The factory is silent. Its assembly line stands motionless. Somewhere off in the darkness, a buzzer sounds. One by one, lights begin to flicker and illuminate on long-unmanned diagnostic panels, giving a sense of enormity and complexity and scale to the machinery. The low hum of power supplies warming up comes next, followed by the higher and louder whine of turbines and electric motors. A whistle sounds, and one by one, employees begin to file in and take their places at the controls. Purposed for a single task, whose time has now come, the factory slowly comes to life...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On moms and depression

The news yesterday of Robin Williams's suicide hit me kind of hard. My exact words on Facebook were, "If a brilliant comedian, a man renowned for his generosity and kindness of spirit, loved by millions he's never met, with the support of the world and time and money behind him, succumbs to his internal torture, his own relentless demons, what hope have we mere mortals?"

Depression doesn't discriminate, doesn't care for status or money or fame, age or sex.

My primary thought for today is the expression that "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

I know it sounds trite now, but the first time I heard it, it was a revelation.

I've been battling depressive episodes for most of my adult life. I have a wonderful life, and I know I'm not just sad or depressed because things go wrong sometimes. I am unwell. And once I realized that depression is a debilitating illness, a chemical imbalance, no different than arthritis or cancer or diabetes, I understood that I needed to treat it that way too. I went off medication for a long time even, using alternatives like relaxation and cognitive training instead. But then a huge postpartum episode pushed me to seek help again when I realized it felt insurmountable, and I moved back to medication. A few years later I'm still struggling. But I am a work in progress.

As I've reminded my husband several times today, my children need me, and a sad mommy is better than no mommy. Even in my darkest hours I remember this. But today's sadness isn't the usual. It's a grieving rather than depression. It's a function of an actual sad event, and I am conscious of it.

I make no secrets of my struggle because I'm pretty much the worst at asking for help from anyone for anything; ask my family. I've realized that if I just put it out there, it makes it easier for others to jump in and help. So many of us don't want to be seen as "weak", or as a burden. We don't want to worry others with what we consider to be our own insignificance. And unfortunately it's that same feeling that helps drive suicide. Suicide is not selfish. It is born out of the inability to see that, especially to those who love you, you will never be a burden. It's a last desperate attempt to normalize the world for yourself and for those you care about. You lack the ability to see the utter chaos and devastation that follows. All you see is the permanent solution. And your life is the only thing in the way. It's the blindness of mental illness.

The sad truth is that the state of mental health in our country is a twofold problem. First, somehow, ridiculously enough, there is still a very obvious stigma attached to mental illnesses and addiction. For example, people are afraid of medication. It's not the best solution in all cases, it's not for everyone, but it's a tool. It can help. It's nothing to fear. People are afraid of people taking medication. I've always said it's the people NOT taking their medication that you have to worry about...

People also don't know how to talk about depression or other mental illness. If they are the sufferer, they fear ridicule or rejection. It's an uncomfortable subject because at our core as humans, we want to be happy. It's just as uncomfortable as talking about death or money or politics because it causes us to come into conflict with our happy equilibrium. So people avoid it. But as social creatures, we need to talk about it. We need to learn how to at least open the conversations with one another. The more we speak, the more we see we are the same.

The second problem I will illustrate through an example. So I said I'm taking medication, but I need an adjustment. My primary care physician isn't comfortable changing it because he says, "I'm just guessing. I don't like that approach. You should really see psych." So he gave me a referral to a psychiatrist (MD) to be evaluated and properly prescribed.

I saw my primary on June 6th. It took a MONTH for the referred psych office to even call me to discuss my case, then an additional two weeks to call me just to schedule an appointment. Then they told me, "The earliest appointment we have is late September." I will be waiting almost four months, more than a month from today, even, until I can see someone covered by my insurance who can prescribe medication.(I convinced my primary to let me try something else in the mean time, which has helped, btw.)

If that isn't a screwed up system, I don't know what is.

We therefore need one another. It isn't about me and I and myself, it is about we, and we are all we have. Let's have the conversations. Let's talk about what bothers us. Misery loves company, if nothing else.

Someday I will need to guide my children. I will need to let them know when they succumb to their crazy teenage hormones, I will always listen. It may seem that your problems are insurmountable. That this is the worst day ever, and that this is the worst thing that ever happened to you, and that (s)he broke your heart, and no one will ever love you. But I will try my hardest to listen without judging. I will try to listen without belittling your feelings and perspective. I will respect your emotions and not necessarily try to solve your problems, but just be a good listener. And if you ask my advice I will give it. You are not alone, and just because you can't see the answer doesn't mean there isn't one. We will find it together.

I offer the same to my loved ones. I cannot cure you. I am not a professional. I probably can't even cheer you up. But I can hold your hand. And I can listen. The first step in overcoming any problem is recognizing the problem, and clearly defining it. If you can say, in some way, "I'm hurting, and I need help," you have taken the hardest step. Go one step further and get it. Help is out there. You are never, ever alone. There is no problem for which we cannot find a solution together.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is there for you if you are hurting, or if you know someone who is. If you need help right away they can advise you, even if you have concerns about someone on social media. They have online chat if you are in crisis right now. It is free and confidential.

From their website:
If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.

 Get help now: or call 1-800-273-8255, any time, 24/7.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Earn money by working from home!

In positive news, today is the first day in almost 3 years that Craig and I are working in the house together alone, sans children. The last time was when we still had a nanny for Claire, right before James was born.

People are often incredulous about our life. It does raise a lot of questions:

How did you get a job working from home? How can I work from home?
I've been remote since 2005, when I joined a technology team that was scattered around the country. It made more sense to work from home, so I've been doing it ever since. I believe that currently my whole team is remote. But before that, I was in an office. So was Craig. He worked for his company in Virginia, but when we wanted to move back to Charlotte, he lobbied to be able to keep his job and work remotely. He apparently made a compelling argument, and he's been working from our home office since 2007. So my advice would be that you will likely first need a job in an office that has the capability to be done remotely. (If you want a good job, that is. I'm sure there's some scammy ones out there that don't require that, but I wouldn't recommend them.)

How do you get any work done?
We're a team. Craig's job is very task-based, but mine is project-based. Craig needs to be at his desk and attentive at all times, so I take (took) most of the burden, except when he gets a break at lunch. I do 90% of my work at night, because it doesn't always require a lot of interaction. (Which leads to raised eyebrows sometimes when people see what time I send emails. But I'm a night owl anyway.) The 10% is conference calls or phone calls, when everyone can behave for a little while, or I do it during nap time. We juggle. It works.

How can you two work together all day and be together ALL DAY?
It can be rough never having a break in between your work life and your home life. That's probably one of the most challenging aspects. It wasn't so bad when we didn't have kids because we could each do our own thing, even though we sat at a desk across from each other. But kids demand a lot more interaction. And there's no commute time to wind down or shift gears. It's challenging for sure. But you make it work.

Which seems to be a theme for a lot of the things we do around here. In the words of the inimitable Tim Gunn, you "make it work." You do it because you have to. You do it because you love your family. You do it because you need to be able to support your family. You do it because working from home rocks, and gives you a ton of extra time with your kids and you wouldn't give it up for anything. So just do it. Git er done. Cliche, cliche. (Good) parents just do what's best for their family.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Lately I've been having a recurring trance-vision. You know that state right before you fall asleep where you just have some jumbles of pictures and words, and sometimes they're pretty strange, until you actually fall asleep? I have the vision that I'm standing atop something very tall, very narrow, wind in my hair, gasping, and trying not to be whipped off the edge.

Tomorrow morning, James starts preschool. I have been crying for 3 days.

It's hitting me really hard. I know, again, in my conscious logical mind that it should be the best thing for a lot of reasons. And he may be ready. I don't really think so. But maybe.

I'm not ready.

The thing that's interesting about James is that his personality is basically the same as the moment he was born. He's calm, and quiet, and loves to take in what's going on around him whether he decides to react to it or not. I hope he stays that way his whole life, because being a watcher will bring him good things. (I know from experience. Once a friend described me as the person who, the day after the party, would just know everything that happened there whether she was involved in it or not. That's a good thing.)

When Claire entered preschool, we HAD to send her. And though I was a little sad, I was ready. Let me tell you about the final straw that made me know.

April 2012. James was about 8 months old, Claire was just shy of 3 years. Craig had just come through his second bout of cancer. Our nanny had quit the previous December. We spent several months unsuccessfully looking for someone else, so we'd been trying to fly solo since. Also, somewhere in here, Craig's dad had a heart attack and we spent close to a thousand dollars getting him out to Oregon at a moment's notice. 2012 was not off to a good start.

Craig and I were still working from home. However, my job had a significant uptick in activity because we had landed a large client. I spent a large part of my day trying to nurse a baby in between conference calls (which ultimately led to me giving up breastfeeding James, which I still regret.) Craig's job was as busy as ever. And Claire was still...Claire: hyperactive as ever and couldn't be left alone to play by herself for more than a few minutes at a time.

I remember one day in April I was on a conference call in a spare room which would later become James's bedroom. I was trying to be attentive, but I could tell there was some activity downstairs. I was ultimately distracted by what sounded like banging. Then yelling. When I finally came downstairs, Craig told me that Claire had climbed the floor-to-ceiling cat tree, and was banging on the ceiling with a book. It was time to send her to preschool. We found her a place we both loved, even though it was pricey as heck, and she's been there since.

Whereas, tomorrow morning, I could come downstairs with James, feed him some breakfast and set him up with some cars or blocks in the living room, and go about my day. I can play with him as I have breaks. We could talk and read and play together like we always do. Easy peasy. I don't NEED to send him away. I don't WANT to send him away. But I'm telling myself he needs the interaction with other kids. I'm telling myself he needs to leave here to learn and grow.

I think what I'm most afraid of is that this will ruin my son. He is so perfect the way he is, that I don't want him to change, so I don't want anything to change right now. I don't NEED anything to change right now. I don't want the world to be cruel to him, or for him to learn any bad habits, or for him to ever have any reason to cry. Seriously, he hasn't changed from when he was a baby -- if this kid cries once a month, it's a big deal. I can't bear the thought of him being sad because we've left him with strangers, with people who don't love him. He's so full of love and empathy, and I don't want him to lose even one bit of that.

I feel like I'm pushing him out for reasons that are not my own, and it's tearing me apart. He's my little buddy. He always has been. I'm not ready to let him go. I was perfectly fine not being "socialized" until I went to kindergarten. Maybe I was better off? Maybe he would be too.

Not to mention the money. Dear god, the money. If we had to send both kids full time all year, Craig would have to quit his job because the next 2.5 months it's basically his entire take-home pay. But Claire will be going to kindergarten in the fall, so we'll be back where we are now by September.

I'm hoping that by the end of the week, I will be okay with this. I'm hoping this horrible feeling like someone has punched me in the gut goes away. I hope I stop getting a huge lump in my throat every time I look over at his cars and trucks on the floor.

I hope all these things, but I really don't have a lot of hope.

Wish us luck this week.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Smart Ass

Today Claire and I were working on a Makit Bakit suncatcher. For those of you not familiar, it's a metal frame that you put on a cookie sheet, and fill with colored plastic crystals. Then you put it in the oven, the plastic melts, et voila, you have a suncatcher. This one came with 4 colors: red, blue, yellow and clear, in pouches about the size of one of those silica gel packets you get in...everything.

I put the crystals in little separate Dixie cups to make it easier for her to gently spoon them into the frame. Regardless, she's 4, and many of them went astray. I expected that. But then she began to make a bigger mess. While I was trying to clean up some of her handiwork in the frame with a pair of tweezers, she started taking handfuls of plastic beads. Naturally, they stuck to her clammy mitts, and her efforts to put them back in the cups didn't go well.

Finally I said, "Claire, please be careful. You're getting those everywhere, and I don't want to have to clean them all up off the floor."

She said, "No I'm not."

So I said, "Claire, I can hear them bouncing as they hit the floor."

So she said, "Well, you should wear earplugs so you can't hear them."

Now, out of a teenager, I would think that was a total smart ass remark. But guileless Claire? I think she really thought that was a solution!

Which brings us to an interesting point about Claire: she IS smart. REALLY smart. We had her tested.

About a month ago, we took her to see a psychologist. It was mostly for issues that have been causing concern. She's got some hyperactivity, and a serious problem with her attention span. She's got some sensory things we're concerned about. And it seemed every day she came home from preschool with another report from her teachers about how badly she was behaving that day. So we decided to seek some support.

The doctor we met with was really very nice. Craig and I met with her first, and then I brought Claire back for evaluation in two separate sessions. What we discovered, through a two-hour review with the doctor, is that Claire is even smarter than we supposed. She's reading at about a 7.5 year old level, and doing math at about a 5.5 year old level. Almost all her scores were >90th percentile. Even her "low" scores, on the bell curve, still came out at "average." I believe her overall FSIQ was 131.

What wasn't a high score for her (again, "average") were areas that relate to what they working memory, which is part of a group called executive functioning: skills that deal with planning, control and memory. Again, we kind of knew this, but it was nice to hear someone else confirm it.

So now we're trying to figure the best ways to help her. It's no wonder she's coming home from preschool saying she doesn't like it there because they're teaching her things she already knows. We missed the cutoff to be able to send her to a charter school for smart kids (because we fear she will be bored in kindergarten too) but we're looking into trying for next year. And as for her challenges, we're doing a lot of reading ourselves, and hoping to find some new methods that will restore some order around here and in school.

It's important to note that Claire has also developed a penchant for writing books. Often, she'll write to get out whatever negative feelings she's having about something, and she will write a letter about it. But sometimes she writes storybooks, and they're amazingly detailed, including illustrations, a title page and "end credits." I'm really into the idea of her writing to help get her feelings out though. I wonder why?

Friday, May 16, 2014


As you can probably tell, having two instead of one has diminished my ability to post anything worthwhile, and the last post I managed was when James turned one.

He will be three in August.

However, there's a post brewing in my brain because we are on the edge of...something right now. Stay tuned.