Once upon a time, I went on a trip with Greg to Southern Italy, which should have been AMAZING but was, in truth, the Most Terrible Vacation Ever. I felt the whole time like I should be able to Gratitude my way through it. Like, WHO GETS TO GO ON VACATION TO SOUTHERN ITALY, BETH? I mean, other than people who live in Southern Italy. Like, people from Oregon, you know? Who gets to go on vacation to Southern Italy from Oregon? Who have 5 kids. And a mortgage. And who shop at discount grocery stores and refuse to replace towels no matter how threadbare they get because towels are really expensive, guys. REALLY , REALLY EXPENSIVE. The good ones cost $20. EACH. Or lots more. And it’s not like you can buy one towel and tell the family to share it. You have to buy at least 4 at a time. That’s the Rule of Towel Buying. And if we don’t want the humans in our household yelling at each other over Who Gets the Good Towel (“HE HAD IT LAST TIME!”), then we have to buy seven. SEVEN NEW TOWELS. For $140. 😳😳😳 Who has that kind of towel money, friends? Not me. Which is why trips to places like Southern Italy always feel like a MIRACLE to me. We can’t buy new towels, but, by God (and by my dad because he’s a pilot with travel benefits) we CAN magically arrive in places like Southern Italy upon occasion. If we stay in super cheap AirBnbs. And if we eat only cheese pizza and gelato and zero fancy restaurant meals.
Southern Italy isn’t a hardship. Or it shouldn’t be. If there’s one priority Greg and I have had throughout our marriage, it’s travel. We finagle it every chance we get, and we scrimp and save in other areas (see: towels) to make it possible. But we’ve always understood it’s a privilege. We’ve never taken it for granted.
And we didn’t take it for granted on the Most Terrible Vacation Ever, either. Which is part of why it was so horrific. I spent the time knowing it was a privilege, knowing literal millions of people would’ve happily traded us places, and it was still just awful.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in the throes of Massive Depression. And that’s one of the funny (not at all funny) things about depression — you can’t actually Gratitude your way out of it. Massive Depression sets its own agenda, and it takes neither your plans nor your privileges into consideration.
So we went because we said we would. We went because we didn’t want to regret not going. We went because we believed time away together would be good for our marriage. We went because we could and because Travel Is A Priority. And I went because I didn’t want to disappoint Greg.
But I also knew my Children Would Die while I was away. I knew because Depression told me so, and Depression on a roll is way louder than Logic.
We drove through the Italian countryside, but we’d elected not to Spend Money on international cell service thinking we’d just use WiFi when we could get it, so there were hours and hours — and hours and hours — I had no way to contact the kids, and their caregivers had no way to contact us. Logic tried to get a word in edgewise. Logic kept saying Constant Contact does not = Children Stay Alive. But I was in a full panic mode and unable to hear it. Short, shallow breaths. Tight muscles. Tension headache. Rising shoulders. Staticky brain. Masking my distress and fear and clenched jaw with bolts of anger like lightning.
Greg was having a blast. Note: Greg was not having a blast. Depressed Beth was having None of It. But, I decided in an abundance of wisdom, we might at least have good sex while we were away. I mean, God knows Greg deserved Something Fun on the trip, and I figured an orgasm might calm me the eff down, you know? Besides, I was Very Savvy and had packed my best, most powerful vibrator which we’d be able to use to get me over the mental hump* of Panic and into the mindset of Team Work necessary to accomplish our goal.
I hadn’t packed the converter, though, for my vibrator with a cord. 🙄 Oops. Which means it took less than half a second to burn that sucker out on 220. For future reference, an appliance built for 110 doesn’t work on 220, not even if you set it on low, cross your fingers, and hope it works.
At least I’d packed my Kindle with books and books and books and books which can Almost Always help me live in another world for awhile and forget my own bizarre terror.
I dropped it on the tiled bathroom floor. It smashed into bits, taking my library with it.
To sum up, I went to Southern Italy with Greg in the midst of one of my largest despressive episodes, unaware of my mental state, without cell service to contact the children I was certain would die in my absence, burned out my ability to achieve sexual release, and ended up with one of Greg’s Horrible , Mindnumbing Science Novels with Zero Erotic Vampire Sex as my sole source of entertainment/mental escape.
By the time the vacation came to its blessed end and Greg inadvertently gave me the wrong directions to drive to the airport that was the Gateway to Home (aka Hope), I lost my everloving shite. All of it. All at once. Shite just EVERYwhere in a terrific, toddler-style meltdown the likes of which has never been seen before or since. There was screaming. There was crying. There were recriminations. Snot and spittle flew involuntarily from my face while my head spun around, exorcist-style. Red laser beams emerged from my eyes. Logical Beth floated above my body, watching in stunned disbelief at how thoroughly I lost control of myself. Logical Beth was stuck there for a while because there was no room for her inside. She’d been shoved completely apart from the tangible experience. She was assigned an Observational Role only, and she was all, “WHOA” because she had no better words to describe it.
We were on our way to the airport years later to go to Germany when we turned around and went home, instead. One of our kids was sick which made me feel panicky, even though Logical Beth reminded me it was only a mild fever. We’d learned a thing or two about marriage, though, after our ill-fated Southern Italy trip; namely, I’ve learned to Say When Things Are Not OK, and Greg’s learned to Listen. We made it 5 minutes from home when I said, “I’m sad,” and “I don’t want to leave him,” and “I’m trying to be OK.” And we made it one more minute before Greg, instead of saying, “It’ll be fine,” which I already knew, said, “We don’t have to go. It’s OK. Let’s just stay home.”
Last week, we finally took that trip to Germany.
And we had fun.
Which feels like it’s own miracle, honestly.
And not just because I remembered to pack the converter.
Coming to terms with Mental Illness means understanding I need to always be on watch. Vigilant. Paying attention. Assessing and reassessing. It means learning from failures and painful pieces of the past but not letting those be the whole story, nor define the future. But that’s easier said than done, and I find myself often tiptoeing toward events and treating trips like they might bite. I’m wary, I guess, because I don’t want to harm myself or others, but I don’t have a great track record of knowing when I’m about to bite the dust. I have a hard time trusting that I know more now or believing that I have the correct tools in place to appropriately manage my own mental health. But I suspect starting to believe in and trust myself is an Important Step toward Living Well with Mental Illness.
I’ll start by celebrating One Success. This one. And I’ll hope for more. And, because you and I spend time waving to each other in the dark, I wanted to celebrate this success out loud.
Sending you love, and waving in the dark as always,
P.S. I’ve found this helpful lately. Maybe you will, too.
P.P.S. Pay attention. Send that to someone if you need to. Highlight which ones are falling apart. Ask for help. Taking care of mental health is a series of baby steps. ANY steps are to be celebrated. Any at all. They accumulate and make a big difference eventually. I promise. Keep looking. Things will get better. You just may need a hand to get there.
*P.P.P.S. Speaking of Mental Hump, I think there should be a trashy novel about a young, beautiful, self-disciplined psychiatrist-turned-best-selling-author in Hollywood who has to move back to her small town in the Midwest — a town she’d NEVER planned to return to after she promised herself she’d make it big and show the mean girls from high school that it was a GOOD thing to be smart instead of something to be mocked — to care for her ailing father where she becomes reacquainted with the One Person who was kind to her back then, the carpenter’s son who’s taken over the family business. There, she has to confront her long-repressed feelings of lust and love for the only boy (now man) who made her want to let loose and laugh and truly LIVE, unfettered and free to be her full self, as smart and lovely and savvy and funny and wild as she can be. In other words, the doctor who’s become a nationwide household name for her advice and books teaching others how to tame their fears and implement a strict regimen of self-control to achieve success discovers she must choose; maintain the rigid structure and aloof demeanor that lead to all her dreams (but one) coming true or give in to the vivid dreams that plague her nights (and increasingly her days), filled with one carpenter in particular. The novel shall be titled Mental Hump, and the readers will be left to discover… can she overcome her mental hump? So all those hot mental humps might become reality? Or will she keep herself “safe,” well out of mental hump territory, and live the predictable — and strangely unsatisfying— life she’s made for herself?