Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pits and Peaks

Long time, no write.  To be fair, I have been incredibly busy with...um....I planted new plants!  That's it!  I also never let the laundry get to be more than 7 shirts and 2 towels.  We take lots of dog walks. I clean and ready our guest apartment for its next visitors.  I roam new parts of Zurich weekly.  I interview until my throat is hoarse.  

All of that to say, I am not in bed past 9am anymore. I haven't taken a 2 or 4 hour nap in ages. I go out to meet friends for lunch or coffee. I function. I have energy. I make the absolute best out of being unemployed. 

When you are severely depressed, you worry that these days will never come.  You don't have the energy to hope they might return. There is worry that the slightest glitch in life will throw you for a tailspin. I am here to testify that it is a horrid place to be in, but very,very little by little, you find yourself climbing out of the hole.  You don't leap and you don't jump, but you climb out, rung by rung, of the dark prison that your mind and body threw you in.  I am not afraid to say that it took (and continues to take) medications, a psychiatrist and lots of grace to get my head peeking out above the pit. Just yesterday I asked if we could taper off my meds and my shrink looked at me with bewilderment.  Her response was "I was going to order you to a 'wellness' clinic less than 4 months ago, let the meds do what they need to for awhile longer."

I understand her point.  Two weeks ago we had to put Phoggie Doggy down.  He had been seriously ill for 5 months.  Not only was it an obviously horrible stress on him, but my days revolved around vet and animal hospital visits, medication time, quieting his anxious barking for the neighbors and cleaning up a lot of unsavory things almost daily. There is a vicious guilt that eats at you for not only being stressed about your sick pup and all of those things, but also for the relief you feel when he is gone and life is easier.  But I have to keep going.

I've also been actively trying to find a job. I am required by the Swiss unemployment office to apply to a minimum of 15 jobs per month.  I've been doing this since last December.  As I am currently still unemployed, you can do the quick math on how many rejections I've had since then.  (Seriously, do the math.  I don't wanna know.)  The ones that hurt are the ones that I interviewed all the way to the top of the ladder.

One CEO mentioned that he had read my blog and asked why I was so open.  I didn't hesitate with my response, "Because I don't write about others unless they know.  I only write things that I would tell you face to face. And I cannot not be authentic."  I didn't get that job.

These positions are at least 4 interviews in, sometimes 6 or 7.  You ask for feedback, but all you receive is "another candidate best fit the position."  Why? Did they wear a cooler shirt? Walk comfortably in heels? Did they not blog? Not turn bright red all over? Did they toe the party line on how to interview?  My mind reels with the possibilities as to what is holding me back. But I have to keep going.

"Keeping going" was a painful action 3 months ago. Today it makes sense. It is a hard won attitude and still a minefield some days, but piece by piece your life returns to a new normal.  This new normal is an awareness that there are deep pits in life, but an understanding that you can climb out by reaching out if you fall into it again.  If there is a next time, I won't waste time running from the diagnosis.  Won't let my ego stand in my way. I will get help.

There is a scene in "The West Wing" that gets me every stinkin' time. Leo is talking to Josh about his PTSD.

"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.
A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me, can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"

For me it took the doctor, the priest and the friends.  For others it might take quiet time and a healthy diet. It doesn't matter if you build a tunnel out of the hole or climb, but it starts by saying "Hey, can you help me out?"

A lot of you jumped down into the hole with me. Thank you.  I know I'm not completely out yet, but your love and support is showing me the way.

And to my sweet boy, you are missed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

a secret no more

I have depression. In my head I hear it as “I have the depression,” but maybe that's just me trying to be all hipster about it.

What does that mean though?  Whatever you do, DO NOT go to WebMD or any other website to have depression explained to you.  If you weren’t depressed before reading their summaries, you will be depressed afterwards. 

Here is what it means to me.  To me it feels 100% physical.  On some days (most days) it means that I dread the walk to the train, a walk that takes seven minutes at most.  To someone who had been consistently running three or four times a week, that isn’t normal. It means that I can go to bed at 10, sleep until 9, get up, have breakfast, take a 2-3 hour nap, and go back to bed at 10 and sleep soundly as if I had the roughest, busiest day in the world.  Until recently, It meant going to work, sleeping on both trains, then figuring out where I could take a nap over lunch.  My depression means an extreme fatigue that seems to start in my bones.  If you’ve ever had mono, you are familiar with this type of fatigue.  Your mind may be up and at ‘em, but your body just isn’t having any of it.  And that is exactly how I described it to the doctors. 

The doctors.  God bless ‘em.  (For once I don’t mean that sarcastically.)  For the last 10 months they have tried so hard to find me an acceptable diagnosis.  I can safely say I have been tested for everything you have ever heard of on House or ER.  It got to the point where I was telling the lab techs which vein to use for the best blood flow.  I remember sitting down in the chair one day and counting fourteen (14....10 plus 4 more) vials to be filled.  I stammered “alles für mich?” (all for me?) and the tech nodded sympathetically with a “ja, genau” (yes, exactly). 

About three months into the tests, I went in for an unscheduled appointment.  Blood work had been done to see if the remaining half of my thyroid had stopped working.  This theory made all of the sense in the world.  I’d had half of my thyroid removed last autumn - surely the remaining half had just called it a day.  My symptoms could be fixed with a pill and I would be running again by dinner time.  I was convinced that my test results were sitting on a counter, the Holy Grail of What Was Wrong with Me.  But because my doctor was out for two weeks, my health was put on the back burner. Because I was exhausted and was exhausted with being exhausted, I asked to come in and speak to anyone who could read the test results.  I wanted a specific answer, a specific solution and a specific end to these symptoms.  

The poor doctor who saw me had no idea what was about to hit her.  She had to be thinking she was delivering good news when she told my my thyroid counts were great.  I literally burst out crying.  Like a sad Lifetime movie (are there any other kinds?!), I blubbered my frustrations out.  With no hesitation, she whipped out her prescription pad and started telling me how to take this anti-depressant.  I cried even harder.  She tried to soften the blow by telling me that depression is a typical side-effect of many other diagnosis, and that the faster we get the depression kicked, the better we can see the remaining symptoms for what they truly were.  She won me over when she wrote a second note and said, “The rest of the week off work would probably help too.”

I left the office in a daze.  I was embarrassed to tell my husband what was going on, he who is so strong willed and optimistic. I was convinced he would see me as weak-willed and negative.  I thought if I could spin it off of another diagnosis, it would be clear that it wasn’t my fault I was depressed. I did not want to be depressed, and yeah, I could see how putting up with whatever was REALLY wrong with me had started giving me those depression symptoms.  The doctor was right.  A little leveling-off couldn’t hurt.  And just like O.J., once I was out of depression jail, we could look for the real diagnosis.

Anyone who has taken an anti-depressant knows that they suck. They are the drugs on t.v. commercials whose disclaimer about their side effects is longer than the actual positive explanation of what the drug can do.  “Sure, we might cure your depression, but you also might grow a second nose, never be able to leave the toilet, will always have a headache and don’t even think about sex...that’ll kill you for sure, assuming your partner can get past the second nose.”  So while I’m looking for the real diagnosis, let’s add headaches, weight gain, nightmares and “crazy eyes” to the symptoms.  No wonder I prefer being asleep.

With all of this going on in the background, I started seeing the Internal Medicine group at the Zurich University Hospital.  I thought I had given copious amounts of blood before - these people were absolute vampires.  I began to feel like a liter of blood was the co-pay required. 

The only thing the blood work had shown was an acute B12 deficiency.  Normal ranges are 200-900 picograms per milliliter of blood.  My B12 readings varied between 50-90 pg/mL.  B12 deficiencies are common in vegetarians and the elderly.  While I had recently turned 40, no one was ready to blame it on my age.  And because I think meat and cheese are God’s gift to us, there was no viable reason to have such low B12.  Like a dog on a bone though, I bit into this and wouldn’t let go.  That’s it.  That’s the winner.  Let’s solve this B12 baloney and move along. 

So that’s what we have been doing - testing the reasons for a low B12 count.  In October my left bicep was the lucky recipient of six B12 shots in two weeks.  That mega-dose did move me up into the normal range.  Do I feel more energetic?  Nope. So my magic bullet?  It’s not so magic.  It isn’t the answer I wanted or the solution I hoped for. 

My University doctor laid it out last week, “I have to be brutally honest.  There is nothing left to test, nothing more to consider, other than mental causes.”

You know why?  Because I’m depressed.  The three doctors are now aligned.  Kelli is depressed. 

There are people out there who do not want you to know they are depressed. I am one of them.  I wanted to fix me before I ever had to talk about it.  I wanted people to comment “Oh, but you always seem to have it together, I had no idea.”  Yeah, that’s because I’m an awesome liar when you can’t see my face turn beet red.

Depression has such a stigma in our society.  When you aren’t yourself, you start to believe the lies. That a happy attitude can pull you out.  That healthy choices and exercise will fix you.  That eliminating all stress is the answer.  That simply getting showered and putting on makeup will set the tone for the rest of the day.  You know what?  I can take a nap in full make up.  Mascara isn’t the answer to a bad day when you have depression.  And stress?  The only thing on my to-do list today is to feed myself.  Doesn’t get much more relaxed than that. 

Now I’m saying this to my fellow godly friends with as much love as I can muster. Depression is not a lack of faith.  It is not an indicator of someone’s relationship with God. More prayer on my part will not cure my depression. Granted, God is a god of miracles, but that’s for Him to decide, not you and not me.  He is close, I believe this.  At this very moment He is giving me strength to write this, to make appointments with a psychiatrist and to continue my conversations with my husband, my family, my friends in a spirit of honesty.  Depression is not a symptom of a weak faith. 

Do I cry all day?  Only if I’m reading a sad book.  (I’m looking at you, Still Alice.)  Do I have thoughts of hurting myself?  Only if eating an entire box of Oreo Double Stufs falls into that category. Do I sleep a lot?  Not all the time, but a lot.  Have I lost purpose?  C’mon, I did just lose my job.  Is my weight changing?  No fair, it’s Christmas time. Do I have unexplained aches or pains? Yes, but I can explain them, I’m 40 years old.

Am I embarrassed to tell you that I’m depressed?  Horribly. 

That’s why I’m telling you.  I'm not doing this for the drama or the comments or the "atta boys." I am calling out the monster under my bed.  I understand I am depressed, but I refuse to stay scared and embarrassed too.  I’m telling you this very un-HIPAA personal story to ask you to do one thing this holiday season and all seasons - show grace.  We have no idea what is going on under people’s facades.  Those happy Facebook statuses are probably how people want to feel, not how they do feel.  (Unless they are serious over-sharers.)

When someone seems to drop out of view, do something to let them know you miss them - a text, a voice mail or, heaven forbid, a hand-written note on real paper.  You aren't going to cure them, but they aren't going to feel so isolated in that moment.

I am telling myself this now - show grace.  To the neighbor who asks too many personal questions.  Maybe they just want to know you better and be known in return.  To the doctors who are trying their best, work with them, not kicking and screaming against their perspectives.  To your family that is frustrated that they cannot fix this for you, listen to their efforts without being defensive.  Show grace.

When you are in Wal-Mart and you want to make fun of the person wearing their jammie pants - dude, they are a step ahead of me.  I didn’t leave bed until 11:30 this morning. 

When someone does over share or is like a dark cloud on social media, say a prayer for them.  Yes, they might be looking for some drama, but it takes 15 seconds to say, “Hey God, you know the story, I don’t.  Be with them where they are.”  If you aren’t religious, take a moment to think a kind thought about them.

That’s the kind of grace I’m talking about.

I’m surrounded by people who love me.  Maybe not physically, but I have no doubt about the support available to me when I reach out.  I am so freaking blessed in that way. Is that enough to pull someone out of depression?  No, otherwise I would have been cured months ago.  Does it help?  More than any one of you know. 

You might consider this a major over share.  That's ok.  You are entitled to your opinion of me.    Think a kind thought of me anyway, maybe even that 15 second prayer if you are so inclined.  

I will do the same for you. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Breaking Up with IKEA

It has been mentioned (by me, numerous times) how expensive pretty much everything in Switzerland is.  I see it as three levels of pricing. 

The first tier is for the über-wealthy, those clients my husband calls “ultra high net wealth”.  Typically trust fund babies or successful entrepreneurs, they purchase their furniture in little boutiques off of Bahnhofstrasse – beautiful, bespoke pieces that only look better after years of wear, when the patina of quality seeps out and it molds to your body like butter.

The second tier is typically composed of those who work for the first tier.  These people might be hipsters, scouting vintage pieces in Kreis 5 (the artsy district of Zurich) or hitting Redbox (not a movie dispenser), the Swiss equivalent of Restoration Hardware.  The furniture is solid and unique, but you also pay a small fortune for the gallery and name.

And then there is my tier.  I believe this tier makes up the majority around these parts.  We are a hodge-podge sort of crowd, picking up deals when we can, passing pieces among the ex-pat crowd and knowing that sometimes, when you just want new pillows to change your mood, IKEA works well enough. 

I’m not ashamed, I’m proud of what we’ve created for our home.  Our home is a combination of beautiful, solid (American-made) items like our beds and couch, IKEA pieces, IKEA hand-me-down pieces, and maybe a leather couch we found by the dumpster.  Maybe. 

Anyway, all of that to say there are a lot of people in the third tier.  And it seems like the entirety of them are at the Dietlikon IKEA on Saturdays.  That’s a lot of divorces happening at once. 

To avoid meeting that many people at such a dark time of their lives, I ventured to IKEA on a Thursday morning, by myself.  Armed with an IKEA card and a list, I left home confident that I would conquer the day.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, namely, an accident on a two-lane highway and then construction on a two-lane road, my 38-minute drive turned into 110 minutes. 

“But c’mon,” I told myself, “you have plenty of free time now and think about all the voice exercising you just did, singing your entire Broadway repertoire.”

I was not going to let anyone, especially me, ruin my IKEA Adventure Day.

I walked in the store, settled in with a doughnut and cup of coffee and immediately started texting mr. shoe questions about his parts of the list, questions I probably should have asked earlier, but so what…I had time. 

The (first) problem with IKEA is the arrows on the floor.  Look, I get that we need guidance to get through the behemoth of Expedits and Lilenhämers and Flurgs, but sometimes you need to go back to the Expedit with the display model of the Kompartment and see if it fits.  And when you do that, you are immediately judged by those passive aggressive customers that look to the ground arrow, look back at you and your cart, and make you weave in and out of office desks because they will not let you pass. 

I also could not lose two ladies and their screaming child.  No matter how many times I went backwards, I seemed to catch up with Terrible Tom and his Oblivious Au Pairs.  It’s like they had a tracking device on me at all times.  No matter how fast or how slow I went, Tom and his screams of “NEIN” were always beside me.

At this point I had been shopping for almost 4 hours and was about to do my own scream of “NEIN” when confronted with the choice of 3 different colanders for our guest apartment. 

Because I couldn’t possibly fit anymore in my cart, I followed the arrows to the checkout.  But not before facing my final challenge. IKEA cleverly puts their clearance items right about 20 yards before cashiers, meaning if you see something on clearance that you like, you’ve only got three choices, ditch the more expensive option near there, buy both or fight the arrows to return the more expensive item.  Knowing this, I typically ignore the small pieces like desk lamps or misfit espresso mugs, but as I turned the corner, I saw IT.  A three level tv stand! On wheels!  For only 40 francs!  Perfect for a guest apartment!  The problem was, I had a full cart and this was way too big to put into another cart.  But make no mistake, this clearance deal was going to be mine.  And it would be the cherry on top of my IKEA Adventure Day. 

Like a train t-boning a car in an action movie, I stuck the tv stand in front of my cart and pushed it sideways to the cashier stand.

And now we come to another IKEA problem.  When you start to put your items on the belt, you realize that you have more room at a QuikTrip counter to put your Big Gulp and Donettes.  Yet somehow you are supposed to fit the 291 items in your cart on this tiny thing BEFORE running to the other end and re-loading your cart in the EXACT same way you had it previously packed to ensure everything fits as the cashier is throwing your 1,000 napkins at you.  By this time, I was having a hot flash, stripped down to a t-shirt and doing my best, determined to get through this last hurdle before packing up my car in victory.

While getting the evil eye from the housefrau behind me with two candles (Um, lady, there are 4 self-check lanes to our left – check ‘em out fo yo self), I triumphantly pulled out my IKEA card to pay.  The cashier looked at the name and looked at me.  In Swiss-German, she asked if I was “John”.  I said that it was my husband.  She said more, but it was too fast and too Swiss for me to follow.  In high German I apologized and asked if she spoke English.  I got the typical “bah” as a response so I gave her my residence card / ID card.   She looked at it, looked at me and ran the credit card.  That’s right, she ran the credit card after looking at my ID.  I was in the clear…or so I thought. 

When I went to sign the receipt, I made the mistake of signing my own name.  That’s when she went ballistic.  There were calls over the loudspeaker, Housefrau Who Won’t Use Self-Check stormed off in a flurry of what I assume were insults and I’m standing there in total confusion.  I asked again if she could call someone who spoke English when a Customer Service representative walked up.  I gratefully asked if she spoke English, only to find out that when she said “very little”, she was the only person in all of Switzerland who literally meant “very little”. 

I explained the situation as best I could in German and English.  She asked if I wanted to use another card and I said “no”.  The whole point of shopping at IKEA with an IKEA card is to earn discounts and use their rates.  I didn’t want to use another card. I argued that my home address was on the credit card and MY HUSBAND was the credit card holder, but she wouldn’t budge.  I asked to call the HotLine and add myself to the account immediately but wasn’t allowed.  I volunteered to open my own card, but she said there wasn’t time.

At that point I was so angry and so red – both means tears for me. (I was also so hot, but I’d already stripped down as far as was allowed.)  I wanted to just walk away, but I thought about all the stuff I had gotten for our home office and how John was excited to get organized and how hard it had been to pack the stupid cart and how long I had taken to choose the items I had and I said “fine, whatever, I’ll pay another way.”  I thought this would solve the problem.  Silly girl, this is IKEA. 

I was taken to Customer Service, dragging a cart and a tv stand, where they made me UNPACK my shopping cart so that she could return every single item by hand.  At that point she had taken a nicer approach and after a conversation with a co-worker that I could only half-follow, and her asking for my address and phone number, I thought she had changed her mind.  Nope, once we got everything scanned for return, she hands me the return receipt and says, “Go back to cashier.  Pay there.”  So, PACK THE CART AGAIN, UNPACK IT FOR SCANNING AND THEN PACK IT AGAIN TO LEAVE.

With my head held high, I looked at her, mustered every ounce of kindness in me and, in the wise words of Terrible Tom said, “Nein.  Danke.”

I went out to the car and cried. Hard.  I was tired.  I was angry.  I was frustrated at my lack of language skills. I had been terminated from my job that week, but IKEA is what blew me up.  Seriously?!  Why?  For stuff?!

I sat there and thought about the stuff in the cart.  It was stuff.  Yes, there were useful stuffs, and cute stuffs, but it was stuff.  And if we came back and got that stuff or never saw that stuff again, it just stopped mattering. 

I’m not going to lie.  Mr. shoe and I returned on Friday night to get the stuff.  It wasn’t quite as fun to put the pillows in the cart.  Getting the right colander no longer flummoxed me. 

We came home and put together our guest apartment and it looks nice.  But what makes me excited is the idea of the guests, not what they see in the apartment.  I want to see the people, not the stuff.

If I stay in the third tier of shoppers, I have way more than I need.  Sadly, I have more than most of the world.  I want to get past wanting stuff.  Maybe this trip to IKEA finally caused a divorce within me.  I don’t want to be that person who thinks the bird pillows are necessary for a happy life.

I guess I've got some stuff to deal with. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

40 for 40 (my apologies to ESPN)

I turn 40 years old this weekend.  I cannot lie, this weirds me out a little bit.  To soften the blow of my rapid aging, I have decided to focus on some of the things I've learned in my 40 years on earth.  Please do not misunderstand me - learning, knowing and doing are very separate stages. I've learned these 40 things. Unfortunately some are still not my natural reaction or first thought, but I keep on trying with every lesson. So maybe that's my "one to grow on" - keep trying.  
  1. There are too many books, too many stories and too many authors in the world to keep reading one that isn't grabbing you simply because it is popular.
  2. God is good.  All the time.
  3. Painted fingernails make me feel feminine.
  4. Be loyal, but not blind.
  5. Yes, people pay to dye their hair red, but that doesn't make you feel better until you are in your 20s.
  6. It is ok to be wrong, but admit it when you are.
  7. When you are at a low point, it isn’t the advice or the bible verses or the clichés that are immediately soothing - it is the person who sits beside you (literally or figuratively) and quietly cries with you that starts to heal your soul.
  8. Count Chocula is the perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  9. I would rather be healthy than thin, but if I’m honest, I’d like to be both.
  10. Count Chocula will not aid me in being healthy or thin.
  11. Stacy Welter’s dog bites when you get in his face. 
  12. Rabies shots hurt.
  13. Dewar’s is pronounced “do-ers”, not “de-wars”.
  14. The best moments in life are rarely planned in advance; surviving the worst moments in life cannot be planned in advance either. 
  15. Shampoo.  Rinse.  Do not repeat.
  16. Your parents’ religion will not always be your own, but their faith can be.
  17. Drinking water during a fast doesn't stop your hunger, just your thirst.
  18. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you've wasted everyone’s time, including your own.
  19. If my sunglasses cost more than $10, I should not take them to the tennis court.
  20. Add pasta to boiling water, potatoes to cold water.
  21. Take the sleeping pill only after the plane has taken off.
  22. I know I will never fully know the sacrifices my parents made for me.
  23. Look for the good.
  24. The ocean is my therapy.
  25. Tattoos are addictive.
  26. Your family is your family is your family.  They love you.  You love them. Everything else is irrelevant.
  27. Sometimes cheap ice cream is just as delicious as expensive ice cream.
  28. Everyone should have one summer in their life where they work a maximum of 3 hours a day, play sand volleyball a minimum of 4 hours a night and spend the rest of the time sleeping and swimming.
  29. No matter how good-looking, if a guy screams when a snake crosses his path, he immediately loses his appeal. 
  30. Someone somewhere may not like you.  Get over it.
  31. Being a bronzed goddess is never going to happen for me.
  32. If you haven’t worn something for two years, donate it.  Except Birkenstocks.  Those stupid things keep coming back around.
  33. There are a few truly worthy things to argue about in marriage.  Most everything else is about finding a compromise. Learning the difference is called “communication.” 
  34. You do not instantly gain communication skills with the exchange of vows.
  35. Only my family gets to make fun of my family. 
  36. Strawberry seeds are not poisonous. 
  37. Less talk, more action.
  38. If you have to look online to remember if women have an adam’s apple, you probably have a tumor in your throat.
  39. I've been alive for 40 years.  If I have a feeling in my gut, an intuition, a first impression or a sense of unease, it needs to be given serious consideration. But people and situations always deserve a measure of grace to change my original impression.
  40. Even cute, hip knick knacks have to be dusted. 


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