacred and clear. This revelation felt obvious and intuitive, but I’d never considered the strategy before. Studying my desk, I ran my hands across the wood and felt a tactile rush. I knew this game plan would be a hard sell to a teenager and a tween, especially for the eight-year-old who took pride in amassing the world’s largest collection of Barbies that all looked identical, but the analogy made sense to me. A landing pad was all anyone needed to touch down and breathe.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy. I’d also be lying if I said the process and the results didn’t change our lives.

First, we collectively decided on a few places in a few rooms. The family room sofa which tended to be everyone’s go-to nest and the space between the sofa and the television became our first landing pad. It didn’t worry us if the journey there was a little messy, but sitting down and looking ahead felt easy. Unburdened. The dining table was next, a notorious magnet for afterschool drops or weekend stacks of laundry, papers, and art projects. I translated the bigger goals into simpler statements. Modest motions. Gone were the diatribes of the importance of organization. Instead, I would run my hand from one side of the table to the other.

“We should always be able to just do this,” I said.

I even caught my children mimicking my gesture from time to time, a physical meditation as if it was clearing from our brains the cobwebs that had gathered during the day. It didn’t matter as much that the kitchen sink wasn’t empty. We had our landing pads. And soon they spread, to corners of bedrooms that became safe spots. Once, my daughter moved her things away from the dog’s bed, concerned that she wasn’t letting him enjoy his own landing pad, too.

Parenting all too often teeters on unrealistic expectations promoted by social media and our own pressure on ourselves. Add to it thousands of planners and gurus telling us that we can manage it all, balance it all, attend to it all, when not all of us can divide ourselves that way. Nor do we want to. I find myself ending each day in one of those landing zones. My favorite is still in my bedroom at my desk. There is room for tea and a magazine, pens and a notebook. Often I run my hand across the empty surface and recognize that, with the comfort of my own personal landing pad, taking off the next morning is oh so much easier.

Sarah Clayville’s work has appeared both online and in print in several dozen journals including The Threepenny Review, Mothers Always Write, and Central PA Magazine. She is a teacher and freelance editor as well as a literary editor for several journals. Sarah’s writing focuses on surviving both big and small bumps that life often throws at us.

 

Gratitude, Guest Posts, Jen Pastiloff, On Being Human

A Note from Jen and Angela: We Are Back!

July 2, 2019
back

Hey everyone! We are back! It’s been a while since we’ve posted, but so much has happened! The big news is that “On Being Human” is in bookstores now! The book was named by both The Washington Post and Inc.com as must a read during the summer – can you believe it? Jen has started touring the country and will be doing both book signings and workshops. She started off July in Denver and is headed East for stops up and down the coast over the month. Details on upcoming events can be found here.

Angela’s life has been about book launch party planning, easing into summer, writing, reading, and getting used to being engaged to The Guy. Not quite as glamorous as having a best-selling book out, but just as over the moon exciting (especially the bit about The Guy).

We both so appreciate your patience during the needed hiatus and are thrilled to be back at it with new posts scheduled starting next week. The essays we are going through are amazing and we are always eager to read more, so don’t hesitate to submit a finished piece about no bullshit mother hood, perspective from a young voice, or observations on making it all work (or not!) If you haven’t received a response on your piece or are looking to know when it is scheduled, send Angela a note and she will get back to you.

In the coming days we will have a form on the site where you can give us feedback on features and themes you want to hear about, so keep an eye out. We want to hear from you and are excited about what ideas you have for the site.

Thank you so much for joining us on this crazy ride and enjoy the long holiday weekend!

xoxo-

Jen and Angela

P.S. If you don’t already, follow us on Instagram and Facebook. Jen can be found here and here. Angela can be found here and here.

P.P.S. Don’t be an asshole.

 

empty nest, Guest Posts

Hello, My Future Self!

May 24, 2019
self

By Claudia Hinz

I leave the doors to their rooms open. I have tried it with the doors closed but that only makes me sadder. With her door open I can see straight into my daughter Anna’s room from the kitchen. Not that I pretend she is about to come home, but it feels more normal. When I go into the girls’ bathroom, I see the note. Anna has stuck the yellow Post-it to a new roll of toilet paper. “Hello future Nicole and Anna!” she has written. “Signed Anna (hee hee!) August 16.” Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Absence

May 22, 2019
eyes

By Rachel Greenley

Green is the rarest of eye colors—only two percent of the world’s population. My children had a fifty-percent chance to be born with green eyes. When the twins were born with blue, I was blue. I lie in one hospital bed. My green-eyed husband, Jim, lie in another. We were thirteen miles apart. He was undergoing total body irradiation as I gave birth, his pale hospital gown tied in the back just like mine, his own plastic hospital bracelet around his wrist just like mine.

Melanin is pigment. It makes hair, skin, eyes light or dark. Absence of melanin is a palette devoid of color—a blank slate, an empty canvas, a hollow grief. Have you seen the eyes of someone grieving? They carry a particular look—as if pain’s sharp layers could live in an iris.

Stroma is a layer of tissue in the iris. The amount of melanin or pigment in one’s stroma creates eye color. Albino eyes lack pigment. Blue eyes have a touch. More melanin leads to green. A healthy dose delivers brown. From faint to blue to green to brown. Inherited from parents’ genes. Continue Reading…

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