Boats Against the Current

Friday morning I woke up to a news alert – my phone vibrated beside my head, and I opened my bleary eye to a headline about Anthony Bourdain. I closed my eyes and for a few moments, pretended I was still asleep, pretended I had not seen the news.

This post isn’t really about Bourdain, much as I loved him. I was a fan of his for so many reasons – his activism and exuberant, loud support of the disenfranchised, the poor, women; his engaged but introspective approach to food and how it intersects with politics; his brashness; his eloquent way with words. He was so many things, but never fake. Just his authentic self, all the time. I maintain that while he was obviously a fantastic chef, and an amazing tv personality, his writing is where he really shone. Since Friday I’ve been alternating between feeling absolutely gutted that he’s gone and absolutely honored that he was with us for as long as he was. This is a man who had a full life, one that should be celebrated. Read everybody’s stories about the guy; you won’t be disappointed. My favorite thing about him was how honest he was. You can see, watching his show, that there were times when he was irritable, tense, blank. He did not hide his depression. But he unflinchingly – sometimes joyfully, sometimes painfully -produced the work, and the work is stellar. It is empathetic, nuanced, artistic. I highly recommend the Libya and Morocco episodes of “Parts Unknown” – they perfectly illustrate both dark and light, and in my opinion, represent Bourdain’s best work, especially when watched back to back.

There were more introspective and relevant pictures I could have chosen but there was no way I wasn’t going to use this one of a ripped, tatted up Bourdain hanging out with Iggy Pop.

But this post is not about Anthony, not really.

It had already started on social media, after the untimely death of Kate Spade a week or so ago, and it hit fever pitch after it was announced that Anthony had passed on – what I can only describe as a barrage of well-meaning tweets and posts about how to deal with your friend who has depression. How to save them from the same fate as Kate or Anthony.

“Check on your strong friend”, they advised.  “They may not reach out, you have to reach out”, “If they don’t accept your help, if they lie, even if they get angry, keep trying.”

It all seems like good advice. But here’s the thing:

After reading a few of those posts, I started to feel bad. See, I’m a “strong friend” at face value. I’m also an empath, and someone who suffers from both anxiety and depression. And I can tell you that sometimes being a “strong” empath means that after helping someone with their own issues, your own often swoop in just as things are looking up and try to kneecap you. I can also tell you that I never feel like I’ve done enough. For anyone.

The problem is that we tend to see our groups of friends as handfuls of “well” people with maybe one or two “unwell” folks in the middle. And when we pop on Twitter to remind everyone to “reach out”, we’re assuming that we’re talking to a bunch of “well” folks who might be a little distracted or apathetic. We’re trying to tend the herd by pointing out, “Hey, look at your unwell friend!”

That’s not realistic. What is closer to reality is that we’re all the unwell friend at some point or another. The person who has no mental health issues at all is actually the rarity. Most of us are just trying our best to deal while helping our loved ones with theirs. We do our best. Sometimes we fail.

When someone goes on Twitter and shares a thread all about how we should do more to reach out, it’s not the oblivious, flaky, selfish friend who sees it and has a change of heart. Those people keep scrolling and always will keep scrolling. The ones who absorb those messages are people like us – people who are already doing what they can, who reach out as often as they are able, people who likely have their own hurts to deal with, but who are trying to juggle their own mental issues with that of their loved ones. These are the people who absorb your messages, who beat themselves up for “not doing enough”, who blame themselves for being selfish, for stepping away when someone else’s mental struggles became a trigger for them, became too much to bear, became dangerous. Even when they’ve given everything they’ve got to help and come up short, they blame themselves, because they didn’t reach farther, harder…

The posts about the “strong friend” are right, but only half-right. Your strong friend may very well be your weak friend from time to time, but they keep wearing that strong hat because you need them. It is important that we give them, and ourselves, permission to step back when necessary and take care of themselves.

When it comes to people who have succumbed to depression:

We need to stop assuming that nobody reached out.

We need to stop assuming that more can be done. Sometimes it can’t, at least not by us.

And when it comes to the rest of us, the “strong friends”, if you will:

It is okay to give ourselves permission to step away when it gets too rough. The old adage “you can’t fill from an empty cup” is true.

In the midst of all this reaching out, don’t forget to reach out for yourself, too.

Here’s what we all need: less stigma about depression and suicide (it’s getting better but there’s still work to do), better understanding of depression as a disease, which means more funding for research, better trained doctors and nurses, better understanding of how to treat patients, and better-equipped care facilities for those suffering; people learning the difference between sharing their struggles for “awareness” and just downright triggering people who are already in pain; working to push our legislators and government to make a world that’s frankly, a little easier to live in than our current one; and finally, a universal knowledge that depression IS a disease and that it’s not something we’ll ever be able to “fix” – we can only do what we can to make it better.

Yes, keep urging those strong friends to reach out, but only if they can. Keep urging people to share their stories, but only if they want to. Keep trying to help your loved ones in need, but never push them. Realize that your idea of strong may be someone else’s falling apart. Never judge a person for stepping away when their own mental health requires them to do so. And before you advise someone else on how to help a loved one with depression, make sure you’re taking your own advice, too. Don’t assume that friend who has always helped you has no need of your support – don’t flake out people, don’t disappear on them. Even if you can’t hold them up, you can thank them for the times they held you up. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Someone on Twitter put it much more succinctly than I have. They said not to assume that this or that was or wasn’t done…sometimes you can exhaust every effort and it is still isn’t enough. Sometimes one tiny act is all it takes to make the difference. We can’t ever know, so all we can really do is be kind.

More of us are in the boat than we seem to realize. We’ll only push through the storm if we’re all rowing. At our own speeds and strengths, taking breaks when we need to rest, but all of us, rowing together. Maybe then, if we’re lucky, we can weather the storm.

Let’s keep rowing.






Summer of Love (Personal Issues)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been querying my book. For me, querying usually follows four phases:

Phase 1: OMG my book is finished! I wrote a BOOK! And now I’m going to put it OUT THERE! Everything is going to be amazing. I shall get an awesome book deal and become established author and finally my dreams will be realized! I love everyone! Query all the agents!

Phase 2: My eyes are crossing from this long-ass list of agents, all of whom have totally different and very specific criteria, but I’ll just finish this list and then I’ll go to sleep. I deserve it. It will pay off. Query all the agents!

Phase 3: So I have ten rejection letters. At least they are all polite. Most aren’t even form letters. That’s progress, right? Don’t give up! Query all the agents!

Phase 4: * maniacal laughter * there are no more agents in the universe, I’ve queried them all. What even are words. What even is my book. Eat all the chocolate.

Because I am lightning-fast at everything I do and have ZERO chill, usually it only takes two weeks (if that) to go through all four phases and then its time for a break before I start over. I am nothing if not diligent (read: overzealous).

Pitching has been easier for me this time, though, because I knew what to expect going in. I’ve done this before, have walked the tightrope of rejection and come out on the other side, relatively sane. Pitching is a marathon, not a sprint. So they tell me.

Pitching time comes at a good time for me. Most normal people have their “revamp” phase sometime around the new year, or maybe the Spring, but since I’m a weirdo I always pick the beginning of summer to suddenly decide to change my life. It is usually around the time my kid gets out of school that I’m latching on to some new interest or deciding to embark on some crazy lifestyle change (what, you say this has to do with the passage of time, watching my kid grow up and feeling the hand of mortality curl itself around my neck? No, it can’t be!). This year is no different. This summer is the summer of pitch, but it has also become the summer of bass.


I have tried to become a bassist like three times now. I had an acoustic bass a few years back that was gorgeous and had the most beautiful tone, and I even took lessons and they all fell out of my ears in a puddle, so I gave up. I’ve bought books, I’ve taken online courses and they were all a giant fail. But somehow, a month or so ago, I just picked the thing up, pulled up a song I was obsessed with, looked up the tablature. And I learned it. In a day. OK, so it was an easy-ish song, and I played it over and over for hours until I got it, but I learned it. And that was that. I now know a dozen songs and am working on like eight more. I’m going about it totally backwards; no lessons, no real technique, just playing by ear and from tablature, trial-and-error until it sounds right. I have to practice each song every day or I’ll forget it. I’m doing this all wrong. And I love it!

It could not have come at a better time. Things are so bleak in the outside world right now. So muddled and confused. The news comes at us so fast, right at our faces, like the crack of a whip, and it starts to sting after a while. There’s just so much to digest at once. And me, a social-media butterfly since wayyyyyyy back, well, I was starting to crumble under the pressure. I started to notice how people handle these current events, how we talk about them, how we present them through our various feeds and timelines. And it was stressing me out. We care more about breaking the news than discussing it. More about proving our worth than doing worthy things. The pretense of concern over the action. I am, just like so many others, addicted to the cult of personality, to the 24-hour news cycle, the Twitter “breaking news”, the blending of celebrity and politics like a delicious froyo topped with too many conflicting-but-somehow-delicious toppings.

All those talking points, all those “breaking” stories, but nobody really talking or hearing each other or finding solutions, just endless thinkpiece-ing on a loop. Including my own. It started to ache a little, in my bones.

Social media, for some, is a comfort, a system of support, where you can find a hive of helpful bees eager to buzz you back to a good place. I’ve had that in the past, but it doesn’t feel that way anymore. I’ve never been the type to share the intimate details of my life on social media, anyway (even in my most frenzied, frequent posts, you’ll find me ruminating on current events or music less than telling private details). When I was younger, I tried it, but it always made me feel vaguely nauseated. I have never been one to air my laundry or appeal to the “hivemind” for advice, at least not in public. A private group, maybe. And that isn’t to say that people who *do* that are inherently bad or somehow less better at coping than me. It’s just not my thing. It makes me feel exposed, like I’m pandering for attention, and despite being a weird ass extrovert with a penchant for words, I’m also a socially awkward, sensitive person who doesn’t feel comfortable putting it all “out there”. There’s a reason I’ve never run for office, even though I’m one of the most political people I know.

I took a Facebook “break” of sorts (meaning I’m still on there and share pictures and the occasional article, but the endless posting of news stories and liveblogging current events as they happen had to stop for a while) because it was just bringing me down. I could feel the ennui happening, the dread – not just in me, but in everyone around me. It felt like an echo chamber, like nothing was being said, just an endless regurgitation and it was contributing to my already ugly mental state.

Of course, it backfired, because when I stopped posting about politics on Facebook I started tweeting twice as many things on Twitter. But for some odd reason – and I think I’m in the minority here – Twitter doesn’t stress me out as much as Facebook.

A few days ago, I found myself on the verge of an anxiety attack like I’d never had before. I’ve always had it, coped with it my whole life, and it comes and goes at different levels of intensity, different symptoms at different times. The triggers vary, it all varies. I had a good run of at least six months with almost NO anxiety, and I was gobsmacked. It just…left. Okay, to be fair, it was replaced by some pretty grim, gray depression that made me feel like I was living in a perpetual state of monotone, but compared to the vein-burning frenzy of anxiety, I was cool with it, for the most part. Then the anxiety came back last week. No warning, no real trigger, it was suddenly just there. Life came barreling around the corner and slam! it hit me full in the face. Literally. I found myself at work with shaking hands and the sensation of grape slushy running through my veins, big, fat itchy red hives breaking out under both of my eyes. I had to sit down for a moment and remind myself to breathe, because tunnel vision was coming on and I thought I would faint.

I found myself wishing, for the first time, that I was the type of person who felt comfortable just dishing on Facebook about my struggles. Just put it all out there, the pain, the fear, the nerves, and see what happens. See if it helped, to just say it. Would it all go away? Would I feel immediately lighter? Would I have to stop being comfortable in order to feel better?

But then I thought about it some more, and I decided not. We live in a world where we share it all, and I’m okay with that – I share what I want, when I want, and dog knows I’ve been on a social-media soapbox since Al Gore invented the internet back in the days of JNCOs. Nobody can say I haven’t used the platform. But I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable talking about “My Shit” (and yes, that’s what I call it) out loud and proud for the masses. It might give a bit of comfort, but it’s cold comfort to me, because it doesn’t last. The attention of social media, is, to me, a quick fix, but it doesn’t treat the real issues deep down. A quick scroll and a “like” or a heart emoji and then they’re onto the next thing, and you’re still sitting there, waiting.

Then you’ve got the well-meaning but often patronizing and/or tone deaf advice from people who just want to tell you what to do, without any awareness of whether or not you can actually accomplish their suggestions. The “bootstraps” people. The folks with good intentions who wonder if you’ve ever thought about essential oils? Or had you considered just buying a new car if yours is giving you trouble? Feeling bad? Why not just try yoga? Can’t you open a savings account? Depressed? Anxious? It’s all in your head, just get over it! A brisk nature walk will soothe your ills!

Actually, it does, for me. But I’m not that asshole who will EVER tell you to take a fucking walk to cure your depression. Take a walk because walks are nice and you deserve to brush your fingers against the mottled bark of a tree and smell wet leaves and see sunshine and breathe crisp air. Because those are nice things and you deserve them. I will not try to fix your problems because that’s presuming I am qualified (and I’m definitely not), plus you didn’t ask to be fixed. Fixxers can eat a butt.


I’m working towards talking about my anxiety and depression, because I think it helps, but more in spaces that I feel are wholly mine, on my terms; like in my writing, whether its books or this blog, in spaces with friends who I know won’t judge me or belittle my experiences (because those of us who don’t talk often about our struggles are usually the first to be dismissed when we get up the courage to – and that’s an unfortunate truth), and by taking part in things that give me joy. Creative outlets. Artistic expression. Becoming lost in another world with a book. Plucking strings to play shitty bass. Watching the Golden Girls while eating M&Ms by the fistful (don’t judge me).

It may be the summer that it all comes crashing down, this house of cards we’re living in. But it’s also the summer Love. Loving what you do. Loving yourself. The summer of bass. The summer of pitching. As many songs and books as I can fit in my brain. The summer of doing things to cultivate a better, more well-rounded self. Sometimes I roll my eyes at terms like “self-care”, even while realizing the need for it, but I think that’s what it is. To take time for you, amid the chaos, is kind of a revolution in itself. That old adage, “you can’t fill from an empty cup”, I guess, rings true.

This afternoon my kid was dancing in weird circles around the room and making some unidentifiable guttural noise. His friend asked him, “What are you doing?” and my mini-me replied in a gleeful tone, “I dunno. I’m just dancing. I have personal issues!” Then he proudly shook his butt.

So that’s what I’m up to. You can find me plucking the bass or ripping out my hair while pitching this damned book that I never want to look at again.

Ah yes, and it is also the summer of hard cider. I found this great one from the blue ridge mountains that tastes like fresh apples. * Raises glass * To summer, both the fun and frustrating, and to our personal issues!