Sorry About Those Bananas
by Nicole Freire
Yeah, I kind of disappeared last week.
My mother called right away, demanding to know where her column was. Co-workers asked me where my writing was. My patient editor, Ed, sent me an email that simply said, "Article?"
I kind of squirmed and said, "Oh, well, it was right after the inauguration and I didn't have much to say".
In the last few weeks, I've run into enough people who have said to me, "Hey, I didn't know that was you writing!" to make me feel kind of shy. Lots of those people also said, "That was so funny! You're really funny!"
I squirmed even more and said, "Um, the t-shirt thing was funny I guess."
And my almost 12-year-old daughter reads my column religiously and sometimes gets upset at things she reads. Remember when I was freaking out about my husband being out of work? I wrote something about how we'd have to plant a victory garden or go live with my parents. It took me quite a while to explain to a nervous almost 12-year-old that we weren't really going to live with Mimi and Papa (although it seems not that crazy these days), that Mommy was slightly exaggerating. You know, for literary effect.
And now I squirm even more because if my eldest kid is reading this column, it severely limits the stories I can tell that feature her. How can I write that my daughter has a boy, a boy who's a "friend", but not really, that they text each other like crazy, without risking a) exposing too much and b) the certain cries of "Mom! How could you say that?"
(I'm totally going to get it for sure now that I've written that paragraph.)
So I've been self-censoring and questioning what I write here every Wednesday. Uh, that is, except for last Wednesday. Sorry about that.
Because the reason I disappeared last week? It's not funny, not even remotely amusing, and surely not as entertaining as my dragon and skull and bones shirt.
It was almost like a bad case of writer's block, except that it involved my brain chemistry. I've written about this before, my not very perfect brain chemistry. My penchant to swing from a little dose of stress to feeling like I'm the Titanic and have hit a mental iceberg. It has a few different names, small variations on definitions in the DSM, a pretty solid diagnosis, and a host of pharmaceuticals to help keep it all (and me) in balance.
Sometimes I am ok with it, this pendulum of happy and sad, depressive and mildly manic. Sometimes I use the diabetes analogy, which any good mental health professional - or patient - can whip out with ease. It goes like this: you have a disease, a disease that's treatable, one you can take medication for, one that involves seeing doctors, and nobody would think less of you for dealing with it. Something to be managed. And when all is well, that analogy works well.
And then there are times that are not good. That's when it sucks. And even though I do the good patient thing, see my doctor, adjust my meds, talk about things with my therapist - and it still doesn't change from merely sucky but instead strays into really sucky territory? This is when I hide a little. It's a subtle change for some, as I try really hard to fake it. It's a huge change for those who have to live with me and with whom I can't fake it.
I get mad. And then I'm really pressed to think of anything remotely funny to write about. And I get sad. I can't write or think of things to write about and can't think of why anyone would want to read what I've written.
So. Things have been stressful lately. Extremely stressful. Stress is hard for me. Anxiety is hard for me. Because I don't just feel it a little, I feel it a lot. It's like having a hangnail that turns into an ulcer. Or a broken leg.
And I was having trouble sleeping. As in, not sleeping. Waking up every hour and a half. Staggering through the day like I had a newborn, but not a cute one. I huddled again with my team of professionals. We tried one kind of sleeping medication. I stayed awake, looking at the ceiling. We tried another. I started having panic attacks. My heart would race; I was convinced I was dying, and terrified that nothing would ever be right again.
It's the Titanic! We're all going down!
We tried to alleviate the panic attacks. With limited success. We tried another sleeping medication. It didn't work either. In fact, I felt worse. Much worse.
So, as I write this, I am not being funny. I can't think of anything funny. News headlines freak me out, mostly because my husband is still unemployed and every news website uses giant sized fonts that say "Entire United States Lost Their Jobs Today".
I am still totally in the tank for Obama, and Inauguration Day was like political Christmas for me. But thinking of a Democratic president doesn't help me sleep.
And, oh my gosh, I am tired of it. I am tired of writing about it, I am tired of trying to fix it. AGAIN. I am tired of feeling like a rat in a clinical drug trial. I want to sleep. I want to not be anxious. I would like to feel like a normal person, one whose life does not go to hell in a hand basket because the pollen count is high or the wind is blowing the wrong way.
I would like to take up drinking or smoking, except that I can't drink because of some of the fun medications I take. And I don't like alcohol anyway. And smoking, everyone in the universe knows that smoking is bad. It says so right on the pack of cigarettes!
I would like to run away. But where would I go? And of course I wouldn't run away. I have a wonderful husband, beautiful and smart children and supportive parents and friends. So instead, I read books with vampires in them. And mysteries. And glossy magazines about what star looks too thin and what star wore that ugly dress.
I want to apologize. For not being funny, for not being clever, for not coming here this week with a good story. For not going to the film festival because I just couldn't figure out how I was going to get out of the house that much.
I apologize for my creaky brain chemistry. I apologize that it makes living with me difficult. I am sorry for being so tired. I am sorry that I'm in fix-it mode again. I am sorry for being so anxious all the time. I am sorry that drinking chamomile tea with honey doesn't make me sleepy.
And I'm sorry to show you these rotten bananas, but it was the only picture I took this week that was in focus. I did make banana bread though.
I am trying to hang in there and be patient. Please be patient with me. This will lift eventually and I'll be funny again.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.