The List

So. It’s been almost exactly 18 months since the shit first hit the fan.

I am not sure that I’ve ever talked, here, about exactly how bad it was, mostly because I couldn’t talk about it while I was living through it and then because when things would improve I needed to not think about how bad they had been.  But that was legitimately the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the worst thing I’ve ever lived through, and I know that makes me lucky, but I am also here to tell you that if it were not for my children, if it were not for the fact that I KNOW that my Eli needs me, if it were not for the fact that I would never do that to my children, I wouldn’t be here today.  My children were my tether to the earth, and the only thing worse than the feeling of wanting it all to end was knowing that I would have to continue on in the hell of my existence forever, and visualizing, every day, turning, accidentally, into traffic, so that it would all end anyway and it wouldn’t be my fault.

I never understood what The Bloggess meant when she said “depression lies” and then I said it every day, every hour, every second, like a mantra.  It got me through.

And then it got better.  It started to get better. I found a wonderful doctor, who made me go back on anti depressants when my idea to just white knuckle it through on my own turned out to be a super bad one, and he made me go to therapy when anti depressants turned out to not be enough on their own.  And I found a great therapist. I’ve been going to therapy for about nine months and I went from slow breathing so I wouldn’t vomit on my way in the door to feeling like I have one more person who is really really on my side, rooting for me hard.

And don’t get me wrong.  She has a lot of company.  While I don’t recommend depression and anxiety and total mental breakdowns as marriage enhancements, per se, I do recommend having Erik by your side if you have one, because I never doubted for one minute that he was right there, doing his part of the old “in sickness” bit day in and day out.  He worked a full day and then came home and did EVERYTHING for a year, I’d say.  He was the most exceptional human.  He IS the most exceptional human.  And my BFF Sara drove for hours and took my children back to her house for FIVE days at a moment’s notice, and then drove for hours again and brought them home, and Maggie Cheung came and sat with Katie in my backyard while I slept off a bad medication hangover, and it was supposed to be her VACATION.  And Jennie and Kristie and Emily propped me up through at least one and a half Blatherings, and Christina emailed me every day to see how it was going, and Amy sent me text messages and listened and understood and now I’m worried that I am leaving someone out because my friends are extraordinary, my in laws took Eli for practically an entire summer and my mother paid for therapy when I couldn’t afford it and my insurance wouldn’t cover it and Caitlin threw me a Justin Bieber birthday party and I canceled on Elisabeth and Sarah a million times and my neighbors were my village and the internet sent me care packages and gift cards and postcards and notes and I waded through a river of shit, but I was not alone.  I was never alone.

Everyone said that eighteen months was when things would really start to get better, and I couldn’t even think about that because 18 months of the worst experience of my life sounded like something I just could not do, but just as with all the other things I knew I couldn’t do, one day at a time, one foot in the front of the other, one frozen pizza at a time, I did it, and here we are.  And I wasn’t even counting, I haven’t been counting at all, but just the other day I realized that I was finally starting to feel like myself again, and I took a quick minute to tick months off on my fingers (what am I, a mathlete?) and sure enough, here we are. 18.

I still have lots of anxiety.  I still am working so hard on so many things, but one of the things I am doing in therapy, which is really not a big deal, is reworking my entire values system, because the one I learned as a child was all kinds of screwed up.  That shouldn’t be too hard, to learn a whole new way of thinking, right?

I hesitate, a bit, to write about this here, because it makes me sound like a tremendous asshole, and I don’t think I am a tremendous asshole, just someone who had the wool pulled over her eyes about life by someone for some formative years.  Because while it turns out that hopefully, I am not a tremendous asshole, I do have some very very flawed ideas about what makes a good person.

Last week, my therapist told me: “Lots of people with good taste are AWFUL people.” and I DISAGREED WITH HER.  I disagreed with her, in fancy roundabout ways, for almost an entire overpriced 50 minute session, and she said it over and over again, and finally a light bulb went off with that one simple sentence that is actually SO EFFING TRUE, and then I spent the next week with a list running through my head of what things, what actual things, make me a good person, and the list, unfortunately, was very short.

I think I am a good friend.  I try hard to be a good friend.  And if you get sick or have a baby I will make you several grocery bags full of food, and I will bring you wine and cookies AND home made bread.  But that’s about all I’ve got, and that? That’s just not how I want to live my life.  That’s not the sum total of what I want on the list at the end of the day.

And I cycled through a lot of other things.  Things most of you would scoff at.  I searched for good in a long list of really stupid things.  I have well dressed children. I am smart, I am funny, I read The New Yorker. I am dressed better than 80% of the other moms at school 80% of the time.  I have an expensive purse and Frye boots! I have an Iphone! People tell me all the time I have great hair on Instagram!  I think I’m a good writer.  Our Christmas card was so cute! I read 150 books a year! I am beating everyone in the world who only read 149 books! I WIN AT THAT! I picked a perfect paint color for the dining room! People have pinned shit I have made on Pinterest! LOTS OF TIMES! I HAVE EXCELLENT TASTE.

And none of that shit goes on the good person list.  None of that actually counts, when it comes to that list.

The good news is, I have big dreams.  When it comes to things I care about, when it comes to ways I would like to work to make the world a better place? That list is long.  (Childhood hunger, women’s reproductive rights, gun control, the right for every person to get married to whoever they want to get to married to, the Democratic party, literacy, my kids school, outlawing the playing of “Manic Monday” on the radio on any day but Monday, you get the idea.)

But the list of things I am actually doing? It is SHORT.  It is almost nothing.

The bad news is that I am also working on lots of other things, and one of those things is to be careful not to do too much, and the other things are just totally simple things like mourning the childhood I wanted but didn’t get, rewriting my inner voice, learning to be selfish and also unselfish, more effective parenting of my high maintenance child, more communication and emotional intimacy in my marriage, learning to establish healthy boundaries instead of letting people walk all over me and then getting mad at them behind their backs, letting go of perfectionism, getting more cardio, failing to lose ten pounds, finally going to the dentist and the eye doctor and the gynecologist, working on my social anxiety, doing more self care, and buying more shoes. (I made that last one up, maybe.)

But here is the thing.  In the last six months or so, every single time I have stopped at a red light by a homeless person standing in the intersection or by the side of the road, and I have averted my eyes until I could start driving again? Well.  I can remember every one of those moments like they happened this morning.  I HATE those moments.  I HATE THEM. I am not saying this to brag, but because I am ashamed, because those moments are burned on my soul, and yet, I have done nothing.  Nothing.

But words without sacrifice? They are just words.  And so I am going to do something.  I am going to take some of the money I would normally spend on crap at Target or blush or more dresses I don’t need and I am going to buy some socks and some toothpaste and some energy bars and anything that anyone else would like to suggest in the comments, and I am going to make six bags of stuff and I am going to keep them in my car, and I am not going to Instagram it, I am not going to write about it again, I am not going to tweet about how great it makes me, I am not going to tell anyone about it, but the next time I see someone down on their luck, standing there needing help, holding a sign, I am going to hand them a bag, and then in my head I am going to write one more thing on that list of “Good Things I Do”, and while I thank you from the bottom of my cold black heart for telling me I have pretty hair on Instagram, I am hopeful that someday I could shave my head, and I would still have a long long list of things that make me a good person, almost all of them totally non hair related.

Here’s to the next 18 months, internet. And thank you.

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30 Responses

  1. Many hugs…. I mostly just read here without commenting, but I think you are great and wanted to pass on some thoughts. I love how you have made your backyard into such a fun place for your family. I love the cocktail hour gatherings you talked about having with your neighbors. I love that you talk fashion from the regular person non-size 2 perspective. I think your honesty about how you’ve struggled so much for the past 18 months helps other people. I appreciate seeing how you are such good friends with people online (and now irl). I am not sure that the number of times your pins have been reposted makes you a good person, I do think sharing your ideas without putting judgement out there for others who are doing the best they can does indicate you are a good person. You are mothering young children, that is a lot of work. Someday you will have more time to do more good things. It’s ok if it isn’t now.

  2. Yes. Thank you. THIS. I have been there, I am there.

  3. I came to your blog in the last months of Food Lush and I’m sorry I did not know you sooner. I am so sorry that things were as dark as they were. You are a lovely person and an incredibly strong person and I am so grateful to you for sharing yourself with the Internet. Thanks for sharing your struggles. Someday I hope to meet you at a Blathering and hug you and toast to you in person.

  4. Just a thought …

    Most of us could always do more to help other people, especially outside of our immediate “neighborhood” (which is mostly what I get when I read your thoughts for what make you a “good person”). But there are also lots of things you already do that make you a “good person” to those of us who are not struggling in a serious, day-to-day, financial/health/etc type of way.

    You have built a great community through your blog (and tweets and instagram). I love the feeling I get when I read your writing … you seem authentic, and caring, and flawed, but you put across the feeling of … I don’t know. Like those of us who read your writing & interact with you are part of a group or family or something. Which may sound stupid or cheesy or fangirl but it’s true.

    I love that you work at feeling good about your appearance & fitness, trying not to compare yourself with others or even yourself from years ago. I try hard to do that too and I always love to read about what your wore because it helps me do the same. It isn’t easy but it’s important and even if you feel you are still working on this, your working helps me (and I’m sure others).

    You help me find good books to read — which, sure, at some level reading is just a hobby and a privilege but I think I’m better when I read, and I don’t usually put much time into what to read, but you do it, and I know many people love your books lists.

    That is just three quick examples from a person who doesn’t even know you outside the computer. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa or the head of a non-profit or whatever to be a good person. And I love that you are trying to do more stuff outside your own immediate world because you are a caring, loving person with a lot to give. But please don’t sell yourself short; you ARE ALREADY a good person.

    I know you weren’t fishing for compliments with this post — I can tell you are just getting some stuff straight in your own head. But you have LOTS of things on your “good person” list already.

  5. I think sharing your struggle is a good thing, and should be written first on your list. It’s very hard to do, but (as I’m sure you know) it’s easy for people to think that they’re the only one who’s ever struggled or suffered depression, and reading your story can potentially help others in a real, tangible way. So good for you.

    As for your ideas for helping the homeless: if you have public transportation in your town a bus pass (even for a small amount) is considered helpful. Your energy bar suggestion is a good one, as are peanut butter crackers or other protein-heavy snacks. Mosquito repellent, band-aids and anti-itch cream are helpful in the summer; you’d be surprised how many end up with terrible infections just from mosquito or other bug bites. Oh, and sun screen is a good thing too.

    And, since you mentioned the homeless, I will step on my soap box for one second, if you don’t mind too much: there are a terrible number of homeless children out there, more than most people realize. Diapers are incredibly expensive, as is formula, and if you can find a way to get those items into the hands of homeless women with children, it would be so very appreciated. 🙂

  6. Countless times in the seven years I’ve known you, you have done this for me, when I felt down on my luck or in need of a virtual (or real!) hug or have just been sad. You held me up. You were there.

    And there’s nothing I can’t tell you and no mistake I could make or stupid thing I might say on Twitter to make you stop loving me or being there for me.

    You answer the phone when I call, even when your own day has been spectacularly shitty. You remember my birthday. You start websites with me just because I ask you if you will. You buy three bottles of champagne and put them in your fridge when I visit, and you plan Blatherings around sitting in the car with me.

    In short, you show up. All the time you show up for the people you love, and I think that might be the greatest quality there could be.

    I think your goals and dreams and plans are beautiful, and I know you’ll rock them all (and I feel very lucky to get to witness you rocking them all), but you’re a wonderful person, a hilarious person, a thoughtful person, and a very, very good one too. I’ve been so proud to know you every day that I have.

    I love you.

  7. I agree with all of the previous commenters–your blogging about cute outfits and “the uniform” was the beginning of me doing (for the first time at 33 years old) some serious critical thinking about women’s expectations for their own bodies–and mine for my own. While I’m sure your friends and family members would be able to name more things than you can come up with, I’m rooting for you as you keep adding things to your list in ways that feel valuable to you. Thanks for sharing this, it’s very brave.

  8. I read this with great interest, especially the “what makes a good person” part and the “totally starting over from scratch with a values system” part.

  9. This is a brave, brutal, gorgeous post. I applaud you for not only surviving, but for sharing everything you’ve been through. It helps other people; it really does.

    To your point about feeling like you don’t do enough, I spent years beating myself up about not doing enough to help those less fortunate than I or not living into my big dreams, but as I’ve gotten older, I have given myself more of a break about it. A smaller life isn’t a less meaningful one; being a good friend is incredibly important, and it’s a part of your life’s work — that’s nothing to sneeze at.

    For myself, I realized that I do more than I think I do, as I am sure is the case with you too. For example, you shouldn’t discount things like the Blathering or the sites you’ve built or the ways in which you’re a good friend — you have found a way to connect with people and help them to connect to one another in ways most people only dream about. That is a big thing. That is THE THING (see conclusion below). You also can’t discount your writing and your parenting, which are great things that are a part of you and they are important ways that you connect with the world.

    Also, I realized that only when I felt sufficiently connected to something volunteer-y, or where I felt my talents matched a given need, would I be motivated to do it regularly and wholeheartedly, and actually add some value. The ways I volunteer and connect with my community aren’t the ways someone else might, and maybe to other people they seem small/insufficient/privileged — but they are MY ways. I help on the scale I am able to help, with the gifts I feel that I have to offer. I also donate to causes that mean something to me but to which I don’t find I am able to offer much in terms of in-person, meaningful contribution. So I think it takes time (especially with young children) to find that sweet spot where you think, hey, here’s something that is meaningful to me and where I am needed.

    In the end, I think we’re here to connect with each other. You’re doing that and you’re fostering still more connections between others. I strongly believe that the Good Person list consists basically of that one item: I connect with my fellow human beings. You are doing that. You ARE a good person.

  10. Elizabeth. You Saved My Life

    I know I’ve told you this before but it is the absolute truth. If I hadn’t read the post about the weather you wrote all of those years ago, the post that sent me to the dr the first (of now, 1,230) time(s) Nope- just nope.

    I DIDNT” KNOW I WAS DEPRESSED. I read your words, YOUR words made more since than the few in my head. “Jump, swallow, cut” and I got help.

    And THEN, every time I needed help, you have been there for me in a way a lot of people cannot be, because we understand. And having someone who gets it, in a way that isn’t “get some fresh air” or “just stop cleaning your house” and THAT is invaluable. Forever and ever and ever, you will be stamped in my heart.

    If you ask me, Being You, is the best list anyone can hope for, A true, authentic self. This is what you are and it makes everyone around you better.
    I love you

  11. This is good to read. Good to hear. Good for you, and thanks for sharing with us, lady.

  12. This is such an awesome post. I am so glad things are looking up for you and I’m so impressed by all of the effort you’ve put forth. This stuff is HARD. It is exhausting. And it is so, so worth it.

  13. Oh, this is just so great. I think you should add “Owns her life and actively works to be a better person” to your list. All this work you have done and continue to do? It is a real big deal. Good people work to make themselves better.

  14. Oh wow, I didn’t know your struggles of late were so bad. I remember reading here and there about you feeling sick but thus seems much worse than I thought. I am so glad you’re on the up and up. You DO dress really well… And your hair is great. I know those aren’t the most important things in life but hey it’s showing up. My outfit right now is so slobbish, it’s a joke.
    Being a better person is a life long journey and I think when you have small children,it’s more about being a person who lives through the day. Good grief the days are hard for me without struggling with illness.
    I was thinking, for the homeless bag thing, what about putting the items in a large ziplock? I love me some zip locks and imagine a person on the street could put them to good use. Also a travel pack of all purpose wipes seems helpful.
    Your writing is beautiful and I think that’s something that’s being a good person. You share yourself here and give voice to thoughts that help and comfort others. That is something. Keep it up. I’m sorry I wasn’t closer to help more. If you ever need a weekend away, with or without kids, my door is open.
    XO
    E

  15. You are already a good person, Elizabeth. You help so many people just by being.

    Here is what I would suggest for the homeless people: little bottles of shampoo and soaps from hotels, wipes, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, maxi pads and tampons for the women, six packs of underwear, and and and….money. Cash. Singles. Change. Whatever. I know some people do not like that idea and be all, “but they could use it on drugs or booze!” and my answer is: you don’t know, and also: so?

    I’m not going to talk about Good Works anymore because, like you said, too, it’s just not a thing I talk about, but seriously: you’re already a good person.

  16. Everything Lawyerish said. I always love to read how you are doing. Glad you are getting through this, and hugs and good wishes to you!

  17. Hi Elizabeth, I’m another lurker who has read your blog for years and rarely (if ever?) comments. This post is beautiful and it makes me so happy to hear that you are starting to feel like yourself again. Your words are so moving and I am grateful that in your darkest days you found a tether and hung on.

    I can also relate to the struggle of putting more value on appearances than I should and I love that you are thinking about the things that are meaningful to you and finding tangibleways to put good out into the world.

    With all of that said, I think what compelled me to leave a reply today after years of reading is that I want you to know that you are enough. Today. As is. Completely and totally flawed. No list of good deeds required. You are enough.

    Just remember “Imperfect is the new perfect”. 😉

    Sending so much love to you from across the country. Thank you for sharing yourself with us – it has been a gift in my life.

  18. another lurker here…just really really glad to see that you are feeling better. i think i started reading not long before the shit hit the fan and it is a Very Lovely Thing to read that you are making your way out of that hell.

    also, is it ok if i tell you how EFFING CUTE katie is on instagram? because i don’t want to seem like a total creeper but my gosh i love seeing her in my feed.

  19. Thank you for sharing – you are an important Voice to me – and I always come away from your writing inspired or touched or thoughtful.

  20. I agree with everyone else. You ARE ALREADY a good person. You bring joy to my life every time you post. You’re REAL in an internet world of fakers.
    I loved your long-ago post on how what you contributed to the world was The Blathering. You helped people make friends. You brought joy to all of those lives.
    If you want to do a little charity stuff on the side, that’s good. But you are a mother to young children. You are raising tiny people to go out into the world and hopefully be good grown people. That is a big job.

  21. Thank you for your honesty and for your always thought-provoking writing. I know you’ve got a lengthy to-do list up there, but I hope you will add to it giving yourself credit for all that you already do. The comments above are an excellent example of what I’m talking about.

  22. So, so glad things have improved so much. I hope they continue to do nothing but improve.

    I think just putting this out there is a way of helping the world. Obviously the depression and anxiety are way more to contend with than simple pregnancy illness, but I do remember each and every time you’ve sympathized with how sick I get (starting at my first Blathering!) because you’ve been there. You know. You were probably sicker than I was, even, because I never did have to go to the ER for fluids. It helps so much just to know other people understand.

  23. I don’t think I can add anything that hasn’t already been said by others, except that I love you and I’m so glad you’re here. xo

  24. Thank you for sharing your journey and your plans. ❤

  25. Another lurker here. I have been following you since a little before the shit hit the fan times, and I am so glad to hear things are getting better. I I love your writing; it always makes me want to hear more from you. You are extremely talented, and as everyone has said, you have already done so much. All that self-reflection has to be extremely exhausting and trying. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  26. I love this post. I love that you want to TRY. I think we all do what we can, as time/money/energy allow, and if you have a little extra to give, that’s fabulous but I also don’t think you’re a bad person if you don’t move into a one bedroom and sell snow cones on the sidewalk to raise money for good causes. You’re raising little people and teaching them how to go out into the world and that is A Very Big Deal. If you can do more? Well, that’s just frosting & angel wings.

  27. I have no idea how I came about your blog a few months back. You keep it real plus you have an awesome sarcastic sense of humor.

    There are times in our life that just being is all you can do. It’s enough. You are good. You don’t need to prove it to yourself.:)

  28. i came upon your blog as i liked your fashion sense..i think i goggled ugg boots with leggings one day, and u came up!..i dont know u, i am not clear as to what occured to bring you into depression, and i have never commented on any blog on my life!!!..but i have to say, after reading you letter, i congratulate you on coming to your crossroad at such a young age..i am 49 and only through a recent bought with thyroid cancer did i come face to face with the lies of depression, the horror of anxiety attacks, therapy,and ultimately the study of meditation and buddhist philosophy on suffering and living that literally resulted in a better, wiser, more loving me! i “let go” now..to life, to its twists and turns and have learned that my greatest love, even more than my own children, must be myself..i sincerely recommend incorporating books on meditation and i am quite sure your therapist would agree..ultimately, though, remember this: even as life is falling apart, happiness is a choice..i choose happy! i hope you always do too!

  29. No big task… reworking an entire values system, seeing your childhood through new eyes, learning to value yourself for entirely different reasons than the ones you previously thought valid…!

    I have always thought therapy sounded just exhausting, though also fascinating, and I am proud of you and happy for you that you’re tackling it, and getting a lot out of it from what it sounds like. Of all the projects you’ve undertaken in your life, your own mental/spiritual health is certainly the most important. I really loved reading about all this, and I hope you throw a few more of these kind of posts our way in the future, if you feel like it. You’re such an interesting- and GOOD!- person. You’ve always been one of the internet writers I keep up with, even in my non commenting, super busy phases.

  30. A few of my thoughts. You know that article, being just a mom is enough??? I think there is a lot of truth to that. I think the Internet has really made life awful for moms. Just loving our kids everyday and being their mom is enough and you shouldn’t feel like you aren’t doing enough in this world. My mom didn’t work outside the home until I was in high school and as far as I am concerned she was amazeballs. Just being there for me and loving me was enough.
    Also, I really think once you start talking about things, you are close to being healed. The journey is never over but brighter days are here sister.
    Lastly, after working in women’s health forever, I have realized that EVERY SINGLE woman has basically the same fears, problems and stressors. I love my job bc I talk with women all day. When having a baby, women are honest and vulnerable and they talk. It doesn’t matter if that mamma walks in wearing her size 2 maternity jeans, perfect pearl earrings and makes half a million dollars a year. Get her into labor and hand her a newborn and you start seeing who she really is and what her marriage is like….I promise you, that lady usually is more fucked up than the patient who on the surface looks like a hot mess. My point is, you are not alone sister. I admire your honesty. If more people were honest about how they felt, life would be better for everyone. Anyone can put a bandaid on their wound by taking antidepressants. It sounds like you are trying to figure out how you got the wound through therapy and I admire that so much. You are going to come out of this happier and healthier and I hope you feel that being a mom is enough.

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