Thursday, 23 October 2014


Except that, despite all I said earlier, still one day each week I feel respite.  Thursday.  For four hours I was happy.  I love my people, I love my place, I love everything about being there from preparing and joking around in the hours before, to serving our patrons, to eating dinner with friends new and older, to cleaning the dirty tables and counters we've all created after everything is over.

Half an hour after coming home I was crying again but for four hours I was happy and that's not nothing.

Some of the flower vases that my dear friend Jane put together today from the church garden, as she does every week, to brighten our dining tables.

On Lost Joy

My life has gotten circumstantially better this year.  I've solidified friendships, found a beautiful community and place to serve.  I've enjoyed vastly improved health.  A year or two ago I needed a wheelchair for a grocery store trip but that chair has been folded away and collecting dust for most of the year.  In 2012 and much of 2013 I needed nursing student assistants to drive me to appointments and help with errands; for perhaps six months I didn't drive a car myself once. This year I drive every day. By all accounts I should be happy.

And yet, if I could identify a time in which it began, sometime around August of 2013, I lost joy. For 32 years I considered myself, and described myself as, someone who found deep and unbridled joy in simple things. My tiny, bedroom-sized back yard has been an endless source of pleasure for me for the five years I've been here. I spent hundreds of hours just sitting, watching my cats, watching my little garden grow, watching the tiny insect world that we usually ignore in the soil beneath our feet.  This year I threw some seeds into the ground and most of the results are withering on their stalks.  I don't care.  I didn't spend a single night outside this summer lying on my back and staring at both the stars and at the technological feat of our manmade satellites with the utter astonishment and wonder that gazing into the depths of our deep, dark universe had never failed to elicit in me.

For 6 years I described metalsmithing as one of the top three passions of my life. The forming of beauty from cold hard metal in my hands was intoxicating and satisfying and meaningful and a gleaming bright spot amidst a hard life. In December of this year after a failed art show at a local gallery I lost interest. I have found little pleasure in it since, have struggled to work at all, have let dozens of requests for custom pieces in my shop go unanswered and ignored, and take days to force myself into my studio to fill the orders I do allow my shop to get. A request for a replenished inventory from a gallery nearby would once have driven me to work for hours, but that was months ago now and I haven't made a single piece.

I haven't had a truly severe panic attack in over a year and anxiety, not depression, had always been my psychological struggle. For decades, for my whole life, I was capable of and frequently experienced a level of terror that I have never been able to find words to capture. Panic and fear so complete and saturating that everything that made me Ellen became temporarily but totally replaced by primal terror. I haven't felt that at all this year, even in reaponse to the few episodes of severe physical symptoms that I have had.  My health has always been the most potent trigger of anxiety that exists.  I should be thrilled.

Last week I felt some relief. I worked hard for the first time in months. I felt replenished by friends. As I drove on the open road for a time I felt happy. I thought to myself, "this is the first time I have felt joy this year."  But it faded quickly.

I have always felt deep loneliness, fear, and sadness circumstantially, yes.  But this apathy, this unrelenting despair, this hopelessness, the hysterical crying, this loss of joy, this ache of sadness that is physically uncomfortable, they are new and they do not feel like me. I have told therapists for 15 years that depression has never been my problem. What HAPPENED to me?  I search and search.

 Is it circumstantial? Did 32 years of loneliness and illness and failures and a decade with a partner who himself found joy elusive finally become too exhausting and cause a collapse into malaise? Did I just lose energy to fight after fighting for so long?

 Is it a medication I'm taking?  Benzodiazepines are well known for causing depression and suicidal ideation with daily use and I have been taking a modest dose of one since my health crisis in 2012. My psychiatrist seems unconcerned because of the low dose but I wonder if it has ironically numbed my panic only to leave me frequently dwelling on the relief of death.

 Was it a hormonal or physiological shift that came as I entered my 30s?

Was the realization that even at a relative level of good health I will still be distracted every day by some degree of illness what filled me with defeat?  For so many years I hoped that I would soon find a treatment that gave me my life back but last year as my health improved I realized that I will never, ever, in all my life, be totally free of my broken DNA and its insistence on having a say in my plans.

In have left my life in shambles around me partly due to this apathy and partly in a desperate attempt to identify and eliminate a cause. I don't know what has happened or what to do or where to turn for an answer nor do I even know if I have the strength to truly search.

Saturday, 11 October 2014


We live in a time and place in which nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce.  Divorce is essentially commonplace; certainly I know and am related to many people who have experienced the ends of their partnerships.  Yet, despite how much divorce surrounds us, I think there is still a sense of shame or embarrassment that keeps it from being talked about with true openness.

I knew that divorce would be hard, and I knew that it wasn't what I had hoped for in my life or for my marriage, but I was completely unprepared for how intensely awful it would be. 

As I've written before, I have been taken by my health on several occasions to the precipice of what I could physically endure.  Nothing has topped the combined physical and psychological suffering of those times, but from a purely emotional perspective this is far and away the most painful thing I have ever experienced.  I have never felt more of a sense of grief.  I feel as if I blew my life into a million pieces and now have to find the energy to reassemble them into a semblance of a new life as someone with a chronic illness and in the midst of grieving all I lost when I made the decision to leave my marriage.

I know that the depth of my sadness sometimes seems confusing to the people who care about me, because I chose this fate for myself and I chose it for considered reasons.  But nobody hopes for their marriage to end.  Divorce is a loss of a shared history and dreams of a future.  Divorce is a loss of inside jokes and companionship.  Divorce is a total restructuring of a life.  Divorce is the loss of a commitment.  It's the loss of the person one hoped to either hold or be held by at the moment of death.  Divorce is coming home to a house in which the only sound is the ticking of the clock.  Divorce for me is needing to find out how to financially support myself for the first time in 10 years, as a person with a chronic illness.  It is accepting a new loneliness into one's life.  Divorce is losing a vision of a structured future and being left feeling adrift and uncertain.  Divorce feels like the failure of deep and focused effort to save something that was precious.

During the first few weeks I was almost unable to leave bed and I cried often and hysterically.  I am gradually gaining some footing but waves of grief still find me every day.  A sudden vision of the long and hard work I will have to find the energy to do to sustain independence.  The realization that randomly hits me as I stand in my kitchen that my ex and I watched every episode of Mad Men together but we will watch the ending separately.  Terrible loneliness in the evenings when I am alone in my home.

This is not to say that my life is free of good, or that nothing of value has resulted from my separation.  Ahead of me is the chance to discover autonomy and independence if I can take it.  I have the opportunity to build a future that aligns with my visions.  More friends have reached out to me than I ever, ever expected would in a crisis and I appreciate and value this unbelievably.  There is love in my life, and support.

But now, as I want other people who are facing separation to know, the sense of being adrift, frightened and lost still frequently outweighs a feeling of certainty in my independence, and is only very slowly ebbing to make way for the strong person I hope that I someday will be.