Letters and Great Expectations

“No expectations,” Lisa reminded me days before I’d written the letter to my son’s adoptive parents. Her opinion and advice meant so much to me because a) she’s my friend but b) she’s an adoptive parent who does open adoption well. So I kept repeating it, over and over again. As I wrote, edited, and then finally hit Send, I repeated this mantra.

No expectations. Ha.

When it comes to adoption, open adoption especially, expectations are a hard thing to rid yourself of. The entire relationship, even when you are strangers, is built entirely on expectation:  That these people will be the perfect family showcased in the file you are presented with, that they will raise your child how you want them to, that they will be good people, and not disappoint, that the openness you’ve agreed on will continue, even when the paperwork isn’t legal. After eleven years of nothing but expectations, ones that were met and ones that led to disappointment, the idea that I needed to send this (big) letter with no expectations was harder than hitting the send button.

The resounding commentary I received from two adult adoptees was that he needed and likely wanted to know that I was here for him, on his own time, and to hear it directly from me. After I put my own reservations aside, I set out to create a situation where he could potentially have access to me, whatever amount he desired, with no strings attached on my end. That was the goal when I began writing a letter to his adoptive parents. Despite the sincerity of my words, I worried that his parents wouldn’t be able to really hear me. I worried because of past situations, and reactions from them; That they would accuse me of being selfish and doing this for myself, even when I wasn’t at all. I just wanted my son to know I was here, always here, and ready for him when he was ready.

The moment I sent that email, my expectations had been met.

Despite this No Expectation mantra, I still refreshed my email at least a thousand times in the first day. I was eager, hopeful. As the hours past away, I began to wonder if I had done the right thing. Why was I putting myself back in a similar position? Why was I being so vulnerable? The excitement quickly turned to anxiety, and pessimism. I reread the email over and over again, hoping that I wouldn’t find any words or sentences that could potentially be taken out of context.

Would they hear me through those words? Did I really want a response?

Of course, I did. Silence would have been painfully heartbreaking.

They eventually asked for time. I accepted that the answer wasn’t going to come quickly or easily, much like everything in this adoption over the last few years. Gently, I placed all the fear, all that doubt, the anxiety, the hopefulness, in the corner of my mind. It would all have to wait.

On Sunday, as I was making a list of all the things I had to do to get ready for our trip out of town the next day, I refreshed my email. I hadn’t completely forgotten that I was awaiting a response, but I had actually kind of forgotten that I could get a response sooner than later. I had somehow managed to accept that this was going to happen how it happened, and when it happened.

As the ping of my phone went off telling me my email had been downloaded, there it was, her name, and what I could have only assumed was the answer. The final answer.

“She wrote back,” I announced to my husband quietly.

He looked up from his book, eyebrows raised, “And?”

“You have to read it first. I can’t do it.”

“Danielle, just read it.”

“No,” I said, thrusting my phone in his hand, “You do it first.”

Of course, he obliged. I watched his features carefully, and he purposely animated them, because he knew I was watching.

“Don’t do that, it’s not nice!” I exclaimed half joking.

He closed the email, and handed my iPhone back to me, “Read it.” Then he went back to his book, like nothing had happened.

Ten minutes later, my feet curled up under me, as I switched from app to app, avoiding my email on purpose, I quietly asked, “Should I read it?”

His head whipped up and his eyes widened, “Danielle! Are you serious? Just read the goddamn email.”

Obeying his orders, I finally clicked it open. I read it once. Then twice. And then I looked up at my husband, my eyes stinging with tears,

“They said yes?”

He nodded, his own eyes wet.

“They said yes….They actually agreed to it. They said….” my voice broke, and tears began running down my face. I covered my mouth to stifle a sob, and muttered, “I get to write to my son. He wants me to. He wants me to write to him. They are going to let me.”

For a brief moment, as my husband and I shared tears together, I let the news settle over me. I’d always wanted,  hoped for this, for me. For him. For us.

And it’s finally happening.

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Image Credit: Liz West

Because God

The radio played softly in the background, as our car drove across the congested, well traveled highway that would take us home. We’d been down for my husband’s ten year high school reunion, and it doubled up as a nice visit with his family. It’d been a busy but great weekend.

For the early duration of the trip home, my husband and I had been discussing the long list of things we had to get accomplished before his sister’s wedding in three weeks. There was a lull in the conversation when suddenly, a small voice piped up from the backseat.

“Who made the world?”

I whipped my head back to look at my son. “What?”

“Who made the world? Megan says that god did.”

I groaned inwardly, as I raised an eyebrow in the direction of my husband, his expression matched mine. Even though him and I differ in our beliefs, slightly, we agreed that religion wasn’t going to be something that we actively sought out or taught our children.  So far, the plan hasn’t really hit many snags. In all honesty, I was surprised it took this long for the topic to come up. Especially since our public school reads the Lord’s Prayer every morning. Beyond asking what churches are, and a small discussion who god is, we haven’t broached the topic much. There just hasn’t really been a need to.

My mind raced as I tried to figure out how to have this discussion without placing the same religious fervor that atheists are occasionally guilty of themselves.

“Do you remember that show we watched? Cosmos?”

He nodded eagerly.

“The uncomplicated answer is that there was a big explosion, and the earth was created from that.”

“So space created the world?”

“Actually, that’s pretty accurate, love.” For a moment, I paused, ” Why do you ask?”

“Megan told me god created everything, and I told her that’s not true. I told her science did it.”  He seemed proud of himself. Of course, I was, too. Not because he told this girl that science created the world, but that he stood up for himself. Something that he struggles to do every single day.

“Hmm. Some people do believe that god created the world.”

“Can we watch Cosmos again? I want to learn about the earth being built.”

“Yes, of course we can.”

The sun was setting as we continued to weave our way in and out of traffic.  I was bursting with so many words, so many things I wanted to tell him but I stopped myself. My experiences aren’t his experiences, and while I hope as he ages, he’ll learn from the experiences I had growing up in an overzealous religious home, now is absolutely not the time to be sharing them. Beyond that? I don’t want him to feel like we are pressuring him; he deserves to hone his critical thinking skills and come to his own conclusions, even at six years old.

“Mama? Is god real?”

It was as though he was reading my mind and could see that I was bursting to share more with him. How do you answer this without placing a certain amount of expectation on your child to believe as you do? Sure, I would love for him to come to similar conclusions as I have, but I value his need and ability to do that on his own without pressure. I looked at my husband, and immediately had the answer.

“Well, some people believe he is, and that’s okay. Personally? I don’t believe in him at all. But, your dad doesn’t know if god is real or not.  It’s okay to say that you aren’t sure, just like it’s okay to say that you believe he is real, or like me, that you don’t.”

“Do I have to believe he’s real?

“You can believe whatever you want. If you want to believe in god, or any other religion, we will still love and absolutely support you. All your Dad and I want is for your to be a good person and to be kind.”

For a moment, he took his eyes off me and looked out his window.

“I like science. I believe in science. It’s cool.”

“Yeah, science is pretty cool.”

Satisfied with our discussion, we went back to playing with his dinosaurs and his sister’s Frozen dolls.

My husband, as quietly as he could, whispered, “Do you know how much easier that conversation would have been if we said god did it all?”

I chuckled, and said, “Yes, but since when have we ever done anything the easy way?”

thoughtful

Depression Is

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Image Credit: Steven Snodgrass

 

You don’t know depression? I do. I know it well.

Depression is attempting suicide for the first time at fifteen. Forever, you’ll remember the way the sun felt on your skin, a poetic irony,  as you lurched to that overpass. The tears fell hard, continuously, and still no one understood the mania, or the urgency you felt to get to that concrete railing, and just fall.  Make it all go away, you said. Make it all go away, so you could just rest.

Depression is finding yourself locked in a sterile room with a stranger who calls himself a psychiatrist. The same one that your parents called a quack as you waited in the blue hospital gown that only lent to the nakedness you felt. It’s answering questions like, “How often do you feel like this?” or ” Do you have a plan?” or ” Rate your sadness on a scale of 1-10.” It’s crying while those florescent lights shine on you both, humming, only dulling the loud voice in your head that says, “What is wrong with you? You are just a fucking piece of worthless shit.”

It’s being admitted to the hospital, and hearing your own father say over the phone, “We’ll just leave her here. It’ll scare this so called depression out of her. It’s just a phase.”  Two days later, it’s feeling triumphant because you managed to convince everyone you were just fine. Not because you were okay with them thinking you faked it. You just didn’t want to deal with the shame you felt for feeling so ostensibly broken. You didn’t want to be the crazy one, and you believe, maybe, you just aren’t trying hard enough to be happy. You’ll try harder this time.

Depression is prescription pills. Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Celexa, Wellbutrin, Ativan, Seroquel, Wellbutrin, Cymbalta, Abilify. They are your saving grace, and weapons of mass destruction.  You are given little tiny pieces of paper filled with words you can’t read, hopefully, the answer to this never ending pain. It’s the same tiny paper you crumple in your hands with disgust at yourself, because you can do this on your own. You are better than the help of pharmaceuticals, you lie. Only the weak need help. Then again, it can be thrusting a prescription in the hand of your husband and begging him to drop everything immediately to fill it for you because you need those pills right now. Your life depends on it.

Depression is having those pills in your room one day, on your nightstand, with a glass of water, then having them confiscated the next, because you tried to overdose. Again. You’ll never trust yourself fully when pills are involved, even as a competent adult. “Why do they trust me with so many of these? Don’t they know the damage I could do?”

It’s seconds, minutes, and hours, earned by sitting in waiting rooms and offices. The psychologist your parents got for you so they could “fix your brain”. The doctors who only occasionally listen,  the ones who don’t care at all. Therapists that you cling to for life. Psychiatrists that say little, only allowing the sound of scribbled notes to fill the space between, before they announce big words. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Post Traumatic Disorder. Bipolar Disorder. It’s racing home to Google those words because you don’t understand them, yet you do. Finally, your companions have actual names. Even if you hate them for existing and demanding to be named.

Depression is being told to talk about all of this, but, shh, don’t talk too loudly. It’s having all the fucking words, but having none at all.  It’s being forced to beg for help, and feeling like a speck of dust for even daring to say the words, “I think I’m depressed.” Because, how dare you not be able to get it together? How dare you waste the Not Depressed Peoples time?

It’s shame, so much fucking shame.

Sometimes, it’s staring at your phone, wondering who you could reach out to, because you know your escape route is fading into the smoke of another major depressive state. When you do dial that number, or write those texts, you hope that the person on the other end can hear everything you aren’t saying. Can they hear the plan you’ve made? Will they see past the deflated, “I’m fine”? Please, let them hear how close you are to that proverbial edge, just a nudge away from jumping. If they don’t hear it, for a brief second, although defeated, you are weirdly proud that you’ve managed to convince another person that you are just fine. You are doing a good job of blending in, just like everyone wants you to.

Depression is the curator of the most complicated lies. But, it has help, sometimes from people in your life. They say things like, “Suicide is selfish and if you do it, your soul will be damned to hell because God hates people who murder themselves” or “Some people just like being sad all the time.” Some will tell you that all the solutions to depression lie a certain religious text, in attending more religious meetings, in just having “faith”. As if those who have religion in their life are exempt from depression. Some will tell you stories about people they supposedly knew that got over it, inferring that you should be able to follow suit. They tell themselves this stuff to be helpful, I think. Because they think they know better, because they have never really been visited by depression. Because it makes them feel better about the whole foreign (to them) idea of depression.

When you do remove your mask, in a moment of trust or perhaps angry frustration, they look at you with disbelief, a hint of smugness. “There’s no way you suffer from depression. What do you have to be sad about?” they demand.  Indignantly, you offer your scars, because apparently, in order to have this disease, you need proof that you fucking earned it. Even then, some of these people still scoff at you, and diminish the reality of your depression, because they just. don’t. get. it.

Depression isn’t a symptom or a result, though it can be. It’s a back alley predator who doesn’t care who the hell you are, where you’ve been or what you could do with your life. It wants to lock you in a room, bind you to a chair and snarl the ugliest insults, staring you straight in the eyes, daring you to fight back. Depression loves making you feel powerless, and useless, unworthy and debilitated. It’s a salesman for death and self-loathing, hocking it’s goods even when you’ve said, “No, I’m not interested.” You really, just aren’t fucking interested at all.  Yet, it always comes back, relentlessly, callously, proudly showcasing the products it’s manufactured just for you. All it wants is for you to buy that product, just once, because that means you’ll be a customer for life, even in death.

Ultimately, that’s all depression wants: Your life.

You should know, for all the things depression is, it is not capable of mercy, compassion,  most especially humanity.

But you are. We all are. Don’t let depression win. Don’t let it take those of us who suffer as gracefully as we can. We do want live, to love. I know you want that for us, even if you don’t understand where we are. We’re well versed in the lies that depression tells us, but sometimes, we just can’t help it. It’s not our fault. It’s really just not our fucking fault.

It’s depression.

 

If you are in crisis and need immediate help, please call 911. 

If you are Canadian, please use these resources via Partners for Mental Health for yourself or someone you love who needs assistance.

In the United States, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

BlogHer ’14: Path to Change Agent – In Tweets

When I was choosing between the available paths on Pathfinder Day at BlogHer 2014, I debated between Change Agent and Published Author. I chose, in the end, Change Agent because I felt like my voice is sort of unfocused when it comes to the issues I want to bring awareness to. I wanted to figure how others had used their blogs and social media as platforms to ignite change. I wanted to see if it was something I could do, even when all I have to offer is my story.

The day was run (brilliantly) by Dannielle Owen-Reid from Everyone is Gay, and Rae Lewis-Thorton from Diva Living With Aids. Before they told us their stories, they wanted us to share a snippet of ours, and within moments, I was humbled by the incredible women that sat in the room with me.

 

 

Rae spoke vividly about hiding in the shadows when she was diagnosed with HIV:

 

This was what  told me I’d made the right choice in this session, because #truth.

 

And then we spoke about making money through our advocacy (forgive spelling errors):

 

But, Dannielle points out that not every demographic responds to ads;

 

After a lengthy discussion on monetization, the panelists dropped the mic with these important tidbits that I think many bloggers should think about:

 

Then we discussed how to get our message out there:

 

MochaMomma would later drive this point home during the closing keynote panel, in a different way:

 

Stop, collaborate (with other bloggers) and (get people to) listen:

 

Rae couldn’t stress how important it was for us to be genuine in our advocacy:

 

During the question period, I asked about how they have both dealt with negative comments, trolls, how they’ve let it go, and what wisdom they could impart on us, because sharing our stories is so incredibly personal and sometimes sacred.

 

But then, Rae took the negativity issue to a profoundly new level:

 

The lovely Grace Sandra asked how to respond to those in your real life who expect you to constantly be miserable because you talk about hard stuff:

 

In the afternoon session, we were given 30 minutes to write our stories in a journal. Then we were asked to answer a series of questions related to our stories (if anyone can get their hands on an agenda for this day, I’d love to add these questions). The only one I tweeted about was why my story, personally, is important.

 

 

In an act of respect, we were asked to limit what we shared on social media during this point of the session. Everyone wanted to create an environment that was safe for those of us who chose to share:

 

We spoke of ways to network our advocacy, and how to use social media for the greater good:

 

I’d gone into the session believing that each aspect of my experience has separate and therefore I had to just focus on one piece of it in order to be a proper advocate. This piece of advice hit me straight in the heart, and I feel it accurately sums up the whole point of Path to Change Agent:

 

 

A huge shoutout had to go to Rae and Dannielle. They prepared this panel incredibly well and in the end, I think everyone who attended benefited greatly from their experience and wisdom.

 

Did you attend the Path to Change Agent at BlogHer 2014? Share your tweets in the comments so I can link them in this post, or post the link where you recapped the session. Sharing is caring! I think everyone, even those who aren’t on the path to making change could benefit from the profound wisdom that was shared by both the panelists and those in attendance. 

Like, Literally.

Still in my post BlogHer ’14 haze, I led my family through the grocery store to pick up some necessities. It wasn’t much different than any other trip; I was pulling the cart from the front, directing my husband as I weaved expertly in and out of the aisles, only talking over my shoulder to ask if we had this or that. Normally, I’d go on my own, but since I hadn’t been home for a few days, I needed my husband’s assistance. Girlie  was snug and tight in the cart seat because she likes to run around and touch all of the things. Potato was wandering behind us, looking for things he could present to us and ask, “Can I get this?”  He knew the answer was usually no, but it never stopped him from trying.

After much debate in the freezer aisle, I finally just grabbed the vanilla ice cream and said we’d find some toppings. I was met with a chorus of “Awwww” and “BUT! I wanted that one!” Ignoring the protests, I directed the cart back toward the end of the aisle, when I heard Potato ask,

“Are those huge cans of iced tea, Mama?!” He was both incredulous and unsure. If he could subsist on iced tea alone, he would.

“Yes, they are. Now come on, we need to go…”

“Mama. You just blew my head off!”

I paused, and then I turned around to face my family.

“Did you hear what he said?” I asked my husband.

He shook his head no, he’d been discussing the toppings Girlie could have because she was distraught over the fact that there had been no strawberry ice cream.

“Potato, what did you say?”

“YOU BLEW MY HEAD OFF!” His brown eyes danced mischievously, proudly. He was dead serious. In his mind he’d just executed a sentence that he’d heard my husband or myself use before. Both the kids were starting to repeat common sentences in our household, a reminder to both my husband and I that we needed to watch our mouths.

In the middle of WalMart, holding onto the end of that cart, I bent over and began laughing, hysterically.

“Do you….ahem…mean blew your mind?” I asked, laughing tears falling out of the corners of my eyes.

“Oh no way, Mama. It like, literally, blew my head off.”

Now my husband was laughing too.

“Literally?”

“Yes, literally.”

We managed to calm ourselves, and continue our shopping trip, but not before Girlie looked at us with all the annoyance she could,

“You guys is so weird.”

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Image Credit: Cheryl VanStane