Pura Vida

There are many things I loved about Costa Rica, the coffee not the least among them. I have a case shipped in for Christmas every year.

People will talk about the rhythm there – the Pura Vida – and it’s all true. But what they often don’t mention is that the keeper of the rhythm is the rain.

The sun wakes you before your alarm can, no matter how late you were up, and it shines straight through to 1:00ish. Just bright, hot sun.

 From 1:00 – 2:00, its beautiful blue skies dotted with innocent white clouds. It’s beautiful. It looks the sky over a prairie, not an ocean.

At 2:00 it rains just like it’s raining tonight – heavy and loud and straight down like someone has a giant watering can just above you. Everything is soaked inside of 2 seconds, if you stayed outside (the locals stay outside, and by the end of the week so do you). It starts like someone turned a faucet, is amazingly steady & monotonous for 30 minutes, then turns off like a faucet between 2:30 & 2:45.

The rain stops and the sun is out within one minute. Bright as Dawn. Within three minutes, anything you left out is dry.

The sun shines till sunset, no clouds to be seen.

Every. Day.

That’s what tonight’s rain made me think of. The rain in Costa Rica, and its inherent & blessed predictability.

I want this for my life. I think, in any given day, if could just squeeze all the bullshit into one hour and know that the other 23 would be golden, I could do it. I would so prefer this to 2 minutes of bullshit every hour. Because it’s not the 2 minutes of bullshit, it’s the 20 minutes of seeing it coming and dreading it, and the 20 minutes of being pissed about it after, which leaves like eight minutes to not be annoyed. If I could do that ONCE a day instead of TEN TIMES a day, just for longer – sign me up. I can plan around that.

That is, unfortunately, is not the way rain works in my life.  This week, it’s like just barely shitty enough to keep you inside, but not so crazy as to offer you a decent excuse for it. My life has been drizzling for weeks. I want a 40 minute downpour, and be done with it.


June of Jeanine becomes July of....?

So what is June of Jeanine? Well, its morphed a thousand times, and its only June 19th.

At its core, June of Jeanine is being good to myself – doing what feels good. That’s included AM yoga instead of a cigarette & coffee, but sometimes it also includes Taco Tuesday and barhopping with my guy. But what it requires more than anything is honestly.

Because yoga feels good. And beer feels good. But that doesn’t make them equal.

The key is honesty. I come from a long line of people who are very talented at lying to themselves. The superpower of Denial runs strong in my veins.  And there isn’t a day I couldn’t convince myself that beer or wine is just what I need. June of Jeanine is about creating the space to think about that – what REALLY feels good? Downward Dog, or a hangover?

A buzz feels good, and I haven’t denied myself that.

Reading a good book on my lunch break feels good, and I haven’t denied myself that.

Half pigeon feels good, and I haven’t denied myself that.

Quitting smoking doesn’t feel good, and I’ve made strides. But alas, smoking cigarettes feels good, and I haven’t entirely denied myself that.

The point of June of Jeanine, succinctly, is that I have not denied myself ANYTHING. I have put self above all – some would call it selfish. I’ll go with that whole “put your own oxygen mask on first’ thing.

The promise I made myself in late May was that June of Jeanine would NOT be about judgment. The overarching message was “make the next best choice”. Don’t big picture. Day by day.
By not having a strict plan to follow, here’s what I’ve gained: I’ve woken up to do yoga first thing 17 out of the last 19 days. I’m certain if I made a strict rule, I’d top out at ten, cause that’s just me.
I’m down to 3 cups of coffee a day, none after 3:00pm, which is a marked improvement.

I’ve drank, mostly socially, 5 times in 19 days. That’s down from, roughly, 18 in 19 days.
Its not perfect. I’m not the juicing, detoxing queen of sitting Lotus. But I’m  not a hot mess, either.
So what does July hold? If June was about gentleness, July is about ass kicking. July is about challenging myself – sweating every day, upping my miles & my weight, lifting, running…so, yes, July is gonna kinda suck. But June laid the groundwork for relaxation, for daily (almost!) meditation, for the self love I was missing that will make July possible.

It will still be day by day, minute by minute, choice by choice, because I’ve discovered ‘rigid’ just doesn’t work for me. But while June was about being gentle with myself, July will be about kicking my own ass. 

Wish me luck.


Mom's Birthday

                In my twenties, I decided I didn’t believe in an afterlife.
                In my forties, I lost a parent.

I was taught early on that principles are only principles because you stick with them even when it’s hard. You’re anti-death penalty? That means you may find yourself fighting for the life of a rapist murderer. You’re pro-choice? You stand up for women who have had 5 abortions in 3 years, and you don’t ask them why. Love the first Amendment? Then you fight for the KKK’s right to march.

All of these examples are outliers of course, none are in any way representative of the bulk of what these principles protect. But protecting the outliers protects the center. So that’s what you do.

Losing a parent is an outlier, in this example.

The afterlife is so….prevalent. Omnipresent. “Look for signs from the Universe! She’s always with you.”  “Happy Birthday to your Mama in Heaven!” “They are running that 5K beside you.” The super weird & creepy idea that you should be good, so you can be reunited in Heaven one day (conversely, don’t be bad, you’ll go to Hell and be alone forever).  That’s a head trip.

Not believing in an afterlife, it seems, is pretty lonely.

Sometimes when I hike – often, actually, in a way that feels contrived by my brain or my heart or the aforementioned Universe – I see butterflies. And not just fleeting away out of the corner of my eye – they’ll loop around me twice, or follow me on the trial for a half mile. How does one NOT assign meaning to that? Butterflies were my Mom’s thing. Well, first they were my Aunt’s thing, and my mother took her passing very hard, and they became my Mom’s thing. Much like her things become my things. But…pictures of butterflies. Calendars. Little 3-D butterflies with one-sided tape for her bedroom walls. And now it seems they find me far more than they used to, and they like to stick around, and it’s weird.

Do I welcome them? My heart welcomes them as my mind rails against them. (Lois would know this, so if she did have a hand in it, touché Mom). Even that comment feels like…a dangerous slip into self-soothing at the cost of truth, at the cost of my soul that is me.

So…I’ve read all there is to read on Grief. I get it all…it’s like ocean waves, it’s a bottomless pit, it will always be there but it will change, it will lessen, it won’t lessen but it will become more bearable, you will grow, you will shrink, you will purchase luminaries and wear pink ribbons, you will HATE luminaries and pink ribbons, you will become more of a mom and less of a daughter, you will become less of a mom because you’re less of daughter. It’s all there.

I want Grief to be linear. My Dad is sick, turns out, same disease different place. And my mind wants to unpack, categorize, re-pack, and bury all the boxes of Grief for my mother. I need to make room, you see. For my boxes of Grief for my father. There’s no space here for both.

Maybe it’s like having babies. You have one, you think “I could never love another the way I love this one.” Then you have another baby and realize your folly.  Maybe Grief is the same way. Maybe there’s an endless capacity for it. Maybe the reason your heart can grow enough Love for more babies is the same reason your heart can grow enough Grief for all that you’ve lost.

 I don’t know yet, I don’t have to know yet. But I like my buried boxes, they’re tidy and out of the way.


Tomorrow - and Countless Mounds of Yesterdays


Tomorrow is going to be SO great!

I’m going to wake up early and go for a walk, maybe with my coffee. Not like an exercise-level speedwalk, no no no – I’m going to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the sunrise and be mindful and full of gratitude at this very phenomenon of self-propulsion. One cannot, certainly, achieve this with a cigarette in one’s hand, so I will not partake. This may be difficult, but I’m confident the deep breathing exercises I’ll be doing anyway will help.

I’m going to come home and poach a range-free egg to put on my mindfully-prepared avocado toast. I will consume this breakfast with loving gratitude for the nourishment I’ve prepared for myself.

I will be present & engaged with my children while waiting for the bus. I will listen with enthusiasm to Sam's re-cap of yesterday's Yu-Gi-O game and Anna's re-re-telling of that funny thing her BFF said last week. I will enjoy finding week-expired permission slips and accept any & all sub-par quiz grades with equanimity & understanding. Perhaps we’ll bake some cookies for an after-school treat?

I will drive to work in silence or with uplifting music, and eschew my usual political news.

Oh work is going to be awesome! You should see my Outlook calendar! I get to meet with my always-charming boss who SO enjoys & encourages my out-of-the-box BIG PICTURE thinking, and is never dismissive, thank goodness. I get to walk on the treadmill at lunch reading AWOL and imagining the canopy, the birds chirping, the soft pine needles beneath my feet. I get to attend a Webinar on better-utilizing LinkedIn for Sales, which I just KNOW will be relevant and fascinating and provide all sorts of ideas about this fresh & dynamic platform. Most importantly, in between I will be diligently working in three Excel spreadsheets and out of our delightful Microsoft CRM. I will not once check CNN or MSNBC or HuffPo or even Facebook! But I will be loving to myself, and if I find it difficult to stay focused, I will indulge in a TED talk or inspirational video, or maybe just re-read Desiderata as needed.

I will drive home from work in silence or with calming music, and eschew my usual political news.

I look forward to cooking something creative & delicious for my lover from fresh, local, organic ingredients, without that evil devil-juice Pinot Noir. Cooking without a wine glass in my hand IS within my abilities to master!

After dinner, we’ll take a restive walk through the neighborhood to aid in digestion. We’ll discuss wedding plans, household projects, our lifelong dreams – that sort of stuff.

When we return, I will watch a baseball game with him. I will be super-present, not check my phone at all, ask relevant & witty questions and just generally be fascinated with this amazing, American game. It is only one out of 162 this year, after all!

I’ll enjoy some restful, winding-down-the-day type Yoga. The kind where you feel you’re being good to yourself, not competitive or super judgmental about how long you can hold a headstand! Nope – maybe Wednesday. Tomorrow will be all about good vibes.

I’ll make some tea. Green, with no caffeine, some lemon & some honey. I’ll lean over the mug as the steam floats up and breathe in its healing properties, grateful for the moment of peace. I’ll snuggle up in a blanket and read some Frost – no, I think Eliot. Lovesong for J. Alfred Prufrock perhaps.

Then I will crawl into my cozy bed – I swear I’ll actually wash my face first. Tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day I begin washing my face before bed, so help me God. I may even put some sort of night cream on my face! Maybe. Don’t want to set the bar too high…one must always manage one’s expectations to avoid disappointment and the inevitable downward spiral it invites…

I cannot wait! I’m so excited to just do it ALL right tomorrow. I would be, perhaps, more confident if this hadn’t been my failed plan for today, and for countless mounds of yesterdays.


I did some calculations, and figured out the price of happiness.

Let's talk about how we manage mental health care in this country. You can look up the statistics, and we'll avoid the weeds like gun violence and terrorism. Lets talk about how our mental health policies work for people like you & me. Okay, people like me. I am the great gray, the unspoken. I'll likely never kill anyone, including myself, and the Universe in all its wisdom has entrusted me with GROWING two ACTUAL human beings. But I am mentally ill. That's uncomfortable to hear, isn't it? I can tell you its pretty fucking uncomfortable to say. Here's the thing: it shouldn't be.

I'll eschew a scathing ass-kicker on stigma, though, to share my recent experiences with America's employer-sponsored health care system and how it manages - or fails to manage - mental health.

Long-time readers - both of them - know that for 15 years I have worked with my doctor to find an anti-depressant that fits reasonably well into my life. This is necessary because, due to a bad hand in the poker game that is genetics, I have neurons in my brain that fire when they shouldn't, and don't fire when they should. My Serotonin doesn't speak Epinephrine, it turns out, or something like that, and pills are frankly the translator. Lexapro, Welbutrin, Welbutrin plus Zoloft - oh dear, dear Zoloft - Cymbalta (scary!). You can imagine that some translators are better than others. And some have accents that some people will understand easily, and others will not be able ignore. Its all very subjective. And all translators, at some point, get old and retire, and you get to search for a one.

Good news - I found a new one! Viibryd, it's called. For long-time users of translators, you'll be happy to know this one A)doesn't make you gain weight and B) doesn't affect your sex drive. (clouds part, organ music, sun rays shine down - for real this is a BIG FUCKING DEAL). My doctor has given me the standard 3-week sample.

You didn't know about samples? Yes, well, for anti-depressants there is almost always a sample, because there's no telling what will work for who. There's no blood test - not even a brain scan - that can predict efficacy. Its literally just blind trial & error. And since side effects are most pronounced while you ween on and ween off of these meds, trial & error is a really long fucking process. Life is cruel.

So, Viibryd. I have to shit roughly 3 times an hour, but I'm told that will pass and experience bears out that this is usually the case. I feel...open to the possibility of improvement. That's huge - it may not sound like much but for real I can come up with a good reason to get out of bed more mornings than not, and that is an amazing improvement over where I was. We'll come back to the meds.

Lest you think I'm one of these soft, 'take a pill to make it all alright' folk, at the same time I sought out a new med I was also seeking out a therapist, and let me tell you - Jesus. If I have to choose between calling the crisis line and navigating a push-button menu for 20 minutes only to learn you have a 10-month wait for appointments - congratulations, I now need the fucking crisis line. What a shit show. I called EVERY SINGLE SHRINK IN YORK COUNTY. Unless you are in the process of driving your car off a cliff, you have two choices: take yourself to the ER for 3-day involuntary psych hold, or swallow your pain - swallow it! - it doesn't matter that it tastes bad, it doesn't matter that you're full. According to how this country manages mental health, you are EITHER a danger to yourself or others this moment OR you are absolutely fine and good to go for at least 10 months. There is no in between. There is no place for gray.

After checking in on a waiting list I'd been on over a year, I got an appointment with a highly recommended psychologist. I wanted a psychiatrist, only because I feel like I've exhausted a lot of options, medication-wise, and wanted some input on meds (psychiatrists can write prescriptions, psychologists can't). Oh well. Beggars, choosers and the like. Psychologist it is.

I finally procure this appointment - which required actual tears on the phone with the poor receptionist, from an office I share with long-suffering co-workers, because embarrassment and risked employment security are JUST PART OF BEING MENTALLY ILL. (Let that sink in, because its important. My mental illness makes me financially insecure in many ways.)

She calls back 30 minutes later - turns out my employer-sponsored health care (which i pay a hefty premium for) doesn't cover therapy until I hit a $750 deductible. Now to be fair - I could get 3 free appointments through a "Wellness Benefit". Here's where I'm going to be a Depression snob, and forgive me - those are great for mentally healthy individuals facing a tough time who could use a bit of help. Really its a great thing and I'm glad it's there for people facing transient challenges. If, however, you've been diagnosed with Moderate Depressive Disorder for over 15 years, you know that 3 appointments with a grad student is a huge waste of your time. I'm sorry - I've read and experienced more about Depression THIS WEEK. So. $150/appointment until my deductible is met. Which is going to hurt. Like, cancel the cable hurt. And here football was one of the few things that brought me joy...

So, I re-do the budget. You can't put a price on your health, right?

In the process I figure I should probably find out the cost of this new, extraordinary med. The Zoloft/Welbutrin cocktail that worked so well for so long cost me about $35/month, and was well worth it. Let's just ring up CVS...

$200/month. Insurance doesn't cover it.

Let's just take a moment to appreciate the fact that I began this process in the first place because I was at the end of my rope.

The moral of the story is that is turns out that you can, in fact, put a price on happiness. On well-being. And that price is $500/month - for two therapy appointments and some pills.

I understand, of course, that things could be worse, and frankly I abhor the argument. I understand that this is not chemo, or insulin, and that its well within the realm of possibility that I would survive without this med or these services. And, if you're the kind of person who wakes up every morning hoping to survive the day, I suppose that would be comforting. I am not. Because I am mentally ill. Do you see how that works? Do you see how it closes in on itself and becomes a cycle? Can you appreciate that I began this process BECAUSE I felt I couldn't take one more fucking step? And the answer is...your credit rating or your well-being. You can buy these meds, and make these appointments, but you'll miss at least a car payment. Do you want to be capable of smiling now and then, or have the ability to buy a house someday? Do you want to provide your kids a childhood free of walking on eggshells in your presence, or do you want to avoid bankruptcy? These are the choices that the mentally ill face in America today, and we're not...anonymous. Its your baby-sitter, your sister, your coworker, your teacher. Hell, it's me.


Mom died. Here's how I'm feeling six weeks out. Helvetica version.

      Sorry, GoodReads.com, but I am finally sick of reading quotes about grief. Like anything else, it has as many meanings as there people struggling to define it. I may as well add my own to the cauldron.

      Grief is an empty glass that cannot be filled. Turn it over in your hands, inspect it – there are no cracks, no holes. It is solid. But whatever you pour into it goes running right back out nonetheless. Like a cheap magic trick from a novelty store on the shady side of town. And you think, if I could just FILL this thing and be done with it. Put in my time. Put in my tears. And come to some sort of end. I’m willing to put in whatever it takes. But it holds nothing.

      Grief is in many ways boring. It’s repetitive. After, say, day three, there are no surprises. Just wandering around the same old rooms, picking the same things up, looking them over, putting them back down in the same place they were. No amount of inspection reveals anything new or changed.

      Grief is a Nirvana song. The one about feeling stupid and contagious and even preferring to just be entertained. I am loathe to visit dear friends in the midst of their joy – I don’t want to drip my grief on their carpet. And I covet distraction. I long to be of the dead-eyed, cow-like masses and mindlessly consume because to be completely frank it beats the hell out of this utter void. My employer’s IT department can confirm this. Thank you, Arianna Huffington, for your cold comfort.

      Grief is a mad professor that asks you the same questions day after day but accepts no answers. You have an inkling that you may be in the presence of genius – there should be SO MUCH to learn here – but the tight-lipped professor offers no hints, no guidance, not even a syllabus. It’s maddening. And you think “why does the administration claim this guy has so much to teach me? Why do they revere him?” (I’m looking at you, Pema Chodron) But you get no answers, and since they’re in charge and presumably know what they’re doing, you’re pretty sure the failure is yours. No matter how great the teacher, some students are incapable of learning. I have a grieving disability. I am keenly aware that this makes me a bad Buddhist, which is pretty funny. Leave it to me to find the guilt in the world’s only guilt-free religion.

      Grief is lonely. People are very nice, very giving, very supportive. But even the ones who have suffered the same loss or one greater haven’t suffered your loss. At some point you’re expected to function. Work. Parent. Engage in the world around you. I imagine the inevitable whispered assurances among colleagues when I leave a room, “It’s okay – you know she just lost her Mom eight years ago. She’ll bounce back.” And people don’t do or say things that make me imagine this. It’s just me in here. If they did, I would be embarrassed, which in so many ways is the very opposite of and infinitely better than lonely.

      Because of the lonely thing, grief is also a guilt-trip. I've had moments of the purest gratitude I’ve ever felt – my mother’s service was one of them – but they are fleeting. And everyone understanding why you’re a bad friend/lover/mother lately does not, in any way, alleviate the guilt you feel for being a bad friend/lover/mother. Also, thank you cards. I can only assume it’s acceptable to send them six months late?

      Grief is disturbingly sentimental. Not only am I not a person who has to excuse themselves in the middle of a work day to cry in the restroom, but I am keenly suspicious of those people and have to take difficult and deliberate steps to not think poorly of them. Now, a butterfly inexplicably flutters near me for two seconds longer than seems normal, and I am sure my mother is trying to tell me something from beyond the grave. This is particularly inconvenient since I happen to not believe that anything exists “beyond the grave”. (Again, not the world's best Buddhist) But the after-life is a can of worms I am not at all prepared to take a can opener to yet.

      Grief was, for a brief time, convenient. All of those loved ones who don’t quite get Depression? They get this. For a solid month it was perfectly acceptable to call off work, day-drink wine, and watch Law & Order reruns from the pull-out sofa because it was all I was capable of. Alas the excuse was short-lived, because modern-day Americans suffer under the delusion that there is an expiration date on grief. (I so wish there were an expiration date on grief.)

      Grief calls me a fraud. After all, I had Depression before I was grieving and, new med experiment notwithstanding, I will more likely than not have Depression after. (If there’s an after. Is there an after?) I can’t help but feel that this is, in all ways, a bad fucking deal. A real lemon. At the same time, there are so many differences between grief and Depression. I know Depression. I KNOW that bitch. I know every card she’s gonna play before she plays it.  And above all, I know that each spiral will come to an end. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. In my darkest of dark spirals I have always known that at some point – two days or five days max – I will wake up and feel like a human being again. Smile at my kids. Blow a sales quota out of the water. But Grief? Grief is a new player at the table, and I have NO idea what she’s holding in her hand. I’ve got nothing left to bet. I wish she’d just deal me out.


Top 10 things I hope will be awesome about my forties

I had it all under control. The force of denial runs strong in my veins, after all. Honed through the generations to the shiny, impenetrable armor I thought fit so securely.

One well-meaning message of thinly-veiled concern was all it took for the house of cards to crumble. 

“How are you feeling about the impending milestone?”

Oh, it probably would’ve been fine on its own.

It was followed, on the drive home, by an NPR interview with a woman who just wrote a book about being in her forties and drinking like she’s still in her twenties (Blackout – review to come). 

Still – I’m good. It’s fine. It’s nothing I can’t ignore. I’ll just pour a glass of wine and turn on Sex in the City reruns – that’ll make me feel all young & fun, right?

The birthday episode. You know, where Charlotte turns 36, and decides she’s going to stop having birthdays because she doesn’t feel she’s quite accomplished all the things she wanted to by 36? And the girls go to Atlantic City to celebrate but  they're the oldest ones there and end up playing Old Maid?

Then for a moment I was sure I was having hot flashes (no doubt psycho-sematic). Turns out my air conditioning just broke on the hottest week of the year. So there’s that.

Oh for the love of Christ. Wait – do people still say that? It kind of sounds like something old people might say.

Should you ever find yourself in this particular predicament, I implore you – FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT GOOGLE “GOOD THINGS ABOUT TURNING 40”.

I have a few questions.

First of all and probably most importantly, can I please stop buying hair dye and just go gray already? No. Too soon. I'm told 20-somethings are actually dying their hair gray now. Kids these days...

Shall I hide my birthday on Facebook so that I don’t have to type ‘Thank you’ to hundreds of individual wishes, some of which could possibly mention “forty”? Is that just, like, part of the deal?

Mostly I’m wondering if my grown-up card is in the mail yet.

To save the young’ins out there the absolute HELL that was my tour through Google’s answers (apparently HuffPo is, like, FOR people turning forty) I’ve made my own list.

Things I’m hoping will be awesome about my forties

1.       My ovaries will no longer cry when I hold babies. It is now officially time to start asking my seven year old “when she’s going to give me grandkids already”.

2.       That tinge of disappointment when I don’t get carded will fade. For crying out loud, they’re not blind. And really, my time is limited…

3.       It will be harder to lose weight with this metabolism, sure, but the expectations will be lowered appropriately. (and let’s face it, I’ve had this metabolism since 30ish anyway)

4.       Over the next few years, I will have the privilege of assuring countless girlfriends that “forty isn’t the end of the world.”

5.       I can afford to fix my air conditioner…?

6.       If I get stoned I can pass it off as “having a senior moment”. (too soon?)

7.       It is now not only appropriate but practically required that I make snide remarks about millennials which, let’s face it, is just fun.

8.       Speaking of – I don’t suffer from “vocal fry”. I’ll always have that.

9.       The oldies stations will start playing Seattle grunge now, right?

10.   I only have nine. Don’t pester me, I’m old.