“Wow. You Look a Lot Better Than Your Labs.” The Birth Story.

*I apologize for the random tense changes in the prose. It’s hard to edit with a newborn. Even when you’re skipping laundry to write a blog post because that’s how you feel more human.

“Do you know your name?”

What a funny question.

“Meghan.”

“Do you know who this is?”

“That’s Ben. My husband.”

“Do you know my name?”

“Meredith.”

Meredith is our doula, or birth coach. She has my face between both her hands while she’s asking her funny questions. Sleep comes back to my eyes and I start to drift and there’s a lady doctor standing to my right who wasn’t there before who karate chops my sternum.

“Stay awake. I need you to stay awake.”

Wow. She means business. I’ll try to stay awake.

Meredith is still standing at my head asking me more funny questions. There are a lot of people in the room. Like, a LOT of people. A lot more people than when I fell asleep, and they’re all talking at once. But it feels highly organized, not chaotic, like if you walked into a high-level team sporting event for a game you didn’t know, and nothing that happens makes sense to you, but you can tell that every single movement has purpose and meaning.

“Do you know where you are?”

“At the hospital.”

I can feel my eyes dragging again and fight to keep them open. Karate chop doctor is still watching me.

“Why are we at the hospital?”

“I had a baby.”

I did. I had a baby. They took her to the NICU, I remember. Right before I fell asleep. Back when there were only 4 or 5 people in the room.

I was induced 26 hours before for gestational hypertension, or pregnancy-related high blood pressure. It’s one of the few really good reasons to induce labor before your due date, because it can turn into pre-eclampsia or eclampsia very quickly. Eclampsia is what killed Lady Sybill on Downton Abbey. Gestational hypertension is fairly common, while eclampsia is quite rare, but we like to play it safe in modern medicine.

Actually, I only had “questionable” hypertension. It was off and on, and everyone remarked how lovely all my blood pressures were all throughout labor and delivery. All the same, an early induction seemed the sensible route. I did the first 12 hours unmedicated. Inductions have a reputation for being more painful than regular labor, or at least skipping all the warm-up stages and taking you straight to what they call “active labor,” which is when everything really starts to suck. I don’t have any labor experiences to compare to, but those first 12 hours were pretty hard. I started right after the first treatment with a solid half-hour contraction. 30 minutes without a release. Then I finally started contracting for real, every 3-5 minutes, pain scale ranging from 3-5 (out of 10). Then ranging 5-6 every 2-3 minutes. Then climbing to 7-8 every 90 seconds or so.

After 30 years of migraines, my pain scale is pretty well fleshed out.

0 – pain-free.

1-2 – noticeable, but not worth bothering about. I can sleep through it.

3 – more noticeable. I may or may not be able to sleep through it. I may or may not decide to take anything for it.

4 – I should definitely take something for it before it gets worse. Can’t sleep through it.

5 – The upper limit of full functionality. I can get all my stuff done, but everything is awful.

6 – Rapidly losing functionality. Concentrating more and more on only pain.

7 – Yeah, I’m not getting anything done. There is only pain and the things I can do to manage it mentally. Maybe 50% attention on pain, 50% on pain management (mantras, visualizations, breathing, telling myself the meds will kick in any minute now, etc). Usually also involves involuntary whimpering.

8 – Involuntary weeping. Tears streaming down my face. Ability to focus on pain management drops to 25%.

This is as far as my migraines have ever gotten. I’ve had a few 7-8 migraines in my life. Every single one was very memorable. My contractions had been at 7-8 for a while (an hour? Two? Three?), I’d been contracting for 12 hours, and I was still only 4 cm dilated. I decided I wasn’t up for another 12 hours at this level. Bring in the epidural. Please.

I’d been skittish to try an epidural. There’s something about having a giant needle inserted in my spine that just kind of wigged me out. There are so many ways that can go very wrong. But I have a limit.

My epidural did not go wrong. That was confirmed later. In fact, it was confirmed while Meredith was asking me funny questions. I remember recognizing the anesthesiologist as one of the doctors who had filled up the room, and I remember him announcing, after asking some questions in medicalese, “Ok, so it wasn’t the epidural.” And then he packed his little bag and left.

The epidural had not gone wrong. In fact, it had gone very right. It was like magic. I got to take a nap. In the middle of having a baby. That’s crazy. And the really funny part was, it relaxed me so much that they started wondering if my blood pressure was too low. Hilarious.

Somewhere in there I developed a fever. Not a bad one, I couldn’t tell at all, but they said they’d have to give me antibiotics in my IV, and when the baby was born, they’d have to take her to the NICU for monitoring. Not ideal, but I understand. I’d rather make sure the baby is safe too.

The epidural wore off around 7 cm and they had to give me a topper. Then came pushing, and it turns out my pain scale does have both a 9 and a 10.

9 – Howling. Ability to mentally manage pain drops to 5-10%, even with coaching.

10 – Out of my mind. My body doesn’t even exist anymore. Nothing exists except this tear in the universe that happens to coincide with my consciousness.

Two and a half hours of that. A friend asked me this week if I’m in the “Never. Again.” phase. I told her I’m in the “Planned C-section” phase. ;)

And then the baby arrives, and it all evaporated. Instantaneously. I know that’s a cliche, but it was also a physical reality. All the pain just stopped, and they put the baby on me, and she was slimy and alien and gorgeous and perfect, and we looked at each other for 15 minutes before they wrapped her up and took her to the NICU. And I was so sleepy. There were a few people doing things to me and poking me in places I would normally never consent to be poked, but it didn’t seem important. My midwife called in one of the doctors to do stitching, saying something like, “I can do it, but with something like this, it’ll take me two hour, whereas he can do it in 20 minutes.” That sounds like it might be serious, so I file it away to ask about later (google “3rd degree tear” if you really want to know), but I’m feeling no pain right now and it doesn’t seem important. I just wanted to nap again since I couldn’t look at my baby anymore.

And that’s the last thing I remember before karate chop doctor and Meredith’s funny questions.

Apparently I had an (eclamptic? the doctors were still debating when I was discharged) seizure. And I hear it was really freaky. I completely changed color and was unresponsive. Then I was responsive but not really there. Apparently Meredith had asked me all her funny questions a few times before and I hadn’t been able to answer. My eyes were open, but my pupils were weird, and I could repeat words, but I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t recognize anybody and acted terrified of everybody. My husband says it was a thing to behold, watching all the doctors on the floor descend on the room and go into emergency mode. I lost about half an hour of time. My poor husband will probably have nightmares the rest of his life. When asked how he was by the assistant midwife, he responded, “It’s just so terrifying. All I could think about was Downton Abbey -”

“Stop. Don’t you DARE go there.”

Apparently that’s how scary my seizure was for everyone else. Hubby was not the only one trying not to revisit Downton Abbey. I’m glad I missed it.

After it was clear that I was not going to drift off again, the doctors started gradually peeling off until it was just me and hubby and Meredith and our midwife and the student midwife again. My midwife commented that in 30 years of practice, she’d never seen anything like that. They were glad to have me back. I was glad to be back too, even though I didn’t remember being gone. Hubby went to go find my mom and my sister and tell them what happened. They had followed the baby to the NICU and didn’t know.

I asked for food. More than a day of nothing but ice chips, I was starving. My brother in law had gone way out of his way, all the way uptown, to bring me sushi because that’s what I wanted my post-delivery celebration meal to be, and the nearest sushi place open that late was 50 blocks uptown. They told me I couldn’t eat yet, I had to clear a few blood tests first. We chilled out. They decided I wasn’t ready to move to the post partum ward yet and sent me to the recovery room instead. (I think that’s where C-section patients go post-surgery for monitoring.)

My blood work came back an hour or so later, but it was still wrong. Somehow I had lost a lot of blood, but they didn’t know why, they hadn’t noticed a hemorrhage, so they had to look closer. I had a middle of the night sonogram with more people poking me in places I’m not normally poked, but they couldn’t find the bleed. I asked if I could eat yet, but they said I had to stabilize first, so I’d have to wait for morning blood work. I let Ben eat the sushi.

Morning blood work came back and I wasn’t stabilized. In fact, my blood count was nose-diving. I’d lost half my blood volume in 6 hours. They sent me for a full-body CT scan and still couldn’t find a bleed, and decided that my body was cannibilizing my red blood cells. Apparently that’s a thing that can happen. They announced they were giving me a blood transfusion. Several hours before, they had been giving me a choice between a transfusion and several weeks of iron therapy. Now, they were just giving me a transfusion since I’d signed the consent form giving them permission if it was medically necessary (at which time the midwife who’d started my induction had said she’d never seen anyone need a transfusion in all her decades of practice until that very night, when the girl who was in my room before me had had a massive bleed. We were giving them lots of excitement in that room.) When they were explaining why the transfusion was medically necessary, they threw some numbers at me. I don’t remember what they were measuring exactly (hemoglobin? platelets? something in parts per million?), but they said the normal number was 250. Mine was 50, and still dropping.

I begged for food. I was getting a bad headache from not having eaten in two days (during which time I pushed a baby out of my body). I started crying when I told the doctor about my headache, and she very kindly told me that I couldn’t eat, but there was absolutely no reason why I should have to cry over a headache in a hospital, and she gave me a choice between Percoset and Tylenol. I told her I’d rather never have to take Tylenol for a headache again, and she laughed and said that it did nothing for her headaches either. Then we spent a minute bonding over migraines. Poor girl, she had a migraine when she checked on me the next day. Maybe the bad room juju rubbed off on her.

I spent the day on my wheely bed in the recovery room getting checked every hour or so for blood pressure, oxygen levels, etc. At 10pm they finally decided I could eat a “clears” dinner. “Clears” turned out to be broth, ginger ale, jello, and cranberry juice. I’d never tasted such amazing jello. Life-changing.

The next morning, I had another “clears” breakfast, which was exactly the same as dinner except there was apple juice instead of cranberry. My bloodwork had finally stabilized (apparently I’d had the ideal response to the blood transfusion, which is nice, since so much else had gone wrong). The nice Percoset-offering doctor came back to visit again, asked how I was feeling. I was still ecstatic over being allowed to eat, so my answer was positive.

“Wow. Well, you look a lot better than your labs. Good.”

This became the phrase of the day. At least three practitioners used the same phrase on separate occasions. Though I was a pale, pasty white, and needed help walking because I got dizzy very easily, apparently I should have looked much more like a reanimated corpse, according to my paperwork.

Much Better Than My Labs

Me, looking much better than my labs.

I was finally allowed out of the recovery room and onto the post partum floor, which also meant I was finally allowed to visit my baby. It had been 36 hours since they’d laid her on my chest, and we hadn’t seen each other. If I’d been a little less anemic, I probably would have jumped up and down. As it was, I think I clapped and trembled a little and then cried some.

And she was still perfect. A little less slimy, but no less perfect.

10 seconds in Luna's world.

A video posted by Meghan Bechtel Lin (@meghaneblin) on

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And God Said Nothing. (Rant of an Aging Creative).

From a writer’s group exercise. Thanks to Nadine for the reflection prompts.

She told God she wanted to tell stories, to spin life from words and infect everyone around her with beauty and hope, to speak the truths that slice like blades, cutting away the rotten, deadened flesh of battle scars. She told God she wanted to burn bright and warm and contagious, light begetting light, fire begetting fire, so the earth would blaze like the night sky. She told God she wanted to cry the tears of the Phoenix, healing the hurts of those with whom she mourned, and calling forth resurrections from the broken, battered children all around.

This is what she told God, and God said that all this was good, and meant, and more, and that she would never be alone or forsaken.

And then God sent her into exile. She wrote alone, she burned alone, she wept alone. Her fire flickered and faltered, grew dim and cold, and she spent herself trying to shore up the wan little ember that remained. With neither strength nor conviction, she muttered the bitter old cliche: “Why?”

And God said nothing.

And God said nothing.

And God said nothing.

***

It’s hard to live in the moment when the moment seems like the opposite of what you want. Maybe that’s selfish and immature, I’ve lost all perspective, but I found too many moments unbearable, and so I live now at a distance from reality, in exile from myself, coming back to visit a moment occasionally, to see if the sense of it has changed, but it hasn’t, so I withdraw again to my dying campfire of love or self or passion or whatever it was I used to burn with.

I used to find that gratitude journals kept me grounded and present and thankful, but now whenever I attempt lists, I am overly aware of the thinness of the straws at my fingertips. They connect me to nothing, they end a few inches past the end of my reach, and in their futility, they only emphasize my exile and joylessness.

I wonder if my goals are paper puppets, stupid little fantasies to keep me company in the blackness, imaginary friends. I cannot say if I am lost because I’m not even sure I am moving, or that there is anything to move to or from, or if I even have a shape anymore.

A friend and I talked recently about shapes. We talked about the shapes of our bodies, youthful, pregnant, post-babies, post-surgery. She said she used to have this image of herself, that perhaps she wasn’t so pretty, but at least she had a good body. She looked good naked. She said that in her head, this is still how she exists, but that in reality that girl doesn’t exist anymore, post-babies, post-surgery, when her tummy is an alien terrain, unrecognizable to her.

And she observed in passing, as if it were the most obvious, easy thing in the world, that I probably have an image of myself as a creative person surrounded by creative people, and that person maybe just doesn’t exist anymore, and that the trick is in letting go of the old image.

Let the false images die, let the false selves die, let the ego die, die to Me that you may live, for whosoever loses her life for My sake will find it. The words cut me, like blasphemy (but against whom? gods real or imaginary?), both absurd and absurdly painful, and I wonder.

Clearly, something is dying, whether I want it to or not, whether I allow it or not (what a joke!). It was always beyond my control. And God says nothing. And God says nothing. And I hold to the old wishes, and I believe they were affirmed, that they were important, but what if they weren’t? Perhaps they were imaginary friends. And perhaps if I let go, allow the death and (hopeful) resurrection, there will be creativity in a new dimension on the other side. Or perhaps something so foreign that I can’t recognize it at all, like Narnia after the fall of Narnia.

That’s the TOTALLY SUCKY thing about dying selves – it never feels any less like dying, no matter how many times you think you’ve been there, done that. Always the blackness, always the silence, always the pain, always the utter lack of self or choice or dignity.

I can’t frame my life without that image of myself. I don’t know my own shape if I don’t have that to lean into. And maybe that’s the point? Maybe the frame has to die because I am even bigger than I thought. Maybe I’ve been using it as a crutch, to feel safe, filling up the small space I created for myself, feeling important that way, propping up my idea of my life. But I have no schema, no scaffolding, no analogy, no imaginative tool to leap outside of it. It’s a blind wasteland from here. A Great Blank. Like being in the womb (and DAMMIT I WASN’T GOING TO RESORT TO BIRTH ANALOGIES.)

Oh well.

Anyway.

“I can’t believe you did this to me,” she said to God.

And God said nothing.

And they sat in the darkness together for a while longer.

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Father’s Day!

EPSON MFP image

One of our many roadtrips, clutching some kind of kid bling, probably Trolls. We were into those for a while.

It’s Father’s Day!

If you’ve hung around me for any length of time, you know my father gets kind of a bad rap. You know, he’s The One Who Left, etc. That stuff was formative to my personality, and so tends to get a lot of airtime, but then
I feel bad about that because he has his awesome side too, and this seems like an appropriate day to go WOO-HOO about all that. This grew out of a writer’s group prompt from last year.

My Dad never did anything halfway. Life with him was always a celebration of excess. When he first moved out, he lived and worked out of an industrial warehouse by the train tracks in small-town Columbiana. Looking back as an adult, I think he probably lived there because he couldn’t afford a separate apartment, but to us, who didn’t know from budgeting, it seemed he’d found us a strange, abandoned castle. Piles of alien substances around every corner, sleeping machine monsters, armies of vacuum cleaners standing at attention, and our clapboard bunk beds tucked neatly into the corner where we wrestled and fought and anchored our epic games of hide-and-seek. The treasure room was Dad’s office, in which we weren’t allowed to play, and where one whole wall was covered in sparkling mosaic tile shards, glittering jewels from floor to ceiling, endless patterns forming from the chaos, constellations in his private universe.

Outside the castle, the kingdom was equally exotic. The terrain was mountainous- I can’t remember the substance or color of the towering piles of debris, but they made a perfect landscape for games of adventure, spoil, and danger. And the train tracks, endless and mysterious and deadly, whispered of journeys I would never take, sang of places that only existed in my imagination, and then clamped down with finality on pennies and nickels and my first dog.

That warehouse is one of the earliest place-memories I associate with my father, and the wealth and space and wildness are things that I still associate with him. Dad’s life always smelled of abundance and surprise and magic. There began our tradition of hedonistic feasts – all you could eat pizza, soda, oreos, candies, new toys, and all-nighter movie marathons. Every child’s pot of gold. With my father, every visit was a celebration of wealth whether we had any or not. Why spend a quarter on the grab machines when you could blow ten bucks? Every truck stop we visited in the next decade suffered a shortage of fluorescent stuffed animals after we left, comparing the loot clutched in our small hands. Why spend an hour playing video games when you could spend the whole weekend camped out in front of the Nintendo, working out together how to open that last blasted door in CastleQuest? Why go home when you could go to Niagara Falls, just for the hell of it? Even the car leaked money, one dollar bills growing from the cracks and crevices to be discovered by eager, believing fingers.

The foosball table was a big hit. So was the billiards table. And the RC cars. And the snowmobiles.

The foosball table was a big hit. So was the billiards table. And the RC cars. And the snowmobiles.

It was also at my father’s knee that I learned the keen art of elaborate surprises – both the giving and receiving. When roadtripping, Dad never told us where we were really going. He got so famous for this that as time went on, he was forced to plant multiple layers of false clues about our destination in order to continue fooling us. We always thought we were going to Niagara Falls when we were going to Chicago, and thought we were going to D.C. when we were going to New York. My first surprise birthday party was at the age of 10, at the zoo. When Dad decided we needed to believe in Santa Claus, he and my mom and aunt and uncle went out at 10pm on Christmas Eve to haul in all the lumber for a tree house, and then went to the trouble of sending someone to shake jingle bells under the window the next morning to bring everyone out for the big reveal.

It was always Christmas at Dad's house!

It was always Christmas at Dad’s house!

Dad is also the master of Spinning a Bad Situation. What do you do when your restaurant is taking way too long to fill the dinner orders of 5-7 hungry children (allowing for various step-siblings)? Invent games to play with the placemats. Preferably loud, raucus, laughter-inducing games so the staff is encouraged to move you out faster. What do you do with a car full of bored children in interminable traffic? Give the other drivers silly names and invent ludicrous dialogues for them to have with one another. In silly voices. Or just inspire a sing-along. What do you do with a car full of frightened children driving through a violent thunderstorm? Invent a ranking system for the lightning bolts and oversee a game of “Come On, Nature, You Can Do Better Than That. Don’t Be Such A Pussy.”

I learned the art of making magic with my Dad, and to whatever extent I manage to bring a little magic to my students or my friends, I like to think I’m channeling a little of him.

Love you, Dad, exactly as you are. <3

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So, I FINALLY Saw “Frozen”

So, as per typical, I FINALLY saw Frozen months after its initial release. I immediately spent two days catching up on every blog post on the internet that I’d bypassed in fear of spoilers. So I’m a little late to the conversation (again, as per typical). This post will contain spoilers, so if you are living in an even deeper cave than I and haven’t seen it yet, I will understand if you want to skip this for now and hopefully come back later.

Let’s get this part out of the way:  It’s not perfect. While some are (hastily and I think incorrectly) hailing it as the most progressive Disney film in history, there are legitimate complaints about characterization, character agency, and plot holes, plot holes, PLOT HOLES. I am highly accomplished in suspending disbelief in order to get lost in a story (stories are my heroin), and even I noticed some of the plot holes.

And I loved it anyway.

I especially felt for Elsa, the repressed but sympathetic antagonist sister, and I can see why her song became THAT SONG. “Let It Go” is going to be the “Part Of That World” for the next generation. Here are both songs if you want to listen again:

And how could “Let It Go” not be the song for the next generation? While Ariel’s song spoke of secret, burning passion, Elsa’s song explodes out of the inner cave, embracing all that latent power and building her her very own ice castle in the sky. No more secret caves for Princesses. Elsa’s song finishes what Ariel’s starts. Almost.

I totally get why this song has hit something deep in the little-girl zeitgeist. Elsa’s repressed powers can be a stand-in for anger, sexuality, artistic or intellectual prowess, leadership capabilities, you name it. Girls especially are taught in subtle (and not so subtle) ways that all of these powers are dangerous, that their natural expressions are not safe for self or others.

And the tighter the cultural bindings, the more likely you will eventually see a dramatic overcorrection. Perhaps even an explosion/self destruction on the magnitude of Elsa’s accidental eternal winter.  Other girls bring the eternal winter inside, suffering quietly from crippling depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, etc. (Please note that I am NOT claiming that all, or even most, mental illness is caused by this kind of repression, but I’m certain it’s a contributing factor in many cases). Elsa experiences both of these extremes, first locked away inside herself (almost literally), and then violently erupting when the pressure builds too much. She suffers from an inability to integrate her whole self.

Elsa is so sympathetic a character that a lot of people are confusing her for a second protagonist. She’s not – her character’s entire purpose in the story is to give her sister Anna obstacles to overcome. Also remember, as other critics have done, that Elsa’s solution to her repression/explosion problem is to run away and cut all ties to her responsibilities. She’s the QUEEN. Her plight may be sympathetic, but we can’t point and say “Do as Elsa does” without caveats. While it’s unusual for the antagonist’s character development song to be the runaway hit (the same didn’t happen for Jafar, Ursula, Gaston, or Scar), it still doesn’t make her a protagonist. Frankly, I wish she HAD been a fully-developed co-protagonist, because then her song really would have been the true heir to Ariel’s. Instead it’s a half-way point. This is where my wish-list for Frozen begins:

I wish the story had made room to show more of Elsa’s healing process. Instead, she has a late-stage major epiphany, and we’re left with the usual happily ever after. I mean, it’s a Disney flick, there’s always a too-easy happily ever after, but it would have been nice if, maybe, they had taken one of her post-ice-castle scenes and we could have seen her wrestling more with her power instead of just running from it. I would have loved to see some of the learning process.

Speaking of that, I wish she had shown more agency in her own healing. Essentially, Elsa ends up playing both the almighty sorceress queen and the damsel in distress. She can name and claim her power only by abandoning everything else. She seems utterly helpless to seek real solutions on her own. It’s nice that she’s rescued by her sister and not a handsome prince, but she is rescued. It’s Anna who pursues her, Anna who saves her, and Anna who delivers the info needed to cure the eternal winter.

And let’s talk about Anna for a minute. She’s been accused of being a bit Manic Pixie Dream Girl, with some truth. I don’t think she’s as bad as all that, but I find it harder to like her for personal reasons. Mostly, I am always deeply annoyed by characters (and, okay, sometimes people) who survive to adolescence still dreaming about finding “The One.” This has a lot to do with the gaping chip on my shoulder left by my parents’ divorce. My fantasy of happily ever after was brutally crushed before the age of ten, and anything over 13 years just seems an unseemly age to still believe. Like still believing in a literal Santa Claus. Except more annoying. But that’s just me. One of my many MPDG personality tics. :D

But again, I don’t think she’s as bad as all that. It’s a little frustrating that her character is under-developed and very naive (which is supposed to make her – charming? Fetching?), but it’s wrong to say, as some have, that her primary objective in the film is to find a man. Her opening “I want” song is “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and the throughline carries. Again, it’s Anna who pursues, rescues and ultimately delivers the key to healing to her sister. And it’s LOVE. Love heals – how great is that message? Elsa is the badass, but Anna wins the day through love and sacrifice. Her focus and determination to make things right with her sister are what make her ultimately admirable and interesting. MPDG as Christ surrogate. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Although, considering that “immaturity” was Anna’s defining fault, it would have also been nice if she’d matured a little farther by the end of the film. My last wish for Frozen is that, at the end, it was Elsa who had ended up with a love interest, and Anna who had decided to spend some time boy-free discovering her powers, ordinary as those might be. An Ice Queen who is portrayed as both powerful and romance-able, with all the complications that entails, and a MPDG who finds contentment being single, would have been a truer narrative breakthrough in my book. Instead, it’s the “perfectly ordinary” girl who still ends up with the guy prize, and the powerful girl who (still) ends up alone.

Again, this is just my wish list. It hasn’t been my intention to engage in princess-bashing (a popular sport recently), so I hope it hasn’t come across that way. I loved Frozen (we haven’t even talked about Olaf!!). It was tremendously clever and entertaining, and I think it took a couple important steps forward for the Disney Princess narrative arc. Taking the Evil Sorceress Queen trope (Ursula, She of the Poisoned Apple) and making her an abused, vulnerable, sympathetic character with the best song was the biggest triumph in my book. I just like thinking about all the ways we can keep moving forward. Your thoughts are welcome!

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Social Isolation and the Awkward Girlfriend Moment

Social isolation and depression can become a self-fulfilling circle of pain. In fact, I’m still fairly sure that my current depression is caused largely BY my social isolation, especially because it lifted so almost-completely during the month when my sister (and, thus, many other people) was/were staying with us.

I had a book club last night where pretty much everyone, or nearly everyone, had been feeling isolated for one reason or another, and we were all so grateful to be in human company again that we were tripping over each other to connect. It was like having several sudden gulps of air after being held under water for many minutes – heady and thrilling and life-giving and even a little chaotic.

And this is the problem with the sparse, deep-breath connections you have with people when you’re not living in regular community – every interaction becomes fraught with way more meaning and nuance than it should. In last night’s share-fest, there was a certain heightened, ecstatic breathlessness to our conversation, which was (I think, and I hope for everyone) refreshing and affirming and nourishing. But if something had gone wrong, that heightened quality could have turned a social deep breath into a lungful of water.

I’m contrasting last night’s experience with an experience I had a couple months ago, another deep-breath occasion, in which an acquaintance of mine, who is usually bright and affirming, was apparently having some kind of really bad day (I didn’t ask, it wasn’t a deep-sharing kind of gathering, but her energy, if you’ll excuse the word, was very, uncharacteristically negative). She was muddling through the event, but it was clear she wasn’t very happy, and her humor had taken on a caustic edge. She made one joke at my expense that I wasn’t very troubled about, but then 15 minutes later she made another one that really hit home, highlighted an aspect of my personality that I am aware of and insecure about and ashamed of, and I was kind of done for the night after that.

If I still lived in community, if I had friends readily available for convos and comfort, if I were still surrounded by a lot of people who make me feel safe and likeable, I probably could have shaken this off in an evening, maybe two. I’m 90% sure that this acquaintance didn’t mean anything by her comments. But because I didn’t have enough people around to counteract the negative, I couldn’t be 100% sure, and so her comment crushed me. Crushed. Me. Was this what she really thought of me? I’d thought we liked each other. Do other people talk about me like this behind my back? Is this everyone’s primary perception of me? Is everyone secretly just tolerating my presence? I cried for three days. I was inconsolable. My husband tried heroically to make me feel better and failed. Finally I called my sister, and she knew all the right affirming things to say to snap me out of it. (Have I mentioned how awesome my sister is?).

And the other part of this is that because of the social isolation, I’m not even sure it’s worth bringing up with her. When every interaction is precious gold in the hand, is it worth it to risk tainting one of those moments by bringing up something that she probably doesn’t even remember, because she really DIDN’T mean anything by it? Or what if the reverse happens, and it turns out she really secretly DOESN’T like me – we socialize in overlapping circles, it’s not like I can NOT run into her. So that could be awkward – in fact, could taint many more deep breath occasions down the line. Five years ago, I could have easily been a grown-up and just checked in with her, and even if it turned out she didn’t care for me, it wouldn’t have been that big a deal. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have needed to grieve a little, but, you know, you can’t please everyone, and there were plenty of other people to socialize with, just tolerating each other would have been fine. But now I feel like I’ve been transported back to junior high, where her opinion of me matters much more than I’d like to admit, and so the politics become weird and tense, and checking in about a hurtful off-hand comment seems like a very dangerous endeavor.

Living in isolation seriously skews your sense of perspective.

The thing is that I know I have days where I’m the perpetrator rather than the victim of this probably-unintended negativity – days where I am bringing the thunderstorm with me, and good luck to you if you happen to stand in the way. Depression and isolation only make this worse.

And I hope with all my heart that the friends who have been on the other end of that have had healthy enough communities to brush it off – “Meghan shouldn’t have said that, she must be in a really bad place right now, maybe I’ll say something about it next time we see each other,” but I know statistically that’s not true. We are lonely in the West. Mother Theresa thought it was our great tragedy.

I don’t have a good way to finish this post, so I’ll end with a wish – it is my wish for all of you that you have vibrant, supportive communities, that you dwell in an emotional place where you know you are deeply loved and loveable, a spectacular and unrepeatable member of the world.

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Some Families Play Sports….

But my family plays board games like it’ll bring the economy back. And it gets really intense. We’ve been known to barely speak to one another for days if a game of Settlers of Catan gets particularly underhanded. Monopoly almost ruined a year of my childhood. One of our favorite games is Mao, which is essentially Uno run by a psychotic and petty dictator. Another fave is Fun Fun Fun, which is mostly fun for whoever ends up on my sister’s team, and noticeably less fun for everyone else. (I think it’s been two years since I had to play a game against her – part of my ongoing strategy is to always. be. on. her. team.)

Hubby has a name for my I’m-not-having-fun-anymore face – Gamezilla. Gamezilla doesn’t remember that it’s just a game. Gamezilla will cut you.

And Gamezilla is nothing to Gayle Waters-Waters, the protagonist of my family’s favorite webseries, “GAYLE.”  As the creators describe the series in their new kickstarter video, “Imagine watching the everyday happenings of a suburban family, but raised to the stakes of a Tom Clancy novel.”

Which brings me to the other thing we do in my family – weird, spontaneous acts of performance art. Like pancake-eating pushup contests staged at 3am on the sidewalk outside the diner where we came up with the idea mere minutes before. Or deciding it would be hilarious to write a mock GAYLE episode in which we wrote her into a pancake-eating pushup contest. And then writing and filming it.

All told, our goofy little venture took about 3 and a half hours, including writing, rehearsing, filming, and the 40 minutes it took to drive to IHOP and back. (It did take an extra two days to edit it coherently, but that was a separate process).

I can’t decide if it’s better to watch ours first before you have expectations, or to watch the original first to offer some context. So I’ll just put them both here and you can decide. :D

Ours. (Please note – the actual “episode” is less than 4 minutes. The rest is outtakes.):

Theirs:


Hope you enjoy! We certainly did!

PS – Here’s what hubby got me for Christmas – Firefly the board game!! Does he know me or what? :)

Like I said. Complicated. :D

A photo posted by Meghan Bechtel Lin (@meghaneblin) on

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Helloooo 2014! Please be an improvement.

A word of caution: I have no plan for this post, no goal, not even a topic. It just seems that it’s been waaay too long since my last post, and I should write something.  So off we go…..

The problem is that my existence seems so unbearably dull, all the time. Even while it’s stressful, it’s dull. Starting to teach in November totally freaked me out, but I don’t particularly want to talk about it. Teaching is still like trying to juggle knives while also riding a unicycle, reciting Hamlet convincingly, and herding cats. Except not as fun. Nothing new under the sun.

December was completely flush with family and joy and happiness, so many visitors! We had sleep-overs every weekend! We made a mock episode of our favorite web series! (Which I would love to show you if we can get copyright permission). We played games until our brains turned to jelly! And now everyone is gone, and I am (again) numb to the world, angry in general, petulant, moody, and bored out of my mind.

I’ve made goals and resolutions for 2014, but I’m not sure I believe in any of them enough to actually say out loud.

One and a half years in this apartment, and still the closest thing I have to friends in this neighborhood are the barristas at my favorite Starbucks, who know my name and order and will make small talk with me briefly every morning.

Even my thought life has grown dull.

I seem to be almost willfully bored – propping up this wall of apathy because…..why? Because the reality hiding behind the apathy is so very fearsome? I have wrestled monsters in my psyche before, I prefer to think of myself as bold and courageous, but the current evidence suggests otherwise. The hiding/evasion reflex is so deeply ingrained, it seems closer to me than I am to myself. It kicks in and bolts down the safety lock before any of my other alarms have even come online. I recognize it only by the numbness. I don’t know what got locked down this time, what could have seemed so threatening that some reptilian part of me would shut it out before it could grow into a conscious thought, but I’m getting tired of not being able to taste my food.

Fortunately, I believe that God is also closer to me than I am to myself, all tangled up in whatever knots are tied in the dark down there, and I believe that God turns deserts into streams of living water. I just wish I believed it better. I feel like the waiting would be less painful if I believed it better. And so this is my prayer these days: I believe – help my unbelief!

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