Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams

The first time I realized that something was wrong was a school morning in the 8th grade where, I literally couldn't get out of bed.  Not that my legs didn't work, not that I was tired. I couldn't wrap my head around facing life out of the protective cocoon of my covers.  This was before prozac and before anyone acknowledged that depression wasn't just someone being sad.  I remember my  mom yelling at me to get up out of bed.  Yelling not out of frustration I realize or anger, but out of fear. I think I did eventually only to walk around the entire day in a daze as if it was me but I wasn't really there.  Like in the movies, when dead people see their own bodies.

I was listening to the news this morning to hear my sister, the news anchor on the radio on WGN and they were intensely talking about depression in reaction to the news that severe depression had caused Robin Williams to take his own life. I immediately sent her a message on what's app saying that it sounds like they were talking about my life.

They spoke about what to do if a loved one or friend seems depressed to you.  What was the right thing and the wrong thing to say.  I'm not ashamed to say that I have thought about suicide in the past when I was at an intensive low. When I was in graduate school, I thought finally I was ready to do it. In the past, it was just thoughts, but this time I actually wrote a note and even scraped my wrists with scissors. Part of me was ready but there was something still there that made me afraid. My quasi-boyfriend at the time, who would later become my husband, was out of town. So, I called my ex-boyfriend who was getting his MSW.  He talked to me, asked me all the social worky questions and moved me beyond, I think, my desire to not be in pain anymore. That is what it was. I didn't really want to die, I think that is the thing that actually kept me alive but I also didn't want to keep going. Life moved by me as if I was walking in water, slowly and out of focus. Sleep was the only thing I wanted to do.

I got help right after that episode and was put on the new drug, Prozac. I also went to therapy for a long time but the drugs, oh the drugs. I suddenly woke up. I once described feeling depressed to being down in a deep hole and looking up at the world around you. I was all alone and in the dark. But the Prozac helped lift that initial fog and allowed me to see my life in its real terms. I have taken medicine for depression every year since then and that was 1991. Except for the times when I was pregnant and nursing, when my body's chemistry was altered, I have depended on it to literally keep me alive. Early on, when my dosage had to be raised, I felt, wow, I'm really crazy. I wasn't and I'm not but I felt the stigma of depression.

I have been lucky, like Robin Williams, to have a loving family and fantastic kids and an incredibly supportive husband. The demons are still there. Almost two years ago, they began creeping back uninvited but nevertheless there. It was as if I was slowly just beginning to drop out of life. Again, I added a new medicine to my repertoire and it has helped me regain my balance. Just as my parents before me, I have passed on this disease to my children and have watched them deal with it as my mother watched me all those years ago. With fear and, at least in my case, some self loathing.  

Robin Williams lost his battle with depression and even though pundits are right, that we still have all the joy and comedy he gave us, we know inside he was in pain. We lost also, according to his friends, a very kind and gentle soul. I'm heartened by the outpouring of information about depression in reaction to his death. I hope it will make a difference. In the meantime, I and millions of others will continue to soldier on.

Nanu. Nanu.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Our Summer of Love & War

As many of you know, Alex and I spent the majority of our summer with no kids at home.  This hasn’t happened since 1996 before Avi was born.  That’s 18 years in case you’re counting.  Because, certainly, I’m not.
I’ll be honest, it’s been a rough year for my marriage.  I’m not going to share the gory details with everyone (I know, you’re shocked) but I am happy to say that we are, as a couple, in a stronger place than we have been in years.  The stress of having young children, earning a living and everyday life can certainly erode a relationship in small ways that are important.  So after months of hard work on “us”, we were looking forward to being able to concentrate on each other without distractions (not counting the dog).  In terms of this, the summer was great, we went away for a long weekend, watched movies, read books, laughed and basically remembered what it is like to be newlyweds and newly in love. 
The kids were never far from our minds, we miss(ed) them and still had to deal with things from 1000s of miles away.  Their summer has been successful, full of the usual milestones - independence, self confidence, new friends, etc.  Avi learned the value of hard work and how to play a hand of blackjack.  Penina continued to shine in her play and to spend a summer carefree and happy.  Yael, even with a rough start, went farther than we thought she could and I’m so proud of how she turned it all around.
The other part of our summer, was the titular “war”.  Unless you were living on a deserted island, you couldn’t help but notice that there was a mini war between Israel and Hamas.  It was officially called an “operation” but with all the life lost on both sides, it certainly felt like a war.  As I type this, we are in a fragile 3 day ceasefire which everyone hopes will hold and if the journalists are any indication, since they are leaving, it must be over. 
This was a situation I have never been in before.  Where I live in Israel we didn’t really have any rockets, our daily life didn’t change and we went about our business regularly. What was different was the dread.  The dread of waking up to see the casualty count, the young faces of dead soldiers, the hardship in Gaza, the  constant posts on Facebook and Twitter which in the end, drove me crazy.  I had to learn to turn off my phone at night, shut off the news, shut of the justifications: left right and center and use the quite space to think about what I thought about it all.  Everywhere I went, we talked about it.  Who was right, who was wrong, what the government did or didn’t do, thank God Avi isn’t in the army now, and on and on.  At the same time that I was happy my kids were in the US and not having to experience all of this with us, I wanted them here with me to be able to see them with my own eyes and hold them with my own arms.  Of course, my parents worried and asked maybe they should stay longer in the US. 
The answer was unequivocally “no”.  I didn’t have to speak to Alex about it or talk it over.  I understand the difficulties of life here and know why we are here and why we brought our family here.  It wasn’t just to eat falafel and hummus everyday. We are part and parcel of the State of Israel and we believe strongly in its future and helping to shape that future. 

I don’t believe in Hasbara – in explaining to the world why Israel has a right to exist.  I started writing and stopped writing several times during the summer about what was going on here.  At a certain point, I stopped sharing things on Facebook and Twitter.  It was quite honestly, too much.  Too painful and too frustrating.

Reality has a way of creeping in.  Since I stopped writing this yesterday afternoon, I fought with Alex and the ceasefire ended at 8 am with a renewal of rocket fire from Gaza.  This morning, Alex and I found a way to talk about our argument and so the summer of love continues.  Unfortunately, so does the war.