It’s late, I’m tired, and I don’t have much to say. Today was Friday, I ran errands. Errands aren’t interesting, so I won’t bore you.
I went to book club (I’m in two, but this was the original). We call it Fight Club, so I’m breaking the first rule of Fight Club by telling you about it. These ladies have seen me through two adoptions, and at the last meeting, which I flaked on, they meant to surprise me with presents. I still feel like a jackass. Tonight was lovely, and we had caramel bread pudding with custard. We even talked about the book.
So, I wouldn’t exactly call this a non sequitur, because nothing follows logically in this post. But while waiting to buy 40 stamps at the post office, I stood in the self-service kiosk line behind a dude wearing shorts and no shoes. It was 52 and raining at the time, but I suppose he could have just flown in from Bali and needed to go to the self-service kiosk. Still, the barefoot thing grosses me out. I’m not a germaphobe, and I don’t make people remove their shoes when they come to my house. But I do take issue with dudes not wearing shoes at the post office.
Did I say anything? Nah. I’ve become a passive-aggressive Seattleite, so I’m venting on my blog. Also, Barefoot Dude might be mentally unbalanced, and it’s best not to rile such people at the post office.
P.S. Thank you to my friend Kelly Ryer, who pointed out that I’ve been misspelling non sequitur this whole time. I just can’t even. It’s like I’m lobotomized.
It is January 23 in the Pacific Northwest. And I am happy.
Traditionally, these two things did not go hand-in-hand for me. Seattle is, from November to April, quite chilly, damp and gray. It took a couple of winters to figure out that my February blues could be attributed to the lousy weather. I thought I was way too tough for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I was wrong. I bought a happy light and upped my Vitamin D significantly.
I know that my current happiness is partly due to our impending adoption. In six weeks or so, our family of three will board a plane to Shanghai, and then another plane to Xi’an, where we’ll become a family of four. Our soon-to-be new son is almost three. He’s adorable. And I can’t wait to get over there and become his mom. I just can’t wait.
But I also know that my happiness, or at least my ability to focus on the happy parts of our upcoming adventure, has much to do with the little pill that I started taking in November. An antidepressant. A teeny, tiny dose that my doc calls a “therapeutic” dose. A dose I could stop taking whenever without any taper. A dose that has radically altered my mood.
Before this pill came into my life, I was kind of a mess. Even the tiniest bumps in the road would activate my emotional airbags. I radiated stress. I was always ready to do battle. I snapped at my loved ones and friends. And I couldn’t sleep.
I don’t know how I got that way, which was another source of anxiety and self recrimination. I was totally aware that I was touchy, reactionary and unhappy, but I couldn’t right the ship. When my insomnia flared up, in August, my anxiety found fertile ground in my exhausted brain. I felt like my nerves were tightly wound violin strings. I found it impossible to relax.
On the rare night when I did sleep, I had a recurring nightmare where Bini was hit by a car, and I was too late to prevent it. I would wake up gasping, my heart pounding so hard I thought for sure I’d wake Steve. I’d stumble from my bed and into Bini’s room, just to make sure he was OK. Then I’d spend the rest of the long night thinking stuff like: It’s a sign. It’s a message. I’m not fit to parent. I need to stop this second adoption.
I started spiraling downward. I felt like I was at the bottom of a muddy, slippery hole, and I couldn’t find my footing. I was scared.
There were reasons for this. The adoption process, this time around, was really hard. We said no to five deserving little boys before we were matched with our soon-to-be son. I tried to go cold turkey off my Lorazepam sleep meds and it made my insomnia much worse — a side effect I wasn’t aware of. We got some bad news, which I won’t go into. And I got into a terrible argument with a close family member, who still won’t talk to me. But people go through difficult times, all the time, and they don’t fall to pieces. Why was I so different?
I tried everything, really I did. I went to counseling, and did neurofeedback. I went to acupuncture twice a week. I started meditating, thanks to a handy iPhone app which featured a nice man with a soothing British accent. I cut out alcohol. I took L-Theanine. I went to see a sleep-specific naturopath. I started tapering off the Lorazepam, very slowly. Still, I was off-the-charts anxious. So I went to my doctor, for some blood work.
“Have you considered going on a low dose of antidepressants?” she asked.
“No. No way.” I replied.
Why not? Because I’d been on a low-dose of antidepressants before, when I had a terrible job and wasn’t sleeping at all. I have Paxil to thank for helping me crawl out of that muddy hole, get my resume together and get a kick-ass job that I loved. But the tapering process off that stuff was brutal, even though the dose was small.
I went on them again when Steve and I were going through infertility, and they helped. But I went off them after I sought treatment for my decades-long eating disorder, and that weaning process had also been brutal. Why do that again?
Because. Because my doctor pointed out that anorexic and bulimic brains have shown to be permanently altered after decades of endless punishment-reward cycles. I was an expert at both severe food restriction and hard-core exercise bulimia, which I camouflaged quite successfully as “training” for many years.
Because. When my doctor asked me how long it had been since I was happy, I really had to think. I knew what she was after, so I wanted to tell her “yesterday,” but in fact, the best I could come up with was October 2013, when Steve and I were in Paris.
Everything was a chore to me, even good things. A relaxing massage appointment was just another thing on my to-do list. Making cut-out snowflakes with Bini was just another thing for me to clean up. A night out with Steve was a temporary reprieve from the stressors of parenting, four pets and a house that always needed cleaning. Give me something good, and I would squash it under my Mighty Foot of Doom. It’s my gift.
“That’s not normal,” she told me. “That tells me that there’s a chemical imbalance in your brain.”
I made some sort of dismissive noise. “Chemical imbalance? Everyone I know is on antidepressants. Does EVERYONE have a chemical imbalance?” I went on to point out that great art, great music and great literature would have never been created if people were never sad. Anger and anxiety were normal emotions. They were part of the deal.
“Happiness is also part of the deal,” she said gently. “And you’re telling me that you haven’t been genuinely happy in a year. That’s not good. It’s not healthy.”
So I took the prescription. A week later, I got it filled. And a week after that, I started taking my therapeutic dose. I felt better almost instantly. (I’m very sensitive to medication. I took Vicodin once, and it made me sneeze uncontrollably.) Taking my tiny pill was like entering a warm, cozy house after trudging through the frozen tundra. I felt relaxed. Relieved.
Two months later, my hard edges are smoother. I absorb bumps in the road better. I am much more patient and kind to my son. I’ve quieted my savage inner critic, which was as relentless as CNN’s news ticker. I still feel anxious and sad and overwhelmed at times, but those feelings don’t dominate me anymore.
I’d be lying if I said that writing about this isn’t itself causing me apprehension. Once I hit “publish,” this goes public. Maybe three people will read it, maybe 3,000 will. It’s probably not great for my “brand” as a freelance writer to acknowledge my anxiety, and my little happy pill. There were be people who judge me.
To paraphrase Veronica Sawyer from the movie “Heathers,” I’m a human being, not a game show host. Writing authentically and transparently, at least in my personal writing, is all I know how to do. And throughout my career as a journalist and now, a blogger, I’ve heard from hundreds of people who’ve told me that my honesty was helpful to them. It certainly helps me. If someone doesn’t want to be my friend or hire me because of it, they can quite cheerfully bugger off.
We have a huge unknown entering our lives any day: A child that we don’t know, who doesn’t know us, and who’s lived in an orphanage his whole life. At best, it will be difficult, and at worst, it will be a disaster. But we’ve sought counsel from doctors, fellow adoptive parents and therapists who work with adoptive families. Steve and I have made the best decision that we can, given the information that we have. The rest is a leap of faith, of love, and of hope.
I know for certain that my tiny little pill is helping me handle the uncertainty. I feel clear-eyed, I feel strong. I feel ready, damn it. I am ready. I know we’re tempting fate. I know there will be dark days when I wonder what the hell we’ve done. But Steve and I are experienced adoptive parents. We have an extraordinary son. We can bring up another one. I know we can.
I do feel a little strange about my happiness, knowing that it’s due to a little tiny pill. It’s like winning a medal that I didn’t entirely earn. But I’ll take it. I’m choosing to look on the bright side, for once. It comes much easier now.
I grew up a 49er fan, from the San Francisco Bay Area. But on Sunday, Jan. 19, when the Niners squared off against the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC Championship, I wasn’t rooting for my hometown team. I was screaming for the Seahawks. This allegiance change has less to do with football and more to do with me accepting, at long last, that the Pacific Northwest is home.
Over the past 48 hours, I’ve been called a traitor by five different people. Some could see it that way. I grew up during the era of Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Clark and Jerry Rice. I remember “The Catch” — the high pass from Montana to Clark that resulted in the Niners besting the hated Dallas Cowboys in the 1982 NFC Championship Game.
At first, we were Raider fans, being from the East Bay and all. But when Raiders owner Al Davis took the team to Los Angeles in 1982, my dad vowed never to forgive. So we became 49er fans, which was easy back in those days. I stayed loyal through college and my subsequent relocation to Washington D.C. I remember being ribbed for it by the sports guys at Washingtonpost.com, where I worked as an editor: “Is Steve Young a quarterback or a running back?” and “Young better stay in the pocket, or he’s going to end up a vegetable.”
My interest in the team — and football in general — declined as my life grew busier and more complicated. When I moved to San Francisco in 1999, I was more interested in working and eating out and drinking cocktails in the Mission than cheering on the then-hapless Niners. I became a San Francisco Giants fan, and drank Gordon Biersch microbrews at the spanking-new stadium South of Market.
I wasn’t thinking about cheering for new teams when Steve and I moved up to the Seattle area in 2005. I was miserable and homesick and lonely, something you would have found out quickly had you met me back then. I would have told you, within about two minutes of our introduction, that I was a San Franciscan and Seattle was boring and SMALL. I liked to call it Frontierland back then. I had one foot here and one foot in San Francisco for a long, long time.
It’s been almost 8 1/2 years since Steve and I pulled up roots and moved to the soggy but beautiful Pacific Northwest. I have a good hairstylist and a favorite grocery store and friends that I can count on. I’m raising my child here. The Seattle area is … home. Or at least, it feels more like home than it used to. I miss certain things about the Bay Area, but when people ask me if I’d move back, I actually hesitate before answering. I don’t know if I’m a Bay Area girl anymore. The Pacific Northwest has grown on me like moss on a rooftop. So last year, when my son became infatuated with Russell Wilson and all-things Seahawk, I climbed on the bandwagon.
As this season wore on and it became clear that my adopted hometown and my childhood hometown were headed for a slugfest, I had to do some soul searching. Did I really care if the Seahawks lost? And surprisingly, the answer was yes, yes, I did care, and a lot. The Niners are my family’s team, but I have my own family now, and we have our own team. My son idolizes Wilson and Golden Tate and Earl Thomas, who have brown skin, like him.
Green Bay fans like to say that winter starts when the Packers’ season is over, and I get that. What Seattle lacks in wind chill and below-zero temperatures it makes up for with relentless gray. From December to May, it’s gray skies, gray clouds and gray rain that can be showery, or ceaseless. Summer doesn’t really start until July. Having a winning football team brings some cheer into the lives of sun-starved Seattleites. I am now one of them. I am a Pacific Northwesterner. I felt nothing but joy when the Seahawks beat the Niners on Sunday, and I will be watching, nervously, as our guys take on the Broncos on Feb. 2.
Yesterday, I had coffee with a friend who’s moving to Austin in two weeks. She raved about the place (and the weather), the people (and the weather), the food (and the weather). I’ve been to Austin twice and loved it. I do remember the weather being relentlessly sunny, which is something I can only dream about nowadays. And I also remember the people being really friendly. My friend noticed that too.
Seattle natives take issue with the whole “Seattle Freeze” thing, but it’s true: Washingtonians (and maybe Oregonians too, I don’t know) have a layer of reserve that’s hard to assign an adjective to. Once you’ve lived here awhile, you start acting that way too. It’s kill or be killed. Law of the jungle.
I suppose it could be argued that I’m only running into unfriendly people, but I just don’t buy that. In the eight years I’ve lived here, I’ve been in all kinds of situations, and around all different kinds of people. And we’re here for the duration, on account of Steve’s job. So I’m desperate to meet people who are not chilly. Here are two recent examples of what I’ve found instead:
I’m sitting at a gymnastics studio, surrounded by about 20 other parents. We’re sitting 2 inches from each other, me and these other parents. And everyone’s either immersed in their smartphones (because it gives them an excuse not to make eye contact — I know, I’ve done it) or staring straight ahead, through the big viewing window. So, I decide to try an experiment, and strike up a conversation with someone. The woman next to me drops her gaze from the window for a second, and so I catch her eye. “Those instructors really have their work cut out for them, don’t they?” The woman nods, gives a brief smile and says, “Yes.” And then goes back to looking out the window. No one else chimes in, though everyone’s heard my pathetic attempt. It’s as silent as a church. So I pull out my iPhone.
Yesterday, I was waiting for Bini, Nora and Timmy in front of the school. Oh, the awkwardness of the parent-assembling before school gets out. You’ve got the people who know each other and … the rest of us. I recognize, from volunteering in Bini’s class on Halloween, one woman who has a daughter in his class. She’s painfully thin, has pale, pale powdery-white skin and is dressed in all black. I walk over. “Hi there. I think your daughter and my son are in the same class.” She looks at me with suspicion. “Really?” This was not the response I expected. “Yes. Mrs. Bailie’s class, right? Your daughter is Serena?” She nods grimly, affirming. “Yes. Serena is in Mrs. Bailie’s class.” And that’s … it. I stand there, mortified, for the remaining three minutes until the kids mercifully burst through the front door and I can beat it the hell out of there.
Now that Bini’s in kindergarten, I often feel like I did when we first moved here. I was working from home and man, that was miserable. I got a dog in the hopes that I would meet people at the dog park. Nope. When I went to work at msnbc.com, I was so relieved to finally be around people who HAD to talk to me. And becoming a mom brought me new opportunities to meet people. I had a great tribe there, for four-and-a-half years, and now, I’m back to square one. I’m feeling The Freeze again, and I’m weary of it.
That’s because every summer, I delude myself that maybe, maybe our climate is changing. Warming. Like the rest of the planet. That maybe, maybe the gorgeous, lazy, long summer days we enjoy from July to September will … extend a little later. Or start before July 4.
You get sucked in, you see. For those precious, brief three months of summer, the entire region collectively develops amnesia. Everyone puts on shorts and grills outside every night and the ice cream shops do brisk business. When I worked full time, I remember e-mails that said: “Nice out. Taking off early to go for a bike ride.” Everyone understood. In summertime, all is forgiven.
Then, fall comes, like a giant, gray garage door closing. The nights get chillier, the leaves start turning yellow. And just when you’re starting to despair, you’ll get a week of incredible, mid-70s weather and it’s like, “Screw you, pumpkin spice lattes!” But it’s just the last gasp. It’s over.
The shorts get put back in their plastic tubs and stored in some distant closet. The kids go back to school (well, THAT part is good) and grilling gets replaced by roasting pans and goddamned root vegetables. The puffy coat comes out of hibernation. You flip on the light box. You gather every bit of solar strength you retained over the summer and hope it can hold you until July. If you can, you plan a trip to somewhere sunny — anywhere, San Diego is fine — around February.
I’m a California girl: Born in Los Angeles, brought up in sunny San Ramon, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Went to school at UC Davis, where the temps languish in the triple digits from May to September. The closest I’d come to gray skies, before moving to the Pacific Northwest 8 years ago, was a stint in the Sunset District of San Francisco. There, the fog would hang so heavy and thick in the summertime that Steve and I called it Fjordland. I thought Fjordland prepared me for the Puget Sound.
There’s not much I can say about Seattle-area weather that hasn’t already been said. I think the situation is best summed up by this Oatmeal comic, called “The 4 Seasons of Seattle.” Eight years ago, Steve and I flew up to house-hunt in August, when it was 78 degrees and gorgeous, and it stayed light until 10 p.m. “This place is paradise!” we marveled, and then we bought a house.
Two months later, when I drove up from the Bay Area with my brother, it started raining right after we crossed the California/Oregon border. My brother, also a sunshine child, turned to me and said, “Are you sure about this?”
But eight years later, I’m entrenched. I have a life here, and friends. My kid’s school is around the corner. My husband loves his job. And last year, we passed a same-sex marriage law at the ballot box — didn’t need to get the courts involved. Washingtonians have a Scandinavian, shrug-your-shoulders attitude about stuff like that. You want to marry another man? Okee doke. Want to smoke dope? The cops have some Doritos for your munchies. It’s too wet for lots of fiery rhetoric, I guess.
When I go back to California, I’m turned off by the brown hills (Golden State? It’s brown). The wall-to-wall traffic makes me claustrophobic. Yes, Seattle has lousy weather most of the time, but it’s green and lush. The mountains are amazing. So is the water. And when the sun’s out, it’s so very breathtaking. I can’t count all the beautiful days I spent inside when I was a Californian — I didn’t appreciate it at all. But here, if the sun’s out and it’s 55 degrees, the parks are teeming with kids and people put on shorts.
It’s late October. The leaves are swirling on the ground and I can see my breath when I go outside to do the walk-pool in the morning. It’s time for The Great Darkness. Maybe this year, the weather won’t bother me as much as it usually does. It’s possible, right?