Muted Joy: Learning to Live, Love, and Laugh Again

My mom had a hearty laugh and a gentle voice, both of which soothed and uplifted those around her. So when clinical depression snuffed out her sweet spirit, the world became muted. It was like going to an amusement park wearing earmuffs. Minus the cheers, giggles, and screams of delight, the air was vacant, odd, and lifeless. On April 2, 2013, the park grew dark, then went pitch black when Mom succumbed to the fight and took her own life.

I was at once stunned, sickened, and unsettled. How was I supposed to move forward from this tragedy? How could I live when I couldn’t breathe? How could I feel whole with my insides hollowed out? How could I laugh in the absence of joy? I was completely lost in the world.

Before Mom’s death, I always saw the proverbial silver lining in every situation. Sure, I had my down days like everyone else, but I was ripe with positivity. When Mom died by suicide, however, suddenly everything I ever knew, everything I ever was, anything I ever believed in, clung to, or hoped for was obliterated. As a result, happiness took a hiatus from my life.

I don’t remember the first 18 months after she died. I couldn’t tell you what I thought, did, or said, where I went, or what I wanted; I simply existed. As the months passed, my emotions weren’t quite so erratic, fragile, and volatile. I no longer cried at the drop of a hat or whimpered at the mention of Mom’s name. Nevertheless, I remained trapped in a sea of sorrow.

I longed to feel something beyond the dull ache of emptiness that had settled into my soul like a clogging mound of dust bunnies. I was like a little girl, terrified of what may lurk beneath the unknown waters, yet intrigued by the mesmerizing ripples in the lake. If I stuck my pinky toe in and let it linger, would I get bitten? Or worse yet, pulled under and eaten alive? Even if I survived the experiment of returning to the land of the living, could I draw enough oxygen to continue? If I managed to carve out a small space within my heart for joy to grow, would I be able to nurture and preserve it? Despite being applauded for my resolute strength, inside I felt weak, scared, and lonely.

Though my soul thirsted for levity, it eluded me. Something was prohibiting me from accessing joy and I suspected it was Mom’s blessing. I desperately wanted to know not just that she was okay but also that she was okay with me being okay. I realize how ridiculously convoluted that sounds but grief is nothing if not complex.

I went to bed each night praying that I might subconsciously feel her presence. I woke up each morning hoping I’d find a sign from her that let me know she was still in my corner. Instead, months passed without my getting a heavenly head nod from Mom.

Then I got an e-mail from the director of the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop I was attending in a few weeks. I’d been selected to perform a stand-up comedy routine at the workshop and to do it on April 2—exactly three years since Mom’s passing. Goose bumps covered my arms; this was my chance to test those strange but captivating waters.

“Are you nervous?” one of the fellow attendees asked prior to the performance.

“A little,” I said. “Mostly I’m excited.”

Still, as my slot drew near my heart raced and I wiped the glisten of sweat from my chin. When my name was called, I inhaled deeply and stepped up to the mic, straining to catch a glimpse of the audience as I squinted in the bright spotlight.

I began my set and noticed that my formerly muted world now entertained sound. I heard bursts of laughter. I felt the reverberation of clapping. I caught wind of my husband’s distinctive chuckle, and that was soothing.

Then, at the end of my performance, I uttered the following words: “My mom, who was one of my favorite people in the world, died exactly three years ago today. And I think the fact that I’m doing stand-up comedy for the first time ever today, of all days, is her way of saying to me, ‘I know that you miss me and the joy we shared, but I want you to keep on laughing.’”

Professional comedienne Wendy Liebman, who emceed the show, came on stage, extended her arms for a hug, and whispered, “Was that really your first time? You’re a natural!”

As I exited the stage, members of the audience stood and applauded, a few of them wiping away tears.

After the show, my friends embraced and congratulated me. They encouraged and supported me. They mothered and nurtured me. The experience left me beaming. Because for the first time in a long while, I had allowed pure joy to seep inside my soul.

Mom’s hearty laugh and gentle voice didn’t just lead me to the stage; it lead me back to love, life, and heart-healing laughter.

View Christy’s stand-up comedy routine, performed at the EBWW in Dayton, Ohio, on April 2, 2016.

Note: This article first appeared on the Huffington Post on April 20, 2016.

Blessed Be the Blurters for They Can’t Help Themselves

Since my preschooler’s trusting heart does not yet think in furtive terms, he thought nothing of leaving his pack of bubble gum on the top of his hamper for all the world to see rather than hiding it inside a sock, buried beneath a beach towel, high on a shelf in the closet—you know, the way normal people do.

So last month when my sixth-grade son Kyler helped himself to his brother’s Hubba Bubba, Trevyn did not take kindly to news of this inside job. When confronted, Kyler apologized and admitted his wrongdoing. He even offered a solution to curtail the chance of recidivism.

“I have no willpower when it comes to gum,” he told his sibling. “You’ve gotta hide that stuff from me.”

The following afternoon while Kyler was still in school, I took Trevyn to the store and let him pick out a treat to replace his stolen gum. I told Trevyn that he could either tell Kyler about the candy and share it with him or not mention it to his brother and eat it himself. The only thing I didn’t want him doing was bragging about it to Kyler and refusing to share because then I knew a fight would ensue.

Trevyn thought about it for a few minutes and decided it was best to hide his sugar-coated gummy worms. He then spent a good 30 minutes in his bedroom, scouting the perfect hiding spot—inside his toy barn, behind a tote, wedged in the back corner of his closet.

As the time drew near for Kyler to get home from school, Trevyn began freaking out about the subterfuge.

“I know he’s gonna find my candy and eat it! I just know he will!” Trev insisted, tears welling up in his eyes.

“No, because he won’t go looking for candy he doesn’t know exists,” I explained.

But Trevyn was convinced that his bro had stealthy intentions. 

Two seconds after Kyler got off the bus, Trevyn ran up to his brother and announced, all in one breath, “I got candy! It’s gummy worms! You can’t have any! Here, take some!”

I’d never seen anything like it. He broke faster than delicate china hitting a concrete floor. I think it’s safe to say he wouldn’t last long in an interrogation.

But I must admit that the pure honesty was precious to witness.

Just last week I saw it again when Trevyn announced to his big bro, “Guess what? Mommy and I painted pottery today and I made you a Christmas gift.”

“That’s cool,” Kyler said.

“I can’t tell you what I made….It’s a whale.”

I chuckled at my son’s propensity to blurt. He probably inherited it from me. When I was five, my mom bought my dad a brief case for Christmas and she told me, “Now, this is a surprise for Daddy. That means we must keep it a secret. So don’t say a word to Daddy about his special present, okay?”

“Yup,” I nodded. “Got it.”

Ten minutes later, my dad walked through the door. I sprinted to him, flung my arms around his neck, and announced, “Daddy! You’ll never guess what Mommy bought you for Christmas! And don’t guess a brief case.”

Dad chuckled, too. Because five-year-olds are great for a laugh; they’re just not the best at holding things in. And I kinda love that about them.

Note: This article first appeared on the Huffington Post on December 17, 2015. 

Clinical Depression: The Silent, Soul-Crushing Killer That Claims Lives Daily

David Letterman has described clinical depression as a sinkhole. “It’s like getting on an elevator and the bottom drops out,” says Letterman. “You can’t stand looking at the sunlight. You can’t wait to get in bed at night. You’re shaking. You’re shivering.” 

Comedian Rob Delaney, who has had two serious bouts with depression, recalls being unable to eat or sleep and feeling constantly nauseated. “The first thing I did each morning was vomit. My mind played one thought over and over, which was, ‘Kill yourself.’ It was also accompanied by a constant, thrumming pain that I felt through my whole body,” says Delaney. “I describe the physical symptoms because it helps to understand that real depression isn’t just a ‘mood.’ In fact, Delaney says that he was once in jail with four broken limbs following a drunk-driving car accident, and that experience was much easier and less painful than enduring clinical depression. “That isn’t an exaggeration,” notes Delaney. “I’m saying that I would rather be in jail in a wheelchair with a body that doesn’t work than experience a severe episode of depression.”

Singer and reality star Majella O’Donnell says that “depression is like being in the bottom of a very deep well…hundreds of feet down and…[unable to] reach the top.”

Author Lewis Wolpert said that in the throes of his depression, he was totally self-involved, negative, and thought about suicide most of the time. “I could not think properly, let alone work, and wanted to remain curled up in bed all day.” Wolpert notes that the word “depression” doesn’t come close to capturing the true nature of its torture. “It deserves some new and special word of its own, a word that would somehow encapsulate both the pain and the conviction that no remedy will ever come,” says Wolpert.

My friend’s father, Gary Callahan, battled clinical depression on and off for a year and a half, calling the episodes all-consuming. “Happiness vanishes. You lose the ability to function properly. Concentration disappears. Food loses its flavor,” said Callahan. “Then come the crying and mood swings with no warning that last most of the day, if not days. Strong, irrational emotions come suddenly and without warning.” Just prior to checking himself into a treatment facility, Callahan wrote a message to his family in an effort to explain his mental state.

“I feel as if I’m disappearing a little more each day. I’m so angry and confused inside that I’m afraid of myself. I feel so alone. I feel as if I’m drowning, fading faster and faster into the night with each passing day. Lately, I’m finding it harder to remember what I’ve done from one day to the next. I feel so afraid and alone. All my life is crumbling, and I’m vulnerable and so tired. What if I can’t find my way out of all this pain? The pain washes over me in great waves. I want to reach out to someone, but I don’t know how or who, or if I even can. My pride still lingers, though. I feel as if my soul is dying. My will to live is being tested. And day after day, the pain won’t go away. I honestly don’t know how much more I can take. I’m not suicidal, but I’m scared, embarrassed, and I’ve isolated myself from the immediate world. I just yearn to escape from my pain. I don’t know how else to do it. I’m frightened to be alone. I don’t trust myself not to do anything stupid on a daily basis. My normal level of confidence seems so distant that it’s barely memorable. I’m a fighter, but my energy level has almost dried up. I’m getting too weak to fight on my own. I really hate this person that I’ve become. I’m now but a shadow of myself. But what if no one believes me? What happens after everyone has turned their backs on me? What if I become such a burden that I’m simply swept aside? I’m afraid that I’m losing my mind. God help me, I’ve said and done things that I cannot believe that I’ve said and done. It feels like I’m someone else, like someone is trying to take over my thoughts. I cannot believe what I’ve become.”

Callahan bravely sought professional help because he wanted to reclaim his joy and embrace his role as son, brother, father, and grandfather. Clinical depression, however, is brutal and unrelenting. It’s like holding 50-pound weights over your head while standing in quicksand during a thunderstorm. You’re stuck. You’re weighted down. You’re miserable, isolated, anxious, and vulnerable. Even if you toss the weight aside and for a moment stop sinking, you worry that somehow that weight will find its way back onto you and the battle will resume. Callahan knew he was in trouble, but he wasn’t suicidal…until he was. Because here’s the thing: clinical depression claims lives. It took Callahan’s life in January 2015. It took Robin Williams’ life in August 2014. It takes thousands of precious people every year. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), someone dies by suicide every 12.8 minutes.   

So, why is this happening? What’s going on?  

Callahan summed it up in just five words: “Depression eats a person alive.”

If you know someone who is struggling, be their advocate and take them to get help. If you’re feeling suicidal, in the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Or text 741741 to text anonymously with a crisis counselor.

Note: This article was first published on the Huffington Post on 10/5/15

Four Well-Intentioned Pieces of Advice That Rub Me the Wrong Way

I’m a big fan of those inspiring phrases and uplifting quotes that folks post on social media. Lord knows we all need some encouragement from time to time as well as the occasional adrenaline shot of “you can do it” on days when we’re feeling especially low.

There are certain well-intentioned directives, however, that rub me the wrong way. Here’s a sampling:

Live your life with no regrets.
Sorry, but if you’re human, that’s impossible to do, and if you claim you have no regrets, you’re probably kidding yourself. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the intention of this advice and it’s a fine one. We shouldn’t live our lives always looking in the rear view mirror, lamenting what might have been. The past is in the past. We can’t change what’s already been. All true statements.

But I don’t necessarily think it’s unhealthy to examine our regrets—to consider things that we wish we had done differently. Paths we wish we had taken. Words we should or shouldn’t have uttered. Because taking that time to examine past actions might help us to live more fully, more wisely, and more empathetically in the future.

Just so I’m clear, I’m not suggesting that we ruminate on our mistakes, but I also don’t think it’s healthy to live life with blinders on. It’s being honest with ourselves and acknowledging that we’re human but also promising ourselves to do better, to try harder.

Also, regrets are partly about showing accountability, which I don’t think our egocentric society does enough of today. We are quick to shift blame, point fingers, and insist that we did nothing wrong, but I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we would recognize that we all harbor some regret, and that’s okay.

Choose to be happy.
Okay, so I’m all for embracing the power of positive thinking. And believe me, coming from an anorexic background, I’m familiar with the power of negative self-talk and how damaging it can be. The reason I have a bone to pick with this phrase is because I’ve witnessed firsthand the torment of clinical depression. I’ve seen how it can obliterate a person’s mind, body, and soul. Positive thinking and all the pep talks in the world can’t make a clinically depressed person—poof—suddenly become happy. Just like when I was deep in the throes of an eating disorder, I couldn’t be cured by someone shoving food down my throat. It’s just not that simple.

“Think happy thoughts!”

“Focus on the good things in your life!”

“Be grateful for all you have!”

“Choose to be happy!”

Such reaffirming words only prove to make clinically depressed people feel more like a failure because they can’t “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

All I’m asking is that we be sensitive to those who can’t simply make a choice about being happy because believe me, if they could, they would; the chemicals in their brains won’t allow them to.

Avoid negative people.
Yup, in theory that sounds like a brilliant idea. But realistically, we cannot avoid interacting with Negative Nancys because they’re all around us. They go to our schools. They live in our neighborhoods. They work out at our gyms. They may be a boss or a coworker. They may even be a member of our family.

Sometimes they are an ex-husband or wife, and their attitude may have contributed to the split, but if you share custody of your children, they are forever a part of your life. So you can’t avoid them.

Limiting time spent with negative people as best you can is a wise idea if their pessimism rubs off on you, but remember that your optimism may just inspire someone to shift his grumpy outlook a bit. Think Ebenezer Scrooge.

Acknowledge that every day is a good day.
C’mon, let’s get real. We all know this statement isn’t true. While I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to search for the silver lining in a situation, I think it’s safe to say that some days are just plain awful. The kind of awful where we want to hold our breath, squeeze our eyes shut, and bury ourselves beneath the covers until the dawning of a new and better day.

The day I lost my kid at our yard sale was terrible. The day norovirus had me clinging to my toilet for six hours straight was terrible. The day I filed for divorce was terrible. The day I buried my mom was gut-wrenchingly terrible. Not all days are good, so let’s not pretend that they are.

My sons love the movie Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. In it, the main character says, “You’ve gotta have the bad days so that you can love the good days even more.” Exactly.

Note: This article was first published on the Huffington Post on 5/18/15

Penciling in Hope: Life After Suffering a Suicide Loss

There’s a phrase, “Give me a minute,” which I never thought much about until my mom took her life two years ago. Ever since her death, I’ll sometimes be in the middle of doing something—writing, cooking, clipping the cat’s nails—and I’ll find myself frozen, unable to move. In that instant, I go numb and am filled with a kind of sadness that forces my body to momentarily shut down and take notice. I can’t say for certain what’s happening, but I’m guessing my heart is still trying to process what my mind already knows.

It’s not like I haven’t spent an inordinate amount of time trying to process my loss. I’ve written about it publicly for magazine articles and privately within the tear-soaked pages of my journal. (Admittedly, some of those journal entries are nothing more than a string of expletives that serve to release the toxic anger that simmers just below the surface of my being ever since that awful day.)

I’ve attended bi-monthly support groups. I’ve raised awareness about mental health by participating in Out of the Darkness walks sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). https://www.afsp.org/ I’ve connected with other survivors, both in person and online, and together we remind one another that although we feel alone in our loss, we are among a community of others who can empathize and love one another back to life.

A woman in my local support group, who lost her father to suicide just five months ago, mentioned to a coworker this week that she was planning to attend group therapy. The coworker raised her eyebrows and asked, “Oh, you’re still going to that?” Apparently to the outside world, five months is more than enough time to come to grips with the fact that your parent killed himself.

It’s been my experience that following a suicide, I’m allowed to grieve for several months or maybe a bit longer since this is considered complicated grief. But come that one-year anniversary, I’m expected to buck up, learn from the loss, and come out the other side a more evolved human being. And although I’m allowed to acknowledge that I’m no longer the same person in the wake of this tragedy, that’s not to say that friends and family members will welcome the new Christy with open arms. In fact, several have pushed me away and told me I’m not longer welcome in their lives.

Have you read about those people who have applied to live in outer space? They’re willing to leave behind everything they know to be catapulted into another stratosphere to see if they can survive. I don’t know if that’s gutsy or just plain stupid, but I do know that I would never volunteer for such a gig. Then again, perhaps that’s because I feel like I’m already living on Mars. Ever since the suicide, I’ve been functioning in an alternate universe where nothing feels right or familiar. Though I yearn to return to the way I once viewed the world, that viewpoint has shifted and crumbled and can never be rebuilt in the same way. 

As suicide survivors, we do our best to appear strong, stalwart, or at the very least stable even if we’re feeling brittle, barren and broken. We power through and keep searching for bits of joy in the world that we gulp up like fresh water after wandering lost in the desert. Some days we find only sips and drips; other days we’re fortunate enough to stumble upon a nourishing waterfall.

The man who leads our suicide survivor support group says that it takes five to seven years to recover after losing someone close to suicide. On the one hand, the thought of still having to feel this aching sadness for another three to five years is disheartening. On the other hand, it’s a relief knowing that it’s normal to still be struggling so intensely.

There’s another phrase: “One day at a time.” It’s a mantra that for the past two years I have clung to simply because the notion of looking too far ahead has been completely overwhelming. Before Mom’s suicide, my calendar was so marked up with activities, vacations, and appointments that the scribbles were barely legible. Now the pages are starkly blank.

While I have no plans to live on Mars, I would like to start living more fully on planet Earth. I’m sure I’ll still have to “take a minute” from time to time as my head and my heart continue to sync up. But in the meantime, I’d like to work on getting back to looking forward. I’d like to pencil in some hope.

Note: This article first appeared in the Huffington Post on August 25, 2015.

I Took the 21-Day Self-Esteem Challenge and Here’s What Happened

I, like much of the female population, wrestle with self-esteem issues. Though I’m quick to build others up, I regularly tear myself down and I don’t even know why. I began picking apart my looks at such an early age that I don’t remember life before self-loathing. As a result, now, at 42 years old, I’m not quite sure what’s left of me.

I stopped weighing myself years ago so the numbers on the scale no longer taunt me, but I still feel my thighs touch when I walk in a swimsuit. I got rid of my magnifying mirror, but I still see the wrinkles, sun spots, and stretch marks that have found refuge in my flawless skin of yesteryear.

I don’t rip on myself publicly. I save my criticism for when I’m alone and can spew hateful comments directly at myself. I’m not proud of this behavior, but it’s ingrained in me, so when I heard of Dr. Christine Northrop’s 21-Day Self-Esteem Challenge (http://www.drnorthrup.com/), my ears perked.

It was a simple enough exercise: Look in the mirror for 21 days straight and state, “I love you….I really love you.”

Day 1 was rough. Awkwardness oozed from my lips as I stared into my eyes—eyes that showed sadness, fatigue, loneliness, and guilt—and uttered, “I love you.” I felt like a used car salesman trying to unload a clunker to the girl in the mirror.

I repeated the statement.

“I really love you,” I said flatly.

The second time felt just as forced.

Who would believe this nonsense? I certainly wasn’t buying it.

When I had misbehaved as a kid and my parents demanded an apology, I blurted out “sorry” but didn’t cough up the sentiment. That’s how this felt.

“Whatever,” I muttered as I flipped off the bathroom light and rolled my eyes. Then I knelt down to pet my cat, who was sleeping just outside the bathroom door in his cozy bed. Out of habit, I whispered, “I love you, sweetie.” I kissed the top of his orange fuzzy head and said it again. “I love you.”

Purr. Purr. He lapped up the attention. And why wouldn’t he? It feels good to be loved.

As I was getting up off the floor, it hit me how sad this scene was. I mean, I’m not sorry that I adore my cat. But why can I unconditionally love my feline but refuse to do the same for myself? It’s not like I have a shortage of love in my heart. I love my family, my friends, my colleagues. I’m even quick to declare my passion for activities (e.g., “I love running”), locations, (e.g., “I love Michigan”), and food (e.g., “I love bread”). So why did I resist loving myself?

On Day 2 when I looked in the mirror with the intention of bolstering my self-esteem, I got distracted by my reflection. Critical remarks flowed from my brain like a river rapid.

Wow, when did my eyelids get so droopy?
Hey, what’s that red spot on my forehead?
Gee, did my left nostril shrink?

I hoped that with time I would feel droplets of love seeping into my heart, melting away layers of self-loathing I had built up through the years. But so far, no such luck.

Days 3 through 7 were rather robotic. I spoke the words, but the authentic message didn’t penetrate. The trouble was that even though I was proclaiming self-love once a day, I was belittling myself multiple times a day. And since I was regularly telling myself what a fat, disgusting pig I was, I had a hard time digesting the love part.

A flip switched inside my brain. Suddenly the exercise became just as much about what not to say as what to say.

Conventional wisdom states that it takes 21 days to form a new behavior so I was optimistic halfway through when I started to witness a shift in the ease of practicing kindness towards myself.

Panache Desai, a contemporary thought leader (http://www.panachedesai.com/), maintains that there is no greater power than to be happy with oneself. “We are not broken. We don’t need fixing,” says Desai. “All we need is to finally accept all that we are.”

When I first started the 21-Day Self-Esteem Challenge, I felt like a fraud. Claiming love where there was none seemed like an exercise in futility. By the end of Week Three, however, the tides had turned. I looked forward to greeting myself in the mirror with an encouraging statement.

Northrop says that her mission in life is to take the pain of all women and turn it into joy. I applaud her mission and hope that others will partake in her endeavor. But it must start with us. After all, as Desai points out, “We can only ever be who we are, and at some point, that has to be good enough.”

Day 21: “I love you,” I said to myself. “I really love you.”

I lapped up the attention. And why wouldn’t I? It feels good to be loved.

Note: This article first appeared on The Huffington Post on June 19, 2015.

How a Day Without My Cell Phone Helped Me Loosen My Grip on the Device

Last week when I dropped my cell phone face-down on cement, I picked it up and cringed, then whimpered. The screen was smashed to smithereens. This meant that not only would I have to pay to replace the screen, but I would also be without my beloved cell phone for awhile.

That’s when panic set in. For one thing, I didn’t have anybody’s phone numbers memorized—not even my dad’s. Interestingly, I could still recall the time and temperature number I dialed repeatedly as a youth, but all other digits had left my brain.

But phone calls were just part of it. Without my iPhone, how could I ask Siri the name of the song playing on the radio? How would I know the very second an e-mail landed in my inbox or a notification came through on Facebook? How would I search the web for information I didn’t really need?

My husband Eric offered to take my phone to the Apple store, leaving me cell-free for only one day. I sent a final text before handing my phone to Eric. It was like ingesting that last delectable bite of chocolate cake before the diet commences.

Clearly, I had joined the ranks of nomophobics—those who are fearful of being separated from their mobile phones. It was strange walking out the door to take my son to preschool without that familiar rectangular device wedged in my pants pocket. And yes, I experienced the phantom vibration on my thigh multiple times that morning.

But as the day went on, I started to enjoy my cell-free experience, and here are a few reasons why:

  1. I took the time to watch—really watch—my 4-year-old son play. Instead of glancing up every few moments to check on him, I absorbed the scene in my mind, taking note of his joyful cadence as he zipped around our yard with his toy mower. I also honed in on the sweet chirp of the birds, the fragrant smell of our neighbor’s freshly laid mulch, and the low hum of an airplane flying overhead. When Trevyn was done mowing, together we blew bubbles, drew on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, and played Red Light, Green Light—all games uninterrupted by incoming calls and text messages.
  2. I spread out an old comforter on the lawn, lay down beside Trevyn, and watched the puffy white clouds morph, move, and dissipate. I must admit, it was nice to look up instead of down for a change.
  3. My productivity level soared. I did the dishes, vacuumed the family room, folded the laundry, scooped the litter box, and unloaded the groceries all in record time, because I wasn’t stopping like Pavlov’s dogs to check my phone every time I heard a bing.
  4. And speaking of sounds, I felt less “on edge” without the constant rings, pings, and bings filling up my day.

In the interest of full disclosure, the moment my husband walked through the door that evening, I rushed to greet him with a giddy anticipation I hadn’t felt since our wedding night. Like an addict, I was eager to get my fix. Eric unveiled my flawless phone with the beautiful new screen. I grabbed it and pressed it to my face as if I was applying an oxygen mask after spending the day scaling the Alps.

Then a strange sensation shot through me. Instead of jubilation, I felt humiliation. I didn’t like how “owned” I felt by this thing. I thought back to the freeing nature of my adolescence when I wasn’t tethered to anything. Back then I talked on the corded phone, retrieved actual letters from on-the-street mailbox, and bopped over to the library if I had research to do.

Even a few years ago, technology didn’t have the impact it does today. Back then I had morning bathroom chats with my husband as we got ready for work. Now his eyes are constantly glued to his phone as he gets his fix before heading into the office. I’ve had countless fights with my children about no iPads at the dinner table. My 4-year-old has even complained from the backseat, “There’s nothing to do in the car!” I tell him, “Stare out the window like I used to.”

Much of the population struggles to put down their electronic devices. In fact, studies show that iPhone separation anxiety is a real condition. Researchers at the University of Missouri tested it by hooking subjects up to blood pressure and heart rate monitors, then allowing them to have their phones nearby but just out of reach. “Measurements showed that the participants were significantly more anxious while separated from their phones and had higher heart rate and blood pressure.”

The morning I gave up my cell, I, too, was anxious as I adjusted to going about my day device-free. Then it got easier. Once Eric brought it home, however, my feelings were mixed. On the one hand, I was thrilled to have that rectangular little lifeline back in my paws. At the same time, I noticed that after spending the day unplugged, I didn’t much feel like plugging back in.

I asked my boys, “Who wants to take a bike ride?”

My kids jumped up, yelling, “I do! I do!”

Physical activity. Fresh air. Fun conversation. It all sounded more inviting than a strong Wi-Fi signal.

Off we went to explore the big, bright, beautiful world—a world that is worth connecting to daily.

Note: This article first was published on the Huffington Post on 4/15/15.

The Weirdo Hero: Filmmaker Creates a Movie to Show What Depression Feels Like & to Inspire Those Who Suffer to Seek Help

Last summer when Robin Williams took his life, it invited public conversation about depression and suicide—topics that generally are considered taboo. For a period of time, folks felt comfortable broaching the subject of mental illness.

In the days following Williams’ death, people asked, “What was he thinking? He had everything going for him. He was beloved, hysterical, and immensely talented. Why would he kill himself?”

A Gray World
These were some of the questions that Derek Hird’s friends posed. Hird, who also suffers from depression, tried to explain what goes on in the minds of those who find themselves in such a desperate spot that suicide seems like the most viable option. It’s not that Hird supported suicide, but he understood the rapid decline.

“A clinically depressed person simply cannot see the happiness in their life even if, from an outsider’s perspective, they seem to have it all,” says Hird, who lives in Vancouver BC, Canada. “The sun can be shining all around them and yet it’s still gray in their world.”

Talk show host David Letterman describes clinical depression as a sinkhole. “You get on an elevator and the bottom drops out,” says Letterman. “You can’t stand looking at the sunlight. You can’t wait to get back in bed at night. You’re shaking. You’re shivering.”

Understanding this pain on a visceral level, Hird was compelled to find a way to show what it is to battle depression. He met with others who were equally as passionate about the subject, and before long a short film titled The Weirdo Hero began percolating.

A Labor of Love
Hird and his friend Randy Myers co-wrote the script and produced the 20-minute film. Ryan Curtis, who works full-time on the hit TV show Supernatural, is the director.

“I was interested in this project because it has the opportunity to bring gritty, heartbreaking emotions to the surface,” says Curtis. “The story is coming from a very real place that we can all relate to on some level.”

The Weirdo Hero follows the life of a successful pro wrestler named Fabulous Frankie Myers, who after claiming the title championship, sinks into a deep undiagnosed depression as his real-world responsibilities start to slowly suffocate him. Financial and relationship troubles add to his despair, leaving Myers feeling lost and alone.

As Myers falls deeper into emotional darkness, an animated form of his self-doubt materializes and torments him to the point of utter desperation. Ultimately, Myers finds himself on a bridge contemplating the jump.

Stomping Out Stigma
“In its basic form, the movie is about a man who doesn’t know why he feels the way he does. He’s dealing with undiagnosed depression,” says Curtis. “There’s a big stigma, especially with men, [who feel like they can’t] admit [to having] a mental health concern. This needs to change. Even the biggest, strongest, most physically fit, successful men can battle depression.”

Curtis says he hopes that viewers will walk away from the film with the desire to more closely examine their own mental health. If the movie prompts someone to say, “Hey, that’s just like me,” at the very least they know that they’re not alone.

The Weight of Depression
Unless you have suffered from clinical depression, it’s next to impossible to fully comprehend the pain. David Foster Wallace, an author, essayist, and short story writer, understood, firsthand, the agonizing nature of clinical depression and in his novel Infinite Jest (1996) poignantly described the dark places it can take you:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

Tragically, Wallace found himself on this precipice in 2007 and was unable to step back.

It’s shocking the number of people who end up in dire straits. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Each year more than 800,000 people die by suicide; this roughly corresponds to one death every 40 seconds.” The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) lists suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the country, claiming more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined. 

This is precisely why Hird and his team vowed to do something about it.

No More Shame
The film portrays the highs of public adoration and the lows that are exacerbated by negative self-talk. But the movie also does a beautiful job of reminding viewers how our actions affect those we love—particularly following a suicide.

When a clinically depressed individual hits rock bottom, they are no longer able to contemplate the heartbreaking consequences that will follow. So lost in their own despair, they can’t think about what this final action would do to those they leave behind.

“Depression is something many people are ashamed of [and so they’re] afraid to ask for help. As a result, they suffer in silence when they don’t have to,” says Hird. “The purpose behind this movie is to educate those who don’t understand depression and to encourage those who are hurting to seek help.”

Make a Donation, Make a Difference
The cast and crew, many of whom have been touched by depression, all agreed to work on the movie without compensation. Nevertheless, Hird must still find ways to cover the cost of equipment rental, site location, insurance, and food. Therefore, he has launched a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo.

Your monetary donation entitles you to choose from a number of great perks, including signed photos, behind the scenes videos, and #fightdepression t-shirts

The Weirdo Hero is scheduled to be released at festivals in June. Hird also will be looking to channels such as Bravo, TLC, Netflix as well as streaming. The Blu Ray DVD will be available for purchase online.

To learn more about the film and those involved, visit the following links:

Promo trailer

List of the main crew

Movie website

Curtis, Myers, & Hird discussing the genesis of project

Facebook 

Twitter

Note: This article was first published on the Huffington Post on 3/11/15.

6 Movies That Taught Me Something About Love, Life, and Other Totally Random Stuff

My 10-year-old son, who is intrigued by all things cinematic, recently asked me what movies I enjoyed watching when I was younger. A flood of awesome (mostly) ’80s flicks immediately sprang to mind. I dug through my collection of DVDs and pulled out six of my childhood favorites. Each one taught me something about life, love, and other totally random things.

E.T. taught me about friends, foreshadowing, and feigning sickness.
After watching this sweet Spielberg movie, children everywhere snooped around their backyard shed in hopes of finding their very own extra-terrestrial trick-or-treating pal. And why wouldn’t they? E.T. was adorable! Honestly, this film was packed with a number of valuable learning tools. Number one: always help out friends in need, even the short, funny-looking ones. Number two: bicycle baskets are not just for girls. Number three: if you want to convince your mom that you’re too sick to go to school, hold a thermometer beneath a hot desk lamp to feign a high fever.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom taught me that boys dig all things gross.
I think it’s entirely possible that this is the film that inspired the 80’s phrase, “Grody to the max.”

There’s a scene where a character named Willie has dozens of centipedes, roaches, and other nasty bugs crawling up her arms, down her shirt, through her hair, and around her neck. It was all I could do to hold down my lunch. My brother, on the other hand, couldn’t stop chuckling.

In the sacrificial ceremony scene, a bad guy holds up a pulsating heart as blood drips down his arm. Every boy in the theatre cheered with glee while I buried my face in my dad’s armpit.

A League of Their Own made me appreciate not only baseball but also those who can spit, pee, and dance with gusto.
This wholesome movie revolves around baseball games and forging friendships. I related to the competitive spirit, the authentic camaraderie, and the push-and-pull that make up complicated family dynamics. But mostly I adored those silly scenes where Tom Hank’s character has a “spit-down” with Geena Davis’s character, asserts that there’s no crying in baseball, and pees for a solid minute in the locker room.

An awesome bonus to this fun family flick: the bar scene where Eddie Mekka, the guy who plays Carmine Ragusa in “Laverne & Shirley,” dances with Madonna. I could watch that on replay all day long.

Superman II demonstrated the importance of setting the right mood.
When I first saw this film, I was inspired to save the world, learn to fly, and get fitted for colored tights. But when I watched it as an adult, I gleaned something new from one of the scenes. Do you remember the part where Superman turns human, then has a celebratory roll in the sack with Lois Lane? It was so weird. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so weird if they weren’t sleeping naked in a pod bed, cuddling in a comforter made of tin foil. But they are, so it is.

Seems Like Old Times taught me how to unknowingly curse.
I dug this movie. Perhaps it’s because the main character, played by Chevy Chase, was a writer. Or perhaps it’s because chicken pepperoni sounded mighty scrumptious. Or perhaps I was mesmerized by the fact that Goldie Hawn’s character owned a herd of dogs. I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that this particular film introduced me to the word “sh–.” And Chevy used it with such flair that despite not understanding its meaning, the context in which it was used tickled my funny bone so much that I decided to act out the hysterical scene for my parents. They were not as amused.

Christmas Vacation taught me to embrace my crazy family.
This film beautifully demonstrates that every family is dysfunctional in some way. But we love them anyway. And it’s all good.

There’s a scene in which a frazzled Clark, fed up with his tightwad boss, hits a breaking point and proceeds to swig a mug full of eggnog and then spew an endless line of obscenities without taking a breath. We’ve all teetered on that edge at some point in our lives, which is why the scene resonates with such hilarity.

When your preschooler, however, performs his own public tirade while in line at the post office, you’ve got to dig down deep to find the humor. Lucky for him, I’ve got a soft spot for cute kids and short extraterrestrials.

Note: This article first appeared on The Huffington Post on 2/11/15.

 

 

 

20 Ways to Pass the Days When School is Cancelled

This winter has been brutal. I’m not talking about the freezing-your-buns-off, slipping-and-sliding-on-the-sidewalks, snow-up-to-your-armpits kind of brutal. I’m referring to enduring repeated school cancellations due to cold air and slippery streets. (When I was young, we remedied these problems by wearing a thick coat and sprinkling salt on the roads, but I digress.)

After so much togetherness—particularly on the heels of a two-week winter break—everyone finds their breaking point. For me, I couldn’t bear to hear the words “May the force be with you” one more time. As it is, I go to bed with the Imperial March looping in my head. Then when I finally nod off, scores of storm troopers invade my dreams. In an effort to restore my sanity, I declared a moratorium on iPad and television viewing and started to brainstorm ways to not only pass the time but also get a few things accomplished.

If you’re in the same sinking, snowy icy ship as I am, I offer the following suggestions:

  1. Become a cleaning team! My house is constantly trashed due, in no small part, to my children, God love ’em. I was thrilled when my four-year-old Trevyn went through a fleeting sink-cleaning phase. Sure, he used half a bottle of Bath & Body Works’ foaming hand soap to do it, but my sinks never smelled better. Also, dust is like air. It’s always there, even if you just dusted yesterday, and who are we kidding? You did not just dust yesterday. Give your child a rag and let him have at it. You can also hand him a flashlight and tell him to search for dust bunnies. (Of course, in my house the flashlight quickly became a light saber, but it still serves to entertain for a good 30 minutes.)
  2. Ask your son or daughter to assist you in shredding the pile of recycled documents that has grown to ridiculous proportions over the past six months.
  3. Make a game of who can pick up the most pine needles from the family room floor. Winner gets a popsicle. This game works really well fresh into the new year, but you can usually still find a few stray brittle needles on the floor even in the heat of the summer.
  4. Let your child help you sort through that cluttered closet or overflowing junk drawer. I guarantee eyes will widen as forgotten treasures resurface and the old becomes new again. Your little darling will have a “new” old play thing to occupy herself, giving you time to get organized.
  5. Vacuum out your car while your child plays in the garage. After several months of being cooped up inside the house, the garage becomes a special playground all its own. “Hey, bubble wands!” “Hey, squirt guns!” “Hey, colored chalk!” They’re in heaven.
  6. While you do dishes, give your child a fun job like emptying the crumb tray from the toaster. Sure, it’ll make a mess, but let’s get real. Unless you own a dog, your kitchen floor is likely already littered with crumbs.
  7. My son adores Handy Manny. So I give him toy tools and a “honey do” list and see if he can complete home repairs before my husband does. (It’s entirely possible.)
  8. Go old-school and build forts by draping blankets over tables and chairs.
  9. Sort Tupperware. It teaches matching, and you can finally throw out the pieces lacking lids.
  10. Teach your child a game they don’t know. I got out the Chinese checkers and was astounded to see how excited Trevyn was to play with marbles.
  11. Do that thing you’re supposed to do every six months but realistically only do when the incessant beeping awakens you at 3 a.m. Go around the house and change all the smoke detector batteries. Believe me, your child’s interest will rise if a ladder is involved.
  12. Cook together. Last week I made chili while Trevyn concocted his own brand of soup, which consisted of corn flakes, goldfish crackers, and water all mixed together. He was happy so I was happy. Test-testing wasn’t quite such a happy experience, but I survived.
  13. Brave the great outdoors and sled on melting snow and half-frozen grass. Yes, cleaning mud stains is in your future but this is called childhood.
  14. Get out pictures and let your child help you scrapbook. Years down the road, it will be evident which cockeyed, over-glued, heavily stickered pages your child assisted you with; therein lies the beauty.
  15. Sort through your kid’s spring/summer wardrobe to assess what items you’ll need to buy before warm weather hits. This not only prepares you for the upcoming season, but it also helps you see a light at the end of this long, dark, gloomy tunnel called winter.
  16. Haul out those musty books from your youth. Trevyn loves one of my childhood favorites called “A Fish Out of Water.” It even has an old-time smell buried deep within the faded pages, and that smell sparks welcome nostalgia within me.
  17. Look through old photo albums and play the “guess who” game. It’s funny how your child will think every baby picture is of her.
  18. Play the “would you rather” game. Example: “Would you rather live at Cinderella’s castle for a week or eat cupcakes for breakfast for a month?”
  19. Take your son or daughter to a store with lots of yummy scents and sniff your way through the merchandise. Trevyn and I can easily spend an hour overloading our olfactory systems by sniffing lotions, soaps, perfumes, and candles.
  20. Turn on music and start singing and dancing. Even when Trevyn is cranky, whenever he hears One Direction’s “Best Song Ever,” his mood dramatically improves (no shocker; that tune is catchy). But my heart melts every time he belts out, “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher. And I must admit, during these snow and ice days, where one 24-hour period melds into the next, those lyrics really speak to my heart.

Please, Lord, bring on spring!

Note: This article first appeared on The Huffington Post on 1/13/15.