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Depression Tales and Happy Endings

“In the forest,” Critter explains, “all of our fairy tales have happy endings. But they’re not about marriage.”

I’m sitting in the bathtub, quietly bawling my eyes out. Like you do when your kids are around and you need to pretend that everything’s okay. I hear a scratch at the door.

“Mommy’s in the tub,” I shout to my three-year-old. “Is your movie done already?”

There’s no reply. Just more scratching.

“Sweetheart? I can’t come out right now. How about you go play in your sister’s room?” I feel a twang of guilt, but not enough to get me out of the tub. Not yet. I need to get my feet under me.

My lip tickles, and I realizes there’s a snot slug creeping toward my mouth. I grab a kleenex to address it, but before I can blow, another scratch sounds on the door. The doorknob starts to turn.

“Honey, I told you…” I begin.

But it isn’t my daughter’s muzzle peeking in. It’s Critter, my imaginary raccoon.

“Wow!” Critter says. “You look hot; all pink and puffy and coated with slime! If you were a clam, you’d be a bombshell!”

“Ew!” I say, and blow hard into the kleenex, soaking it through to my pruney fingers.

“Whoooo, and she squirts!” Critter squeaks. “In mollusc culture, females would kill for secretions like that. Soooo copious. Your boogers are, like, the double-D’s of clamkind.”

I roll my eyes and toss my “sexy” wad into the trash. “Go away, rodent.”

“Um… no,” Critter answers. “You need help.” She trots into the bathroom and shuts the door behind her.

The puff of cold air brushes my nipples and sends a shudder down my spine. I slide back under the water, into my cocoon of heat and quiet. I keep going down until the water tickles my bottom lip. I sigh through my nose, making jets that wrinkle the perfect surface of the water. Totally wrecking its zen. Like I do.

“Hey,” Critter says. “Snap out of it. We need you back in the here and now.” She climbs up onto the toilet. I think she’s going to sit, but instead she reaches toward me. And bellyflops into the tub.

“What the fuck!” I sputter, wiping my eyes.

Critter pops to the surface and paddles toward me. She looks like a brylcreemed rat with a ridiculous grin. She climbs on my chest.

“Aaack!” I howl. Tiny pink claw marks rise like corduroy on my breasts.

Critter ignores me and pulls herself onto my belly. Then she spreads her soft palms on my chest and presses her nose to mine.

“Alright, human,” she says. “Spill. What’s buzzing in your bonnet?”

“It’s stupid,” I say, and drop my eyes.

Critter lifts my chin with a gentle paw. “You’ve got spit the poison out.” Then she shoves on my shoulders like Elaine Benice. “Get. It. Out!!”

“Enough with the claws!” I bark, and I grab Critter under the armpits. I curl her into a ball and tuck her into the crook of my elbow.

Critter smiles up at me serenely, like a wet, hairy baby. I’m smacked with a warm-queasy flashback of nursing my daughters.

“This is so weird,” I mutter to my imaginary bathmate.

Critter laughs. “Your kink is way-out,” she says. “That’s why I like you.”

I laugh. Then I sit for a minute, hugging my imaginary raccoon. The bathwater cools, and bits of fur swirl around my knees. “Okay, Critter,” I say. “Here’s what’s bothering me: I watched Beauty and the Beast today, and I fucking hated it.”

Critter’s bullshit brow pops up. “All this over a movie?”

“It isn’t just the movie!” I grunt. “It’s life. And marriage. And me. That whole concept—that you’ll be fulfilled if you just give somebody’s flaws a chance—it’s the most depressing fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Why?” Critter asks.

“Because I can’t do it.”

Critter looks at me with sad eyes.

“I’ve got the fairy tale, Critter. A husband and kids. They’re beautiful, hilarious, amazing people, and I should be disgustingly happy. But I’m not. When I look at them, all I can see are the fights that we replay every goddamned day.”

Critter nods. “They’re an intense crew,” she says.

“They are,” I agree. “We are. And I fucking hate it! The shouting. The lying. The knee-jerk defiance that makes me want to tear things up with my teeth. But I’m the mom. I’m supposed to make it better and keep the peace among the beasts like an unsinkable Disney princess.”

Critter chuckles. “That’s so not you.”

“No shit. My counsellor keeps telling me I have to bring the zen to our house. But I don’t have it in me to bring.”

Critter wipes a tear from my cheek. “I think you reading the story wrong,” she says.

I frown at her, confused.

“In the forest,” she explains, “all of our fairy tales have happy endings. But they’re not about marriage.”

“Then what are they about?” I ask.

“Orgasms, dimwit! Popping your bubble. Resolving the crisis. Learning what it takes to blow your own motherboard. It’s the theme of every story ever told.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I laugh.

“For example,” Critter says. “Little Red Riding Hood got eaten by the wolf, right? But it wasn’t because she disobeyed her mother. It was because she ignored her instincts. She knew what she wanted to do, but she let the wolf pressure her into pleasing him. Always a mistake.” She shakes her head.

I cock an eyebrow.

“And how about Rumpelstiltskin?” Critter adds. “That one’s supposed to remind us that sexual relationships are a contract, and we need to make sure the rules are well-defined and the outcomes are mutually beneficial.”

“Critter, NONE of those stories are about sex.”

“That’s because you tell them wrong, you silly puritan.”

I roll my eyes. “Alright. I’ll bite. What’s the moral of Beauty and the Beast?”

Critter thinks about it. “Collars and merkins.”

“Collars and merkins?”

“Yeah! In the real story, the beast keeps his horns and fur. The magic is that he and Belle both dig the bestiality scene.”

“I don’t see how any of this helps me to be a better mom and wife.”

Stop trying to be a better mom and wife!” Critter says, shaking her tiny fists at me.

“But we’re all miserable!” I say.

“No one so much as you, Dum dum.” She smiles kindly. “Your counsellor is right. You need some zen. If you want to accept your monsters like Belle, give up trying to change them. And stop blaming yourself for their shit.”

I chew on my lip. Critter rests her head against my chest, moving with my rise and fall.

“You let me be who I am. And that helps me,” I say, and stroke her head.

Critter grins.

“I need to embrace the fact that I can’t change my family,” I say.

“Exactly,” Critter says. She pats my head, then climbs out of the tub. She shakes herself dry and sighs contentedly.

With a paw on the door, she turns and says, “If you can’t beat ‘em, beat off!

Then she winks and trots away.

If you’re still struggling to find your happy ending, Critter encourages you to look within. Really probe around in there. If it starts to get fun and you forget what you came looking for, you’re doing it right. Well done, you.

A Bad Attitude about Gratitude – Part 2 – Too Mad to be Grateful

“There, there, human; you’re having a bad day.”—Critter, demonstrating the most profound, shattering, and healing grace when my soul is blistering and I can’t feel gratitude.

Morning comes. I’ve barely slept. My two-hour doze felt like a shower without soap and I feel outrageously ripped off.

I need sleep. Just one, glorious, fathoms-deep coma. A snoring, drooling, multi-cycle REM fugue. 35 hours or so should do it. I’ll be good as new, restored to human-like functioning and able to face the remaining years of parenthood and the distant decades of my life.

But I can’t have that. My six-year-old’s night-cough won’t let me sleep and I’m feeling the cold hand of dread on my chest warning that something very bad is coming on.

I sit on the side of my bed and stare at the red eyes of the alarm clock, weighing whether to get up and head straight for the shower or to smash it with a hammerfist first.

A sarcastic yawn behind me interrupts my ponder. I turn, and in the dim light I can just make out the silhouette of my imaginary raccoon, stretching theatrically.

“Or maybe the only real problem is your flair for drama,” she says. “I mean, kids get sick every day, right? Normal sick. Non-life-threatening sick. Plain old, snot-nosed, terrible hand-hygiene kind of sick.”

“Well, not so much for raccoon cubs,” she continues, “but it’s pretty much the defining experience of human childhood, would you say? Crusty shirtsleeves and nighttime coughs. That’s kids. This is not a tragedy. It’s just life.”

“But it’s killing me, Critter.” I whisper. “My brain is on fire. I can’t fucking do this much longer.”

“Sure you can,” she says and hops up on my shoulder. “You’ve just got to stop shitting the bed. Start taking care of you.”

I grind my molars. “You know I fucking hate it when you talk to me like a shit-munching know-it-all, right?”

“Yeah,” Critter yawns. “But do I care?”

Goddamn it!

She’s probably right. But I can’t say that to her now. I grab her under her armpits and drop her a little rougher-than-necessary on the floor. She lands on all fours and twists around to give me stink eye. Then she brushes off her shoulders and trots off.

I angrily tiptoe to the bathroom and sit on the toilet, her words still ringing in my ears.

“You’re shitting the bed,” she said. “Start taking care of you.”

Yes, but how? I’d love to stop shitting the bed and take care of me, but I can’t see a single thing I could change in this situation. How do I correct an error I can’t see?

It always comes back to that same question, doesn’t it? Whenever I feel like I’m drowning on dry land, the problem always turns out to be that I martyred myself. Like some kind of stupid, drama-addicted ape.

When I feel like my challenges are insurmountable, I’m usually failing to grasp perspective: distance, boundaries, realistic expectations. A small way I could ask for help that would make all the difference in the world.

I just can’t see it. Or I blind myself to the solution. Like the untouchably hopeless part of my soul won’t let my brain consider the fix, because it’s already decided nothing will ever help.

I know I’m missing something with this stupid night cough. I just don’t know what it is, and I feel like a fucking idiot. I hate feeling like this. What the bloody hell am I supposed to be doing?

I stumble through the morning. Find myself standing beside the car. The kids are already buckled up inside, thanks to my husband. I try to shake off the queasy fog of unreality as I pull our vehicle away from the snow-crusted curb. We’re basically on time. That’s good, I guess. Although I don’t even have the energy to stress about being late today. It’s all I can do to autopilot the truck to my oldest daughter’s school.

The weather is pretty warm. The streets are slushy. Gotta keep the wipers going almost non-stop.

Aw, shit!

The washer fluid’s getting low. I stare into the review mirror, giving short little squirts of smurf juice to the back window while the wiper squeaks a smeary little arc.

I’m zoned right in, trying to catch the exact moment when the glass comes clear so I can let go of the trigger and conserve every possible drop of that vital blue liquid.

My throat tightens as I imagine the next time the windshield will go opaque and I’ll press the washer button and nothing will come out. I’ll have an accident for sure. I’ll…


I’m sliding into the exit lane, about to smash mirrors with a black SUV. It swerves onto the shoulder. I suck wind and brake hard. Behind me, headlights dip. I wring the wheel in my hands. The black truck zips past, weaves back into the lane in front of me, and speeds off.

My heart is jackhammering in my throat. Jesus Christ. I didn’t see that guy at all. Not at all. Where did he come from? Did he try to pass me while I exited? Or was he in my blind spot when I veered over? Did I even check? Oh, fuck me; I don’t remember checking. It’s usually automatic. Oh God. Is this what I do, now? Drive like a fucking drunk?!?

From the back seat, the three-year-old screams. “Noooooo!”

I flinch and start to turn around to look at her, then snap back forward. My heart bashes in my ears. Keep your eyes on the motherfucking road, dipshit!

“What’s wrong?” I ask with a high-pitched warble.

“No, no, no, NOOOOOOO!” my little one screams.

“Goddamn it! Tell me what’s wrong!”

My oldest answers for her; “Her bagel fell on the floor when you jerked the car,” she says.

Sweet titty-slapping Christ.

“I’m sorry Honey,” I moan. “Mommy’s sorry your food fell down.”

“Pick. it. UP!” the little one shrieks.

I take a breath. Eyes on the road. I’m not going to fucking swerve again. I’m not. “I can’t get it right now, Sweetheart. I’ll grab it for you it when we get stopped, okay? Mommy needs to drive right now.”

My pissed-off preschooler takes a huge breath and releases all her angst in a glass-cracking, blood-curdling gust. Then she pops her thumb into her mouth and slurps loudly as we finish the drive to her big sister’s school.

For the rest of the morning, my little one punishes me. At least, it feels that way. We go to the gym and she flops onto the floor when I ask her to take off her boots. In the bathroom, she bolts out of our stall and slams the door in another when I ask her to sit on the potty. She clings to me when I try to leave her in the daycare room, and ignores me when I come to pick her up. It takes us twenty inner-screaming minutes to get ourselves back outside to the car.

That’s where we find her bagel. Cream-cheese-down, smashed into the musty, wet carpet. Forgotten and stepped on, accusing, and righteously disgusted with me, as everything seems to be.

The day continues in that vein. By the time my Tiny Hitler goes down for her nap, we’re both ready for mutual annihilation.

I cancel a webchat with a work friend and curl up in a ball on top of my bed. My head is pounding. My eyes are burning. I just need sleep. God, I wish I could sleep.

I’m pretty sure my little bite-sized rage-a-holic feels the same way. We all need some fucking sleep. What the bleeding clusterfuck am I going to do tonight?

“You’re lucky,” Critter’s voice whispers in my ear. “Consider all you have.”

Fuck everything I have! I think. None of it can help me!

Hang on. That’s not true. One thing I have is my husband. Why the fuck don’t I enlist the deep-sleeping bastard in my nightly battle?

That night, when the coughing starts, I roll over, plant both my feet, and shove husband in the butt.

“You go help her,” I whisper.

He gets up, sleep-fogged. “Okay.” He comes back 30 seconds later. Slips back into bed and is snoring before the springs stop bouncing.

From down the hall, my daughter’s lungs continue to like a kickstart that never catches.


I kick my husband again. Hard this time. “Did you do the lemon?” I hiss.

“What lemon?”

“Nevermind! I’ll fucking do it!” I toss the blanket off me in a huff and quiet-stomp out of the room.

I go downstairs to fix the only thing that seems to slow the cough down: warm lemon water. It buys a couple of hours of mucus-thinning relief. With or without honey, doesn’t matter. I’ve learned this during the last fifteen nights of delirious trial and error.

While I squeeze a lemon wedge above the cup, squirting pulp all over my fingers and the counter and the front of my nightshirt, I grumble in my head; Why the fuck can’t my husband ever do this shit? Why can’t it ever cross his untroubled little mind???

I have no answer.

I bring the cup up to my daughter’s bedside. She’s asleep. Didn’t even wake herself up. I hesitate, then leave it on her bedstand. I slide back into bed.

Ten minutes later, she’s coughing again.

I jump to my feed and pound on the bed with both fists like a silverback who’s snapped.

My husband jumps from his enchanted sleep into the corner by the headboard, his ladder-long legs shrinking away from my insane shitfit as far as the space will allow.

I see him recoiling as I wail on our bed, denting twelve inches of cotton and foam and creaking steel springs. I smash and smash and smash like I’m trying to break it.

When I stop, my husband is still.

I can’t say I’m sorry. The cough comes again. I swallow my rage and head back to my girl’s room. This time I make her sit up. Take a sip. Try to get her to blow some of the throat-tickling stickiness out of her nose. She grunts a closed-mouth yell and flops over, turning her back to me.

I grab two fistfulls of my hair. What the fuck am I doing???

Critter’s words float back to me, “Take care of you.

I stalk back down the hall and go back to bed. I lay there on the spot I just used as an anvil and my heart drums deafeningly in my ears. My teeth clench. My breaths come hard through my nose. My legs twitch.

My husband is lying very still. Too still to be asleep. I roll over. He rolls over.

What have I done? I just broke the unbreakable sleeper. Now none of us will get any sleep. I made it worse, and worse, and worse.

A tickle in my ear startles me, and I almost jump out of my skin. It’s Critter, her whiskers poking deep into my aural canal as she takes a breath to whisper; “Oh good!” she says. “You’re up!”

“I am not up. Fuck off. I’m trying to sleep.”

“Stop living a lie,” she says. “Come downstairs. I have snacks.”

The prospect of a snack softens the barbed wire in my belly. I wonder if she has cheese. I sigh, get up, and go downstairs.

Midway down the stairs, I pick up a whiff of something rotten. I stop.

“Oh perfect!” I mutter. “The little one has shat her goddamn pants in her goddamn sleep. This is exactly what we need right now: a lights-on, baby-crying, eighteen-wiping, eye-watering, fecal horror cleanup!”

I laugh inside like a lunatic and climb back up to the second floor. I stick my face into the little one’s room. I snort deeply. No poop.

What the fuck???

I head back downstairs, and realize the smell is getting stronger as I near the main floor. On the last stair, the smell hits me like heavy bag full of diapers.

“What the fucking fuck?” I hiss and step into the kitchen where I take in the horror.

Critter has spread a buffet on the table—the week’s contents of the compost bin.

She looks up and sees me gagging in the doorway. “Yay, you came!” she says around a nasty mouthful. She claps her little hands.

I step closer, deeper into the nightmare. Critter grins, then carries on crunching her mouthful of KFC bones from last Sunday. I can hear the gristle popping between her teeth. A splash of vomit leaps into my mouth.

Critter swallows and spreads her arms like Vanna White. “Don’t you see? You’re surrounded by a bounty of good fortune! Got enough food to suffocate your whole family. Scratch that, you could feed the entire North American raccoon army.”

“Good fortune?” I whisper. “Here’s what I think of my good fortune!” I step into the table, scoop a handful of sludge in my right hand, wind up, and fling it over Critter’s shoulder at the pantry door. SPLAT. I reload and fire again. Again and again, shouting, flinging, smashing.

Apple cores and cucumber nubs bounce off the door with dull thuds. Carrot peels dangle from splattered lumps of oatmeal, then they slowly curl away in a weird swandive to splat on the floor. A handful of shredded cabbage, too dry to fly far, flutters down on Critter’s shoulders like snow.

I throw and throw and throw until there’s nothing left of her raccoon feast but putrid spackle and shrivelled confetti. She stares at me, mouth agape. I break off and bawl into my folded arms. I come up with mashed potatoes in my hair.

“I wish I could be grateful, Critter. Goddamn it, I really do. I just can’t. I can’t. I’m fucking ruined.”

I collapse into a chair, close my eyes, and sob open-mouthed for what feels like a year. After a while, Critter tiptoes over and sits on the table by my shoulder. I put my face in my hands and she gently pats my hair.

“There, there, human,” she soothes. “You’re having a bad a day.”

I lift my face and laugh so loud I’m sure it will wake the kids. But thankfully, Critter’s magic seems to wrap a cone of silence around my hysterics. I sober up with a sniff when I realize I’m truly thankful for that.

“Oh my god, Critter,” I say, wiping with the back of my wrist at the trails of tears running through the filth on my face. “I… I’m so fucking… Jesus. I needed that. You gave me… I can’t even think what. Just, thank you. Thank you so fucking much. And I’m really sorry about your buffet.”

“You’re fucking welcome,” she says, grinning. “And it’s alright. I love a good food fight.” She leans in to lick some gravy off my cheek. I jump because her whiskers tickle and it makes me want to scream.

“Stop! No. I’ll take a shower. Thanks, though.”

“Suit yourself,” she sighs. We both survey the damage.

I groan. Grab the roll of paper towels. Groan some more.

Critter laughs. “Listen,” she says. “Normally I’d say you should face the music for this tomfoolery, but I don’t think that’s what you need tonight. You go get the bacon grease out of your hair, and I’ll call in some favours to get this all cleaned up.”

“Wow. Really?” I ask.

“You bet,” she says. “Tomorrow morning, we’ll figure all of this out. For now, go sleep.”

“Ok,” I say. Then I yawn and scrub my eyes like a toddler.

We’ll figure this out tomorrow.

A Bad Attitude About Gratitude – Part 1 – First World Problems

“You’re shitting the bed. But you’re not failing them, you’re failing you.”  – Critter, trying to point out something I’m missing on my slow descent to hell.

It’s December 14 at 2:45 am. I’m in bed like I should be but I can’t make my fucking brain sleep. I roll over. Punch the pillow. Adjust my shoulders. Sigh noisily and squeeze my eyes shut and strain to press my thoughts through the membrane of consciousness. If I can just make the shift into sleep, I know I’ll be healed.

But I can’t make it happen. I’m too stiff, clenched tight from jaw to anus. My body won’t melt like it’s supposed to so I can slip into to sweet oblivion. I feel like a chunk of raw carrot in the kitchen sink. Too big for the drain holes but I keep ramming myself against them because I need that darkness and quiet on the other side.

This isn’t going to work; I can see that. But I can’t stop jabbing and jabbing. I don’t know what else to do.

Oh Jesus, I think. If I don’t get some sleep I’m gonna bite somebody’s face off oh please oh please oh please let me sleep tonight, PLEASE OH FUCKING PLEASE!

Down the hall, a wheezy cough erupts and slaps me out of my silent hysterics. It’s my six-year-old; her nightly lung-busting performance. It’s been brutal these last few weeks, a twice- or thrice-per-night torture. Turning my usual insomnia into a wobbly funhouse of rage and despair.

“I’m in hell,” I whisper to no one.

Near my head, I hear a snort. “You’re not in hell,” says a familiar, rodenty voice. It’s Critter, my imaginary raccoon. She’s come around to bust my ovaries. She calls it “reality checking” and “straight-talk” and “tough love”. I call it being a bossy asshole and am not in the mood for her smug lectures or mouldy breath.

“Fuck off,” I mutter.

From the top of my dresser, I hear Critter sigh. “You’re hunched up like a snake with the piles,” she says. “But may I point out—you have the privilege of grappling with your angst in the comfort of a warm, dry bed?”

I don’t answer. My face gets hot.

“Carry on, if you like,” Critter says. “But I consider this: there at least twenty-three billion creatures on the planet—many of them, human—who would literally bite your face off to get up in here.”

“I don’t need your fucking guilt-trip, rodent. My brain is melting out my goddamned ears.” I spit the words as quietly as I can, trying not to wake my husband.

“First world problems,” Critter whispers back.

I growl in the back of my throat. If it weren’t so dark and I wasn’t afraid to knock over the lamp, I’d reach out and choke my sanctimonious little advisor. Instead, I flip her the bird and grab my sweater. Then I shuffle off to my daughter’s room. There’s a thump on the carpet as Critter hops off the dresser to follow me.

In my six-year-old’s room, the night light illuminates the shape of my firstborn. She’s curled on her side, her back to me. Her limbs are splayed like tossed laundry, and her favourite blanket is scrunched around her waist. It’s got all the characters from Frozen on it. Olaf stares at me with an absurd grin.

“This isn’t funny, you witless coke-head,”  I mutter.

From behind me, Critter asks, “What’d the snowman to do you?”

“Come on; the guy’s a maniac! That stupid tagline? ‘Some people are worth melting for?’ What a load of martyr-breeding bullshit,” I answer.

Then I whisper to the blanket. “You can’t help anybody if you let yourself melt, asshole.”

Critter trots up to my daughter’s bed, stand on her hind legs, and peers over the side. Then she looks at me and shakes her head.  “Yet here you are, letting your brain melt all over your girl-cub’s duvet,” she says.

I clench my fists and don’t answer.

My daughter coughs again, still asleep.

My blood pressure rises eight points. Do I wake her up and try to soothe the cough? Or should I leave her be? Does she really need me, or am I standing here on the verge of a sleep-deprived psychosis because I’m the ridiculous engineer of my own burnout?

Critter pipes up again; “You spend a lot of time agonizing.”

“I told you to fuck off, Critter!” I answer under my breath. “I’m not doing this with you tonight. Go fuck a pinecone or something.”

Critter shrugs. “Fine. But you’re shitting the bed,” she says. She drops back to all fours and heads toward the door.

You think I don’t know that!” I hiss. But she’s already gone.

In the next room, my three-year old cries out. “Mooooommy! Fix it!”

I groan and tiptoe from one doorway to the other. The little one is sitting up in her converted crib-bed and whipping her covers left to right.

“Make them smooth!” she says. “I want then SMOOTH, Mommy! NOW!!!”

Critter pokes her head into the room. “Wow, that kid is getting intense. Like a little Howard Hughes in training.” Then she pops back out.

I moan. Pull my hands through my hair. Take a big breath. Then I kneel down beside the little bed and try to speak calmly. “Listen, sweetheart. I know you’re tired. Sister’s cough keeps waking you up, doesn’t it? Let me close your door so you can have some quiet.”

I can see the little one’s eyes bulge in the dim light. “No, Mummy, no! Don’t close the door. I’ll be quiet. I’ll be good! Door open! Open! Pleeeeeee-eee-eee-ease!” Her tiny fists shake and her voice cracks into a wail.

My brain feels like it’s about to burst. I take a shuddering breath. “Shhhh, shhhhh, baby. Shhh. You need to stop yelling, okay? Or Mommy will have to close your door. Please, baby. Shhh. You be quiet, now, and we’ll leave it open. Okay?”

My little one takes two big sniffs and reaches for my neck. I lean in for a hug, but she just grabs a handful of my nightshirt and wipes her nose. I wrap my arms around her anyway. She melts into my chest and pops her thumb into her mouth. I hold her to my heart for a moment, then lay her back down on her bed. “Everything’s going to be okay,” I whisper, but my throat is full of tears.

“Fix my blanket,” she whispers with her baby-soft voice. “I need it smooth.”

I bite my lip, feeling pretty sure that this is how you cultivate OCD, and smooth out the motherfucking blanket. “Goodnight,” I whisper, and kiss her head.

When I step back into the hallway, Critter is there with her arms crossed, shaking her head.

I peek back in on my big girl. Her foot twitches. She coughs again. And again. Then three in a row.

Cough-cough-cough, big inhale.

Cough-cough-cough. Whimper.

Poor fucking kid.

I step to the bed and slide one arm under her shoulders, the other under her knees. I haul her up to sitting and fluff the pillows and giant stuffies behind her to keep her propped up. My daughter moans but doesn’t open her eyes.

“Here, Sweetie. Have a sip,” I whisper, holding her sippy cup against her hand.

She doesn’t take it.

“Come on, Baby. Have some water. You’re coughing.”

She frowns and rolls her head toward my voice. Her eyelids crack open like sticky clamshells.

“Here, Sweetie,” I say again and press the cup into her hand.

My daughter looks at the cup, then at me. She’s got droopy, red-rimmed eyes like a bloodhound. She says, “Mommy, why can’t I stop?”

I wince. “I don’t know, Baby,” I whisper. She’s not sick. Right as rain during the day. No allergies. No identifiable issues causing the cough. We’re blessed, right? She’s just got this brain-crushing, soul-squeezing night cough. And it will not ease up this month.

My girl takes a sip of her water. Then she lays her head back on the pillow. Her hand falls to her lap, still holding the cup. She moans. Her eyes flutter and close, and her chest resumes the steady rise-and-fall of slumber.

I slip the cup out of her hand and set it on her night table. I kiss her hair, and snort deep  of her baby shampoo smell. Then I tiptoe out of her room.

In the middle of the hallway, Critter’s reflective eyes flash green. She’s sitting like a cat now, twitching her tail. “When I said you were shitting the bed, I didn’t mean you were failing her,” she says. “You know that, don’t you?”

I scrub my hands over my face. “I don’t know anything, Critter.”

Critter sighs. “We need to talk about YOU, dummy. You’re failing you. Can’t you feel it?”

I frown. My throat burns. “I know,” I choke. “But I can’t do better right now. I’m empty. I can’t.”

Critter’s shoulders droop. “I know,” she says. She looks at the carpet. “I just wish you’d talk to me.”

I take a big breath and push out a sigh. Tears start to gush. “Not today,” I whisper and head back to my perfectly luxurious, warm, comfy bed.

I hang up my sweater and slide under the covers as quietly as I can. I settle on my side and hold my breath, feeling for movement from my husband. Did I wake him?

He rolls over, then inhales with a soft snore. I let my breath out.

Critter leaps up onto the bed and nestles herself behind my shoulders. “We’ll talk tomorrow,” she says. The warmth of her little body soaks into me. My tears soak into the pillow. Something lets go, and the night finally ends.

A Bad Attitude About Gratitude – Get ready for a stream of posts

Hey there friends. I’ve missed you guys and have been thinking of you all a lot. Since my last post, we’ve had approximately seven hundred and sixteen conversations. In my head, that is. I’ve been talking to you while I put yogurt in my daughter’s lunch and forget to pack her spoon. I compose tweets and essays for you while I shave my belly in the shower. I take you with me everywhere.

I’m just having a hell of a time writing it all down. I keep trying, but it won’t come out. It’s like trying to blow your nose after a cat has walked into the room. Your sinuses inflate like one of those airplane lifejackets and the pressure makes you wish your eyes would pop out. And then a trickle of snot touches the edge of your nostril and it feels like lighter fluid and your nerves ignite and the tip of your nose sizzles like an M-80 fuse and you reach for a kleenex and whisper a prayer and suck in a breath and close your mouth and push it out and blow, blow, blow for the salvation of your soul!

And nothing comes out.

That’s what it’s been like writing this post.

Anyway, I’m doing it now. This is me giving one last grunt to clear my head so I can push out the one-sided conversation I’ve been having with you. Hopefully, now you can actually respond, and your voice will penetrate into the echo chamber of my self-obsession and let me be more like a real person. At least for a while.

The essay I’ve been chewing on, and which is about to come at you like a snot-rocket, is about the struggle for gratitude. If you’ve ever felt like shit when someone wrote #blessed, this series of posts is for you. Especially if it made you want to scream and throw your coffee because you love that grateful person and genuinely want them to be deeply, thoroughly, orgasmically blessed but COME ON, now I feel like I have to be #blessed, too, and I just can’t right now, okay?!?

The grateful part of me is numb and it might have fallen off. I haven’t looked at my blessings in a long time partly because I forgot and mostly because I’m only really in touch with the spider-leg hairs growing out of my navel. And with them, I’m so intimate it’s transcendent, but ultimately I guess it’s not healthy, because look at me failing at basic human empathy. And I can’t even explain why other people’s gratitude makes me think about how horrifyingly privileged I am and how I have no goddamned right to sit here sighing and sobbing and thinking violent thoughts. But I am.

The idea of gratitude can be a guilt trap. But I’m pretty sure it can also be the only way to catch our breath in a shitty, unfixable situation. Like knowing that you’re pathologically morose, and melodramatic, and self-centered, and not being able to stop being that way. I think the bad news is that we need to figure out how to do gratitude if we want to feel better.

More importantly, we need some kind of grasp on gratitude in order to do better: to be a little more functional, to contribute more and to fuck up less for the people around us. We want that, right? Even if we have serious doubts that we’ll ever actually be better. We have to try to do better on the outside. The whole point is to try.

So here comes my attempt to wrestle with Critter over my shitty attitude about gratitude. It’s a long ramble, so I’ll break it up into parts. The first one is called, “First World Problems.” Enjoy, I guess.

Thanks for Letting Me Work Through It

A letter from a depressed person to the people around me.

Dear Friends,

I just want to say thank you for letting me work through this particularly hideous season of my soul.

I know the stuff I’ve been writing lately has been worrisome, and I’m so sorry it made you feel down. On one hand, I’m deeply grateful that you care enough to worry when I am struggling so hard. But on the other, I’m totally bummed that I ever let you walk away without a smile.

I want you to know that I AM okay. Not well. Definitely struggling worse right now than I have in a long time. But not giving up.

I promise never to give up. The living, or the writing. Or the parenting, which is honestly one of the hardest things to face right now.

The writing is hard in its own way. I am pushing myself harder than I ever have before, artistically and productive-ness-ically. I am cracking my shins on my limits, and it makes me want to scream. Like walking face first into a glass door between what I can do, and what I desperately, furiously, ravenously want to create. I’ve got the most serious case of artistic blue balls the world has ever seen.

The hardest lesson I’m trying to learn is to let myself work through the process. Be patient and stop screaming at my fucking self. Just give myself time. (And find an appropriate place to rub out the fury.)

This is exactly what I need to do in parenting, too.

And it’s exactly what you’re letting me do, here. By listening without covering my mouth.

I want you to know I will never judge you if you need to take a break from me. That’s a very healthy way to handle it when someone’s personal shit is overwhelming you. I adore you for being there when it feels right, and I adore you for taking space when you need it, so we can come back together when we’re both in the right headspace.

And I want you to know, too, that it’s okay to tell me how my posts make you feel. That’s really good feedback for me. As a writer, and as a person. Trying to figure out if I’ve gone too far when my emotional radar is malfunctioning is like trying to drive blindfolded. I need to hear when I’ve bumped up against something, so I can think about it and figure out how I want to navigate it.

I can’t promise my sense of what’s funny or important will always suit your palate. But I do promise to try to make this blog as much as possible, a healthy relationship between you and I.

So that means that right now, I need to give you an enormous hug and tell you thanks. You are a thing that helps me keep swimming in the sea of garbage soup.



PS – I’m going to try some different things on the blog.

One is that I want to devote more airtime to the things that help me.  Obviously, something is helping. Otherwise, I’d be drowned by now.

I haven’t figured out exactly what the formula is for talking about mental illness in a helpful way; my gut tells me that we can’t just skip past the ugly stuff, but my heart says that can’t be all there is.

So, my plan for the next couple of months is to try mixing gritty, on-the-scene reporting about the sights, sounds, and smells at the bottom of the trenches, with a bit more sharing about the things that help me catch my breath down here.

The other thing that is tugging on my sleeve is that I want to have more conversations about this mess. I get stuck sometimes trying to write, because all I have is questions, and no answers. I feel like I have nothing to offer you. But then I get a chance to actually talk with someone, and they let me lay my palm on their raw, sticky feelings, and I get something precious. We both do. I can’t articulate what that thing is, yet, because it’s not like we come up with any answers, no new thoughts we haven’t already had. But there’s something about that moment when I share sensation with someone… feel our heartbeat synch up for a moment… it’s like it makes me real.

I’d like to share that with you. Create conversations with you, opportunities for you to say things to me and to Critter, too. And I’d like to share some of the goose-pimply conversations that I have with the seriously amazing people that I know. Not just copy-pasting private texts! And not secretly webcamming either, you kinky thinker. But maybe interviews, or something.

Oh yes! And reading. I’m going to expose you to footage of me reading. I hope it gives us mutual pleasure.

Speaking of, I had a freaking blast last night at the “It’s a Weird Winter Wonderland”. The reading was super fun, but so was just hanging with some of my favourite primates on the planet. I am deeply in love with the fact that I get to fumble around and try to figure myself out as a writer and make mischief with all of you.

Until we meet again, know this: You mean a lot to me. It’s okay to take a break from me. I’m never going to stop trying to make sense of all of this. And you can give me a dingle to come sit with me and Critter anytime.


Bang Your Head Against the Wall More Gently

“Stop starving your heart. Put your face into the garbage soup ocean and start sniffing. Snort ’til you catch a whiff that stirs the neck hairs of your soul. Then, chase it. Swish your limbs through the muck and don’t stop until you’re dead. That’s it. That’s all that living is.” – Critter, on how to survive as a slug in the anus of a decaying universe.

“Hey! Wake up.”

Critter is leaning on me with all her weight, trying to shake my shoulder.

“Uuuuuuuuuuuuugh.” I answer. “Go away.”

“We have to talk,” she says. I roll my face into the pillow.

“It’s important!” she says. “The whole forest is freaking out.”

I raise my head. “What forest?”

Critter rolls her eyes. “The urban forest. Everybody’s talking about what you did.”

I sit up, my eyes scrunched. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Critter hops onto my lap and puts her tiny hands on my shoulders.

“Is it true?” she asks.

“Is WHAT true?!?”

She gives me serious face. “Did you. Kick. A deer?”

“Jesus fuck, no! Where did you get that?”

Critter flops down on her haunches. “Huh. Thought so.”

I raise my eyebrow and glare at her. She shakes her head.

“Should have known,” she says. “Squirrels are dicks. Gossipy, shit-disturbing dicks.”

I grit my teeth. “You’re telling me that squirrels are spreading shit about me?”

Critter nods. “Janet Fattail is swearing up and down the river that last time you walked at the park, she saw you assault a family of deer. Says you snuck up on them. When the mother bent down to eat, you kicked in her ribs. Then you tried to climb up and ride on the fawn.”

I smack my forehead.

Critter smiles. “Of course it isn’t true. I’m so relieved.”

“I can’t believe you thought that of me.”

Critter shrugs. “You’ve been off lately. Don’t deny it.”

“Yes, I’ve been fucking off lately. I can barely stand the sound of my own breath. That doesn’t mean I’m going to break somebody’s ribs.”

Critter tilts her head.

“It’s hard to know where your lines are,” she says.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you’re a little self-destructive right now. Things you wouldn’t have done a few months ago are not so clearly in the no-go.”

I look away and blink tears out of my eyes.

“I don’t want to hurt anybody.”

“I know,” Critter says. “But you’re BURSTING with rage. And sadness. And want. You’re kind of in that place where people snap. Do something awful, just to feel something different. Lash out to cut through the despair.”

The tears start to pour, hot tracks down the sides of my nose.

“I don’t know what to do,” I whisper.

Critter jumps off my lap, onto my dresser. Then she leaps back and sets the kleenex box next to me. She drapes her soft belly over my heart and lays her head on my shoulder. The weight of her body presses against my chest. I sob, and sob, and blow a quart and a half of snot into tissues. They stack up in a soggy pyramid by my knee.

“I bet you wish those were masturbation rags,” she says.

I snort. “That’s a guy thing, Critter.”

She shrugs.

When I catch my breath, I stare at my hands.

“I’m a waste, Critter. I’ve got nothing. I will never have anything to give. I can’t make my brain work. Every tiny, normal sensation turns into three-and-a-half weeks of all-consuming obsession. Do you have any idea how many nights I’ve laid awake, fantasizing about scenarios that would be completely fucking awful? And how many days I have lost, writing dissertation-length, deeply heartfelt responses to people I barely know on Facebook, while my kids beg me to play with them?

I can’t play with them, Critter. Can’t even make myself want to. They feel like sand in my teeth. All the whining, arguing, fighting, refusing. Constant resistance. Constant demand. An incessant buzz of complaint. I can’t fucking handle it. I don’t fucking like them as humans right now and I can’t meet their underlying needs and guide them to behave any better because I can’t stand to be mentally in their presence long enough to get through to them.”

Critter looks at me with her eyes and mouth drooping. Like a sad dog.

“I faceplant into every puddle I pass, Critter. When I finally get my feet on the ground and try to work, it’s garbage. It’s taking me ten times as long to do every little thing, and in the meantime, the shit I was supposed to do has piled up on top of me. A mountain I can’t climb out from under, let alone summit. I can’t do this. I can’t do anything.”

Critter pats my leg.

“All I want to do is to make things better.  But I say things that make people feel worse. To my kids, to my friends. To my husband, every single fucking day. They’re all wrapped up in the whirlpool of my sick feelings. I don’t want to hurt them. I’m desperate to make it better. But I’m making it worse.”

Critter snuggles her butt beside me, and we sit there, staring into the distance together.

“You don’t have to fix it,” she says.

I shake my head. “I HAVE to fix it. I can’t stand this. I’m going to die if it doesn’t get better. ”

“No, you won’t.”

“Goddamn it!”

“You won’t die. No one will die. Nothing will break. The world will keep on turning.”

“I hate that even more. That means there is no escape. No exit button. This nightmare will never end. It will just get worse, and worse.”

“Well,” Critter says, “the world is like that. Entropy, right? The universe has been like this since the beginning. Long before you started acting like an anal-dwelling slug. The sun in the sky is in the act of burning itself out. It’s just physics. It’s not on you.”

“That fucking sucks, Critter. How am I supposed to find the will to keep on getting out of bed? To feed my kids and fight with them and drag their oppositional little asses to school? How am I going to keep fighting to work and write and face people?”

Critter looks up at me. “You stop telling yourself that if you finally get it right, the world will become good. That’s a  lie, and you know it.”

I stare at the wall in front of me. I frown. That’s the same grease-printed, scuffed up, slumlord-buff-coloured paint that’s been there since my husband bought the place. I’ve lived here for 12 years. I always hated these blank, avoidant, impotent fucking walls. But I could never gather my resolve to change them.

Critter touches my cheek to make me look at her. “Stop trying to be perfect. You’re not. This world is not. It’s a vicious, shitty, bloody mess. Just figure out what you need to survive. Stop starving your heart. Put your face into the garbage soup ocean and start sniffing. Snort ’til you catch a whiff that stirs the neck hairs of your soul. Then, chase it. Swish your limbs through the muck and don’t stop until you’re dead. That’s it. That’s all that living is.”

My face makes this demented, one nostril-dilated smile. Like Mowgli at the end of the old Jungle Book cartoon from the sixties.

“What?” Critter asks.

“I’ve got a whiff,” I say. “I want to read. To people. I wanna do voice stuff, and read my blog posts on YouTube and do audiobooks and I don’t even know what else.”

She shrugs. “Okay. Do that.”


Tomorrow I’m going to read. To people. The last whiff I followed led to a short story that got published in a book called It’s a Weird Winter Wonderland. I’m one of the authors reading at the launch tomorrow night.

You can catch it on Facebook if you’re so inclined.

My contribution is a super weird story that tickled and satisfied me in ways I can’t fully articulate. All I know is that I’m hooked on this life, and I want to pull my head out of my own ass so I can read bonkers shit for people more and more and more. I have no idea how people will react, but even if all I get is blank stares and an uncomfortable cough, I want to do this thing.

With exactly the people I’ll be doing it with.

This is my whiff.

Critter and I hope you find yours, and that you give your inner bloodhound permission to chase and howl and raise everyone’s neck hairs.

“And may all your tissue wads be sticky with pleasure,” Critter adds.

Fucking EW.


Next Week It’ll Make Sense

Okay. So, I know depression lies. But it also impairs. And so people who telly ou you acn think your way out of it are wrong.

My therapist says I can feel my awy out of it, but I have to stop criticising myself to let that happen. And there’s another thing that I can’t do.

The criticism isn’t verbal. It’s sonsory. My lungs say “Ihate you” by crushing themselgves. My heart says I want to die by flinging itself against the back of my throat. Constantly. Monotonously. Sickeningly. It hurts and I can’t make it stop.

And my brain isn’t whispering “I’m awful.” It’s freezing. Coming up with blank spaces and error messages when I softly sob abd beg it to please do my jobs. Take kare oc my kid. Get them out of bed. Make them breakfast. Pack their lunches. Drive them safely. Resobpond to their conversation. Look at them. Just look at them. Please, brain. Please.

And it just won’t.

And I breathe through my nose and push myself forward, and take the humblings as I wander through the house, through the community center, through the day. I forget more things than I remember. I lose the trail of conversations and the reason why I came into the room and have absolutely no sense of why I woke up today at all.

IT’s all in my head. I’m just too hard on myself. I just need to be patient and accept that some days, some weeks, some sickening slides into dark, wet pits are natural. Totally fine. If I can just embrace it, I’ll be fine.

But I can’t. Every nerve in my body is screaming for comfort, and I can’t find any. Food has no tasete. Conversations have no warmth. Hugs don’t even reach my skin. I can’t. My brain can’t process any of it. Just pain.

I don’t konw what to tell you so you won’t worry about me. I have no connection to the ground. I can usually see my way out of things, even if I don’t like the answers. But this is one of those times I ca’nt see anything. I can’t look at my kids like this. I can’t even pretend today.

They say that something like 80% of depressive episodes resolve themselves within 2 weeks. All you have to do is outlast it. And find someone to feed the kids.

My greatest fear is that one of these will happen when Devon is away. Or that one day he won’t come back. I spend a lot of time pushing away those thorughts. And trhying to push away the never-satisfied rage and dysphoria that beats him up and does it’s damndestes to fulfill th e prophecy.

Am I going to be fine tomorrow? Sometimes I am, and then it all seems so silly. I can start rebuilding and wipe my brwo and say wow, that was close. Ir huh; that wasn’t as close as it felt. I dn’t know.

I was doing all the things. Exercising. Scializing. Medicating. Therapizing. Having projects and goals and hopes. Feeding the cravings. Saying no to the really bad ones. I was trying. Really, really hard. Didn’t help. It comes on anyway.

It’s very humbling. Like shitting your pants in publisc.

And you have to keep going. Somehow. YUo have to stop crying and kepp going. Do those things so your credit card doesn’t get cancelled and your husband doesn’t leave and you don’t turn into that thing that can’t even try any more.

Yur body and brain are so tired, but you have to keep going. Don’t stop.

Don’t stop. Okay? It gets better every single time.

Getting There with Wet Underwear – How to Persist Through Anxiety

“It’s not the inherent danger of the stunt that makes you freeze,” Critter says. “You just forgot why you climbed onto the trapeze. Stop and listen; if your whole body says you want to do this, get out there and do your Ringling thing.” – Critter, on how to persist through anxiety.

I am sitting on my bed with my laptop on my knees. There’s a cup of vanilla rooibos tea steaming on my dresser, and it’s making the place smell like raisin bread. It’s peaceful, quiet, and perfect for writing. But I’m stuck.

I blink at my screen, squinting and trying to focus. But the bright backlight is taunting me through the smudgy display surface. There’s also a fine spray of toothpaste dried on my glasses, and an aqua-musical of floaters doing pinwheels in my corneal jelly. I might as well be peering through a frosted glass brick. I can’t see shit. I sigh loudly through my nose.

“Fuck,” I mutter. “Maybe I should just roll over and go to sleep.”

“No way in hell you’re napping,” comes a voice from below the far side of the bed. “You’ve got shit to do.”

With less grace than a cat (but more than a dog), my imaginary raccoon pokes her face above the edge of the mattress and clambers up beside me.

“Hey, Critter,” I sigh.

“What’s up?” she asks, leaning over to peek at my screen. “Why aren’t you tappety-tapping your way through another thrilling tale of low self-esteem?”

I look at my made-up muse, then look back at my laptop, and frown.

“I’m stuck,” I say.

“What’s got you in its jaws?” Critter asks.

“Muck,” I say. “Some serious gloop. My brain feels like it’s been tarred and filled with that heinous fluff that poplars crap out in May.”

Critter nods her head knowingly.

“Ah,” she says. “A classic case of gunk-head, or as we call it, the cerebral piles. Raccoons get that sometimes.”

I raise a curious eyebrow.

“Sure!” Critter continues. “We get mentally constipated, too. But it doesn’t get us down. We just stick a finger in there and dig it out.” She makes a circular motion with one of her dainty black digits.

“Jesus Christ, Critter!” I groan, covering my eyes. “I’m never going to get that image out of my head.”

My raccoon chuckles.

“It all comes out in the end,” she says with a smirk. “You just need to get those cognitive bowels moving,” she says. “Now tell me, why can’t you work?”

I open my eyes to scowl at my disgusting guide. Then I dig both hands into the short mop of hair at the back of my head and scrub my scalp with my fingers. Finally, I drop my hands onto my thighs and sigh.

“I don’t know, Critter,” I mumble. “I’m just super foggy. I can’t concentrate on what I want to say.”

Critter tilts her head.

“What DO you want to say?” she asks.

I reach back up to my hair and bury my right hand, pulling and twisting sections as though it will stimulate thought.

What AM I trying to say? I ask myself I can hardly remember.

I look down at my notebook beside me, where I’ve sketched a rat’s nest of braindumps for three pieces that need writing. The first is a letter to my daughter’s school, the second is my blog post for the week, and the third is a short story that has me equal parts delighted and terrified.

These pieces are straining against the inside of my skull with thoughts and intentions that need to come out. But I can’t put them into words.

All I can think about is what a crappy job I’m going to do of them. I kind of liked my last post about anxiety and artistic nudity. I’m 100% sure the next thing I write won’t be as good. I’m fighting hard against the urge just to leave these next three failures unwritten.

I’m useless right now, I think. If I try to force it, the pieces will be god-awful.

I look down again at my two pages of scrawled planning. It’s broken up into chunks with circles, underlines, and arrows darting this way and that. The whole thing is a bloody mess, and it’s failing to ignite any inspiration or confidence. I do NOT want to do this right now.

But, deadlines.

I shake my head and frown.

Critter reaches over and rotates the notebook so she can have a look. I watch her eyes track the bumble-bee’s path from one thought to another, wondering what she makes of it. When she’s done, she turns the notebook back to me and looks me in the eye.

“You’re scared.” she states.

“Huh?” I say. “I’m not scared today. Just fogged-up” I lift an elbow and pinch the fabric near my armpit to test for moisture.

“See?” I report. “All dry.”

Critter shakes her head and looks at me kindly.

“Fear doesn’t always look like sweating and shaking and chattering your teeth,” she says. “When it goes underground, fear can look like anything.”

I frown.

“Then how do you know it’s fear?” I ask.

“Because it shows up as a compelling reason to hold yourself back from what you want,” she answers.

I look across the room to the curtained window and consider this.

Is that what’s happening here? I wonder. Am I lost in this brainfog because I’m afraid to get working? 

Then for no obvious reason, a memory from last summer materializes in front of me.

I am standing in line at an adult gymnastics gym, waiting for my turn to try an exercise. I’m in a class called Ninja Warrior (after a TV gameshow, I’m told, though I haven’t seen it). The workout is designed to prepare you for an obstacle course race like Tough Mudder.

I’m not a member at this gym, and I’m definitely not registered for Tough Mudder. As a struggling writer with two little ones at home, I don’t have the time, money, or focus right now to commit to Ninja Toughening.

What I am is an out-of-shape mom who snatched up a Groupon to sample this weird workout, because it reminds me of the fun I used to have before kids.

That’s why I’m standing in line a dozen-or-so people much fitter than me, with my face stretched taut in a smile I can’t control.

This is going to be fun! I squeak inwardly. Look at me having fun!

My classmates and I are arrayed in front of a long trampoline. Above it is a set of gigantic monkey bars. They are about ten feet or so above the bouncing surface, and the rungs are about four feet apart.

Our challenge is to start bouncing, and get enough height to reach a bar. Then, the coach demonstrates how we will take a few swings and fling ourselves through the air to catch the next rung.

I watch the others; some skip the exercise altogether, citing bad shoulders; some get partway there (able to bounce up to the first rung, but not catching the second). Some master the whole maneuver with the effortless grace of a circus-trained primate.

I watch those who make it through the stunt, and I want to do it, too.

But I’m scared. There is a film playing in the back of my head where I see myself miss the second rung and fall backwards. I whiplash my neck into the trampoline, or land with my neck horrifically bent, my head crushed beneath my own shoulder. It’s not a pretty scene. My stomach twists.

In front of my real eyes, my classmates are doing fine. No one else is falling backward. The coach is letting people who seem vertically or athletically challenged climb up onto a boxhorse to reach the first rung.

One after another, the students either shake their heads and step out of line, or climb onto the trampoline and take a crack at the outrageous move.

Everyone who tries either catches that next rung, or misses and lands on their feet. I see that no one is getting hurt. This could be doable.

That’s when I realize how BADLY I want to do this. The part of my mind that is not screaming, “Danger, Will Robinson!” is projecting what success will feel like. And it’s delicous.

I imagine myself nailing the stunt: I feel my legs swing, my hands release the first bar, and my belly swoop with a great tug of gravity.

Just as my flight begins to arc downward, I catch the next bar, and swing through smoothly. I can feel success sing in my shoulders, hips and spine… a delicious lengthening that opens physical space and unimagined possibilities between each vertebra.


I stand there in line, watching this imagined scene and feeling a grounding surge of awareness centred on in my belly button. I feel miraculously alive.

I want it. I want to grab that fucking bar. I want it so bad.

I rub my hands together, gathering heat. They are cold and damp. I look down at them and see a sparkle of salt crystals in the whorls and creases of my palm. I shake my head. The fearful vision returns of the back of my skull whip-cracking onto the trampoline. I close my eyes and push it away.

“This won’t do,” I mutter to myself, frowning. I wipe my soggy paws on my useless, non-absorbent lycra tights and scan the room for a bucket of chalk.

Success! There it is behind me, a 5-gallon pail pushed against the wall at the next station. I whisper my thanks to the gods of grip enhancement and dart out of line to partake of the protective mineral.

There is a whole brick of it sitting atop a mass of loose white powder. I grab the hunk between my hands and work it vigorously like a bar of soap.

It’s overkill. I open my palms to check the effect, and they look like doughnuts caked in powdered sugar. I rub them together to release the excess back into the bucket. It clumps like soggy sand.

Hope that dries before the next sucker reaches in, I think scrunching my face at their imagined disgust.

Then I look up to check the progress of the line, and see that I’ve missed my turn. My classmates are going for a second round on the ape bars.

“Shit!” I squeak, and bound over the thickly matted floor to rejoin the back of the lineup.

The line moves much more quickly this time, and before I know it, it’s my turn. The instructor looks at me and tilts his head.

“You’ve done this before?” he asks in Russian-tinted English.

I shake my head, my eyes big like baseball.

“You start on boxhorse,” he decides. I nod gratefully, and climb up onto it.

The nearest bar is right over my head. I can reach it without jumping.

“Grab bar and hang,” he says. “I move the boxhorse.”

So I reach up and hang, lifting my feet while the coach slides the boxhorse out from under me.

“Swing now,” the coach says. “You swing legs up, then fly to next bar.”

I swing. Back and forth, once, then twice. This part is easy – it feels like fifteen years of playing at the park, and junior high gymnastics, and all of the playful thrill I have ever enjoyed in my body.

My legs are kicking plenty high. I know I have enough momentum to fly to the second rung. I can feel the rest of the class watching me, their arms crossed, chests heaving, catching their breath and preparing for another round.

They’re waiting, I think. I’m ready. GO!

On my third swing, I kick my legs forward, feel them swing up, then snap them down and whip my upper body into the empty space. I rush weightlessly between what I know I can do, and what I hope, and fear, and crave in my guts.

I feel myself flying forward. I know I released at the right moment, and my trajectory is true. I can feel my position in the emptiness; my head is ahead of my spine, my arms are ahead of my head, and everything is going to be fine.

It’s not until I feel the mallet-blow on my left wrist that I realize my eyes are closed. I had no idea that I overshot, and instead of reaching the next rung with the meat of my palms, I crash into that steel bar with the veins and tendons at the base of my hand.

My left arm hits first. The impact reverberates like a gong strike, booming into my elbow and the back of my teeth. The hand curls into a useless claw.

My right arm is slightly behind, and that wrist doesn’t hit as hard. The hand is still usable, and it swipes reflexively to grasp the bar as I start to drop. But only the tips of my fingers catch. It’s just enough of a snag to pull me off-center, my left side plunging faster than my right.

I spread my limbs like a star in an effort to right myself, but as I am in midair, it doesn’t accomplish much. I crash onto the trampoline, not with the back of my head, but with the side of my left foot and curled left claw.

The rest of my body follows in a heap. The gym falls silent. I look up and see a dozen faces frozen in concern.

“I’m okay!” I croak, as I push up to my knees. Then I shuffle to the edge of the trampoline and climb down.

The room breathes a sigh of relief. My heart hammers in my ears. Everyone turns back toward the front of the line. I take my place at the back.

I’m going to do this! I think. I stand in the line and watch the others take their third turn. They are accumulating confidence. I clench and release my fists at my sides, then press my hand into my sternum to slow the galloping beast in my chest.

It’s my turn again. I look up at the coach, and he considers me a moment.

“Boxhorse?” he asks.

“Yes, please,” I answer.

The scene repeats.

I reach up and hang. My stomach drops. I glue my eyes to the bar ahead of me, and begin to swing.

One, two, three times I pump my legs. On the third, I snap them back and fling myself forward. I am flying through the air, waiting for the slap of steel in my palm…

And am surprised by another resonant whack across my tender wrist.

My right hand catches, and then slips. Just like before.

I look down and prepare to meet the trampoline as it rushes up at me. I get my left forearm and knee under me. My body follows in a plop onto the stretchy black fabric, with slightly more control than the first time.

No one stops breathing this time. My face glows red as I climb off the matted edge of the bouncer and shuffle humbly back into the lineup.

“You cannot see the bar?” the coach asks.

“I think I’m closing my eyes,” I mumble, looking at the floor. My face feels so hot I’m sure it’s purple.

The coach shrugs and leaps effortlessly onto the trampoline like someone whose natural habitat is made of mats and springs and bars.

“Now,” he says to the athletic fellow next in line. “We bounce to each bar. You jump, you catch. You drop, you bounce to next bar. Bounce-catch, bounce-catch. Yes?”

He demonstrates, and the class murmurs understanding. One by one, everyone takes a turn. About half of the students are able to jump high enough to reach the bars. I am among those whose fingers strain into empty air on every bounce.

After my first time through, I watch my classmates more closely. The ones who make it up to grasp those bars are mostly men, but there are two women who can do it.

So, it’s not just a guy thing, I tell myself.

I compare the body size of the people who hit the mark. The women are both several inches taller than me, but two of the men are near my size.

So, it’s not just a height thing, I conclude.

My second round goes much like my first. Bounce, streeee-tch… miss. I experiment, holding my gaze and arms up just a second longer before I look down and coil up for the next bounce. It doesn’t give me any more height.

But as I pass the apex of my jump and begin to fall with my head still tilted upwards, a sickening spasm jolts through my stomach. I feel my center start to fall backwards.

With a horrified jerk, I snap my arms and head forwards, and manage to throw my body out of the perilous backward lean. I land folded, squatting with my hands on my knees and my ass in the air. I waver awkwardly as I still the bounce of black cloth and squeaky springs.

“Hehehe… almost had it,” I mutter, smiling sheepishly to no one as I climb off the trampoline.

I am still chuckling nervously as I step into line for the last round.

The next person to approach the apparatus is a tallish guy in his late twenties. He looks like he hasn’t been inside a gymnasium since it was required for graduation credits. He presses his lips together as he bounds heavily through his failed attempt: bounce-miss, bounce-miss, bounce-miss.

The coach watches him, frowning. Then he addresses the class.

“It is not knees bending,” he explains. “Knees locked. The feet are springing.” Then he demonstrates.

The coach is barely taller than my 5’2”. And probably several pounds lighter than my overburdened frame. But this little man launches himself off the trampoline again and again, his rebounds peaking at eye-level with the bars. His legs are straight, toes pointed. Face relaxed. Like it was the easiest thing in the world.

If he can do it, so can I, I tell myself. It’s technique, not brawn. Just gotta make it click.

On my third turn, I climb onto the trampoline and glare at it’s woven surface with determination. I swing my arms and begin to bounce.

I look up at the first rung and count my bounces: one, two…

I prepare to explode on bounce number three. I lock my knees and push downward with every muscle in my body. I’m going to MAKE that trampoline launch me to my mark.

But all I produce with this fierce blast of effort is a jet of hot urine in my underwear.

Time slows. I feel my eyes bulge and my jaw drop in surprise. My explosive spring collapses into a stunned float, and I arrest my bounce midway down the trampoline. For a heartbeat, I am frozen.

When I start to breathe again, I turn to look at the coach. But he’s not there. He has already led the rest of the class over to the next station.

I slither off the trampoline and skulk quietly off the floor. I find the bathroom and lock myself inside without turning on the lights. I’m surprised my hot cheeks aren’t producing a pink glow.

When I finally flick the lights on, they hesitate with the unmotivated flicker of old flourescent tubes. I look in the mirror and see myself in flashes. I am breathing hard. I am bent over, my hands gripping the sides of the sink. My mouth is open, expressionless.

As the flickering light finally snaps decisively on, I look into my own eyes and start to grin.

“Ho-lee shit,” I whisper. “I just pissed myself!” My eyes get wider and wider, and I swear they look slightly misaligned. I am wracked by competing urges to laugh and cry.

“I look like a lunatic,” I cackle quietly. “Dear fuck, I feel like one!”

I hear a murmur of voices from outside, and realize I’m talking to myself with my outside voice. I press my lips together and breathe hard through my nose, eyes still locked on their own reflection. My heart begins to slow.

I watch my body change as the adrenaline begins to fade. My shoulders start to ease away from my ears. My hunched neck begins to straighten. My death-gripping hands release the sink.

I stand up straight and take a deep breath. I feel it fill my belly. My weight settles into my hips, through my knees, and onto my feet. I become aware of the floor beneath me. I breathe again.

I sit on the toilet and pull down my pants to assess the damage.

Yup, those are some wet undies, I think. But then a thought occurs to me. Did it leak through my tights?

A quick check is inconclusive; the anemic bathroom light and strong dye on the black lycra conspire to hide what I’m sure is a large splotch of shame.

Note to self, I chuckle inwardly. Add incontinence pads to the gym bag.

It occurs to me that there are probably a lot of moms who have added bladder-control products to their athletic routine. Childbirth isn’t kind, y’all.

Then I remember that serious athletes probably do a shitload of kegel exercises after they have their babies so they can run and jump again without wetting their pants.

Finally, I realize it’s been a long time since I was anything close to a serious athlete. I don’t have time to rebuild my pelvic floor muscles before my Groupon runs out. And I don’t want my wimpy bladder to keep me from embracing this sweet slice of fun.

I AM having fun, right? I silently ask my reflection.

I look carefully into the mirror; the crinkles around my eyes and leftover flush on my cheeks whisper, “Fuck yes!”

Alright, I say to the mirror. We’ll be back, then. But for now, it’s time to go home and grab clean pants.

But I don’t go home. Like a total lunatic, when I exit the bathroom, I hang a right and head back out onto the floor.

The rest of the class is a margarita mix of lime-bright fear and smooth tequila satisfaction. We take running leaps to catch a trapeze, and time our release to go sailing over a thigh-high crash mat and land on the other side. I’m not half-bad at that one. It gives me the delicious flying sensation I was craving on the monkey bars.

Then we use cupped palms, straight arms, and straight legs to run up a sticky pole. My feet slip on that one about seven feet off the ground. It makes me gasp and I nearly pee some more, but I don’t fall.

My least favourite exercise is running up the curved wall. I have trouble moving my feet fast enough, and take a tumble on my way down.

Through all of this, no one says a word about my grade-school “accident.” No one splashes water on the front of their pants in solidarity, either, a la Billy Madison.

I’ll never know if my classmates noticed my wet pants, or what they thought about them. And I’m good with that.

Finally, the workout is almost over. The coach leads us off the main gym floor and points up a wooden staircase.

“The stunt tower,” he said. “Now, we practice falls.”

My heart flutters.

This is what brought me to this gym. The ad for the Groupon featured a picture of a dude summersaulting off this two-storey tower onto the exact same red and white crash bag I see below.

My face stretches back into that cheek-straining grin I wore an hour ago, when I was contemplating the monkey bars.

This is it, I think. I get to fly!

One by one, my classmates make their choice: they either descend the stairs to sit out this last feat, duck below the platform to jump off the lower level, or proceed straight ahead to leap off the top platform.

“You jump legs forward, land on back, arms to sides,” the coach shouts up at us from beside the crash bag. “Body like a cross.”

Wha?!? I think. Won’t we hit our heads on the platform?

I had been expecting something else; if not the front-flip from the ad photo, then maybe a forward leap and roll to our backs.

“Or,” the coach adds; “You face backwards and just fall back.”

Fucking NOPE! I say in my head. I need to see what’s happening.

Legs-forward it is.

My fearful movie screen flickers on again, showing a vision of me leaping out… but not far enough. I begin to lay back in the air, and hear a meaty thwack as my occipital bone cracks against lumber. A shiver runs from the arches of my feet up to the back of my scalp.

“No fucking way,” I mutter to myself. “That is NOT going to happen.”

“Huh?” asks the guy behind me.

“Uh, nothing,” I mutter. My cheeks get hot.

“Next!” shouts the coach, and I realize it’s me.

I gasp a breath in and step forward to the edge of the platform. I’m at the top of the tower. I am very relieved to see they’ve built a short railing on the side. I grab it with my right hand and squeeze it a few times.

“When you are ready,” the coach says. His face is neutral. “Take big breath. Straighten body in the air. Spread your arms when you land.”

I look down. The surface of the crash bag is shimmery… I briefly wonder if it’s made of silk, or nylon. And then suddenly, I jump.

I push hard. I hear wind in my ears as I lean back and tense my whole body as I wait to strike the bag. There isn’t even time for a full heartbeat.

Thwap! My stretched form punches into the bag. My butt has landed ahead of my shoulders, and the uneven momentum whips my head into the bag. It rings a little in my ears, but I’m fine.

I blink and stare at the ceiling while I catch my breath.

Holy fuck! I think. I did it! I FLEW!

“You’re alright?” the coach asks. I roll over, rise onto all fours, and turn to him with a thumbs up and a gigantic grin.

The coach nods.

“Stretch arms more,” he says. “Land evenly.”

“Got it,” I say, and slide off the edge of the enormous air pillow to take two more turns to sail off the tower before it’s officially time to go home.

Back in my bedroom, with my computer on my lap and Critter at my side, the gym scene fades in my mind. My cheeks are warm from remembered excitement.

Critter is sitting beside me, gaping at me. She has followed along with my thoughts.

“Wow,” she says. “You seriously peed yourself at the gym?”

I smile sheepishly and nod.

“That’s impressive,” she says.

I chuckle.

“It was worth it,” I say.

Critter nods and grins.

“Honestly,” I admit, “I can’t figure out why that memory is sticking to me right now.”

Critter eyes me with her head slanted.

“I think you want to make a point to yourself about being scared,” she says.

“Like what?” I snigger. “If your bladder is weak then you gotta wear Depends?”

Critter smiles.

“You already learned that one,” she says, winking. “What have you not figured out yet?”

I breathe deeply and think about it.

“I guess what I remember most about that class was how scared I was, but how that uncontrollable craving to feel weightless kept me going,” I say.

Critter nods and strokes her chin.

“I think that day at the gym taught you the secret to conquering fear,” Critter says. “It’s desire.”

I consider this.

“It’s not the inherent danger of the stunt that makes you freeze,” Critter continues. “You just forgot why you climbed onto the trapeze. Stop and listen; if your whole body says you want this, get out there and do your Ringling thing. There’s a net, you’ll be fine.”

I raise my eyebrows.

“That’s weirdly apt,” I say. “As usual, you freaky little genius.”

Critter grins and I scratch the top of her head.

“You humans are unique in the way you cling to your fears,” she says lazily. “You really suck at predicting the future, but keep stubbornly trying.”

I nod and keep scratching her scruffy scalp.

“Amen, sister,” I mutter.

I smile as Critter’s eyes start to close, lulled by the comfort of my touch.

Then she cracks one eye open at me.

“So, you going to climb back on that boxhorse?” she asks. “Get back at your writing?”

I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I search inwardly for the desire to do these pieces.

“For the letter to my daughter’s school,” I say, “the desire comes from a problem that needs to be addressed. It’s going to be uncomfortable to bring it up, but there’s a chance it will make things better for everyone involved. I have no idea what kind of response I will get, but I’ve got to speak up.

For the blog post, the desire comes from my need be useful – to produce something for my readers that rewards them for sticking around.

For the short story – whew, that’s the one with the biggest fog of fear wrapped around it. But in the cold spaghetti of my guts, I can still make out the desire: I want to take a crack at telling another kind of story that is rattling its chains in my head.”

Critter raises an eyebrow.

“You’ve become my comfort zone,” I admit to my imaginary friend. “I am dying to step outside this situation where you always save the day and see what happens when I go wandering through my ideas on my own,”

Critter nods.

“You can handle it,” she grins. “But you’d better come back and tell me all about it,”

“Promise,” I reply.

“There you go,” she says. “You found your reason for doing these terrifying things. Now, it doesn’t matter how scary or hard it gets. Just remember: your need is your north star. Keep it in view, and it will guide you home.”

I smile at Critter. She steps away from my stroke, then leans down and pats my hand.

“Just keep showing up on the trapeze platform,” she says. “With your pants as wet as necessary.”

Critter chuckles. Then, she gives me a smile that warms me head-to-toe and leaps off my bed to leave me to my tappety-tappings.

Both of us wish you a lifetime of “Holy fuck I just flew,” and “I peed myself and don’t even care,” kind of moments.

Serenity Prayer for Mental Illness

“God, grant me the clarity to recognise what I can control and what I cannot, and the imagination to walk through my own warped storylines like a badass.” – me, right now.

“Is this hell, Critter?” I groan to my imaginary raccoon. I am sitting up in bed with the light on. It is 1:00 am and my two-year-old is cough-howling in the next room.

I lay George RR Martin’s A Clash of Kings face down on my bed. In the back of my mind, I can hear the spine silently straining and feel the glue threatening to let go. I picture the pages of this well-loved tome creaking toward the same heart-rending explosion that befell my worn-out copy of Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald.

My heart sinks.

“Please… hang on!” I whisper to the book.

I paw frantically through tangled layers of blanket to find my bookmark while my sick baby chokes and wails next door.

Jesus Christ, woman, GO! A clear-eyed version of me shouts to myself.

“Fine!” I say out loud. I rush around the end of my bed, but take the corner too fast and whack my thigh against the edge of the frame. That’s gonna leave a bruise.

“Ow! Fuck!” I hiss.

I stumble the few steps into the hall, then wrench my little one’s door open and drop to my knees at her bedside.

“Shhh, shhh, sweetheart. Mommy’s here. Shhhh, shhh… come here, just breathe, Baby,” I mutter as I scoop her up.

My little lovey buries her face into my chest and hacks and howls. It takes two or three minutes before the obstructive goop works itself free in her airway. When she can finally breathe, she sucks in a lungful of air and pushes it back out as a piteous wail.

Jesus Christ, this is awful, I think.

A few days ago, I’d sat in the doctor’s office with my little pestilence culture on my knee describing these scary plugged-chest episodes.

“I know it sounds like she’s dying,” the doctor had said, “but really, she’s fine. It’s just a nasty bug. It will take at least a week to work itself out. Bring her back if she’s not starting to get better within two weeks.”

What if I can’t make it two weeks? I had wondered.

My husband had just left on a work trip. I was getting tag-teamed by my most dreaded foes with no backup. If I had had a nickel, I wouldn’t have risked it on my odds of victory.

I was struggling as a solo-parent, night nurse, and freelance professional. The past three days had been excruciating: my oldest daughter had overwhelmed me with a constant flurry of infuriating arguments, while with my youngest (the human petri dish) bawled and clawed at me 24/7, begging me to let her crawl up underneath my shirt.

I had a deadline tonight. The client had emailed three times today to touch base and add new thoughts to her project. I was straining for every word on her piece, with my brain running on the fumes of four hours of sleep in the last two nights.

It felt like infant care all over again. It felt like hell.

Back in the baby’s bedroom, I stand beneath the dim blue stars projected by her night light and hold her tiny hot head against my skin. I rock for her comfort, and for mine.

What the fuck am I going to do? I wonder.

“Whatever needs doing,” comes a whisper from my shoulder. “You’re the mom. Just do what needs doing.”

It’s Critter. She has climbed up next to my ear and is gazing at the top of my little one’s head with melting kindness.

“She’s having a rough time,” Critter says, and strokes the baby’s soft hair exactly the way I do.

“She’s SO miserable,” I whisper. “I need to make her feel better. I need BOTH of us to feel better!”

Critter turns her soft green eyes to me. She touches my cheek with her delicate black fingers and breathes deep.

“I know,” she says, “But you can’t. You can’t control this. It sucks. But she is okay. And so are you. You just gotta ride it out.”

A tear swells in the corner of my eye.

“I don’t think I can, Critter,” I whisper.

“One thing at a time,” she answers. “Let’s start with some Tylenol. I think she’s due for another dose.”

I check my watch, and as usual, Critter is right. The last dose was at eight o’clock. Maybe another mouthful will give my baby’s battleground body some relief.

I cuddle my hairless gorilla child under my chin and Critter rides effortlessly on my shoulder as we descend the dark stairway.

The baby flinches when I click on the hood light above the stove. Then she sits up eagerly when I grab the familiar bottle of ache-relieving suspension.

My left arm starts to go numb with her small weight on my elbow. I manage to shake the bottle and fill the syringe mostly one-handed, without dropping anything or anyone. The little one drinks her dose and sighs. At least this is one task that doesn’t give her pain.

Next, I dip a Q-tip into a mix of antacid and anti-histamine and dab it on the sores lining her lips and mouth. For a “harmless virus”, this bug has been vicious.

Then, I stand in the dark kitchen and cuddle and sway my sick girl until her breath starts to soften and slow.

I carry her back up the stairs and lay her gently in her bed. I curl up next to her in the converted crib (yeah, I’m that short) and listen to her suck her thumb and whimper until she falls asleep.

I carefully peel myself out of the bed and slip the door closed behind me. As I crawl up onto my own bed, I find my freaking bookmark. I slide it between the ruffled pages of my abused paperback, and press hard on the covers as if this will straighten out the kinks and waves. I put the book on my dresser and stare at it.

“Aren’t you going to bed?” asks Critter. I had forgotten she was there. She hops down off my shoulder and arranges some folds of mussed-up blanket into a nest. Then, she curls her grey-brown body into it, sighs contentedly, and looks up at me expectantly.

“God, I wish I could just shut down and go to sleep right now,” I say. “I know I need to. I just can’t. My brain is fried.”

Critter considers me.

“I know this isn’t really hell,” I continue. “It might be if the baby was seriously ill. Or if my husband wasn’t coming back.” I start thinking of the people I know who have been through these trials, and worse.

And then I think of my friends who have infants and are living this kind of constant, gut-wrenching demand month after month.

Then I think of my loved ones who have had recent devastations, and ones whose nights of heartache and bleary-eyed torment have lasted years.

“This is nothing,” I say. “But it feels like doom. I’m fucking useless.” My heart goes thud-a-thud in my throat, and I can hear myself screaming in the back of my mind. I am too strung out to cry. I just stare, and rub my burning eyes, and feel the pressure building behind them.

“What do you need?” Critter asks.

“I don’t know!” I cry. “God, I wish I knew. So many people have offered to help. I just can’t figure out how. The baby is stuck to me like an octopus. It’s not like I can just peel her off and plop her on someone’s lap and go to the spa. By the time I finished explaining about the small handful of things she can kind of eat right now, and the popsicles, and the meds, and the salt-water swish, and the Q-tips and the…”

Critter puts her paw up to stop me.

“I get it,” she says. “Good lord, that’s enough.”

My eyes brim with water.

“I keep thinking,” I say, “about how if someone asked me for advice, I would tell them to make a plan… figure out what you need, and just ask for it… but I can’t. I can’t see past the end of my nose. I have no idea what I need. I need sleep, and that can’t happen right now.”

Critter listens patiently.

Her quiet makes me want to scream. I am bracing myself for a splatter of judgement from her mouth… she’s going to tell me I’m being dramatic. I just know it.

Critter just keeps looking at me, her moss-coloured irises reflecting the lamplight like warm little torches in her soft black mask.

My hands ball into fists.

“Stop looking at me like that!” I shout. “I know I’m being ridiculous. I know it, okay?!? I can’t stop! I can’t! I can’t make it stop! I’m ridiculous! I can’t!!” My cries dissolve into sobs, and I cover my face with my hands.

I feel movement on the bed, and then a gentle touch strokes my back.

“Shhh… it’s okay. I’m here,” Critter soothes. “It’s okay. You’re okay. We’re going to figure this out.”

I lift my face and wipe my eyes with the back of my wrist.

“Huh-how?” I hiccough.

Critter tilts her head, thinking.

“Bring on the drama,” she says.

“Huh?” I ask.

“If it feels like drama to you, let’s go with it,” she explains. “We’ll save your life with role play. Pretend that you are going through epic hell – like a horror movie. And then become the badass heroine who survives.”

I let this thought sink in. I think I like it.

“Like Michonne, on The Walking Dead?” I ask.

Critter grins.

“Exactly,” she says.

That new frame changes the whole picture.

Suddenly, I don’t give a shit anymore about how other people would handle this mess. The dead crust of shame flakes off my skull, and the shiny pink flesh beneath is grim and determined.

I let myself dive into the reality of it – the hideous way it feels, the non-negotiable things my girls need from me, the degree to which I am handicapped right now, and the tasks I can honestly let go.

My scenario starts to come clear. I know what I need to do.

I’m going to make myself get up and take the big girl to school tomorrow. But I’m not even going to try to get dressed.

I’m going to finish this piece of copywriting work, and then help my client find another writer –  someone who has the time and energy to maintain the intensity her project requires.

And forget dragging the kids through the grocery store. I’m ordering that shit online.

And I’m ordering in our dinner for the next couple of days. I don’t care if it has to go on my Visa. I’ll figure that out when things are better.

Fuck it. Let’s do this.

I’m going to get it done like my favourite dreadlocked ninja.

Here’s why Michonne is my favourite character on TWD; it’s not just because she works a katana like a Cuisinart and is as cool and inevitable as the Columbia River in the face of fear.

I love Michonne because she always dives into the mess, rather than running away.

She neutralised the zombie corpses of the men who took everything from her and used them to walk safely among the dead. That’s not just fucking brilliant, it’s wisdom and courage and clear-eyed honesty. This fictional woman represents unassailable emotional strength, right down to her made-up marrow.

Michonne can admit when things are shit. She can also admit when she’s been too hard on the world, and pry herself back open.

And she never hesitates when the way out of a jam is to plunge your fist straight into its rotting middle. She slimes herself with gore when it gets her where she needs to go. And she gets there. Every time.

I can’t help but wonder if Michonne has a guardian raccoon, too. She certainly finds many interesting uses for rotting meat.

“Alright, Critter,” I say. “I’m going to be a badass. I’ll get through this fortnight of hell. Even if it’s not pretty, I’ll still be standing when the sun comes up. Or when the cavalry shows up in the motorhome. Or whatever.”

Critter stands up and hugs me around my neck.

“Atta girl,” she whispers. Then she turns, and with a wink at me over her shoulder, my imaginary raccoon hops off my bed and trots out of the room.

Here’s what Critter left me with this week, and which we hope will help you, too:

  • Just do what needs doing.
  • What do you need?
  • We’re going to figure this out.
  • Bring on the drama.
  • Become the badass who survives.

And I’d like to add – Get your food delivered. Critter says she’d be happy to bring you a care package, but I promise, you won’t want what’s inside a dumpster-diving rodent’s Tupperware. You can take Critter’s advice, but not her catering.

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The Sixth Day of Griefmas: The Art of Reaching Out for Help

Today’s post about how to reach out for help is going to be a short one. It’s been a rough day; my brain could not get a grip on my time or emotions. It feels like I’ve been trying to run on ice, and I’ve pulled all my mental muscles.

“Why don’t you let me handle the post today?” says a voice at my side.

I look over, and there is Critter. My imaginary raccoon has crawled up onto the bed beside me. She looks at the computer on my lap, puts a paw on my arm to stop me typing, and looks at me with concern.

“I’m fine, Critter,” I say. “I just need to bang this out.” But as I say it, a voice inside me groans.

Critter can hear it. Her eyebrows roll from a look of supplication to suspicion.

“Sure you are,” she mocks. “that’s why you lost it this morning on the girls, failed to get them out the door to daycare, and wasted half your day weeping through fifteen minutes-worth of paperwork.”

I don’t even have the energy to argue. Although she is being kind of a bitch.

I just rub my eyes.

I put my hands back on my keyboard and stare at the screen, thinking hard. What was I trying to say?

Critter waves a paw in front of my face.

“You’re doing it again,” she says.

“Buzz off, Rodent.” I mutter, and keep staring at the screen.

Critter crawls right up onto my keyboard.

“Hey!” I shout, as her butt types a long string of q’s.

Critter straightens up and puts both hands on my face.

“Go to bed!” she commands.

My heart starts pounding.

“I can’t,” is all I can say. My mind races, words tumbling over each other with the dizzy speed and heat of those gigantic gas dryers at the laundromat. My thoughts come out shrunken, with just a faint whiff of burnt.

Critter squishes my face until my mouth puckers between her paws.

“You’re glazing over,” she says. “Don’t do that. Come back.”

I heave my eyes back into focus, and plead with her.

“I can’t, Critter! Don’t make me think. I just can’t. Let me finish this…” I trail off.

Critter sighs loudly and drops her hands to her sides. She sits there on my keyboard and looks at me with her head tilted for a moment or two. I just stare back.

Then, she straightens up.

“Listen,” she says. “You are not accomplishing anything here. You have reached the point of diminishing returns. Actually, I think you hit it last night, but you just kept on going. Like a drunk driving home with a stop sign dragging underneath the car. You didn’t even notice.”

I chuckle. Critter smiles.

“You need to pull over, now,” she says. Then, she strokes my forehead. “It doesn’t have to be the all-Laurie show, you know.”

“But, it’s my blog…” I say. “And my freelance business. And my kids. And my laundry. And my meals…”

“And your brain,” Critter interrupts. “Which is currently making loud noises and belching smoke. Can’t you see it?”

I take a slow, deep breath. Well, I can’t see the smoke… but I can feel it, the chafe of unlubricated synapses grinding against each other and chewing one another into dust.

“That’s not how it works,” Critter blurts.

“I don’t care,” I groan.

“Hey,” she says, “before you start calling me nasty names, can’t you please just admit that you need help?”

My thoughts get high-centered on this concept.

Critter is not the first one to suggest this in the last couple of days. I hear echoes of myself saying the same damn thing to my friends who are struggling. But I can’t wrap my brain around what that would look like for me.

“I don’t understand what you mean,” I say to Critter, frowning. “How am I supposed to ask for help? I already have a counsellor. I lean hard on my husband, spend precious money on daycare, have hired coaches for business and writing… I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. It’s not like someone can come and do my work for me.”

Critter furrows her face and considers.

“How are you supposed to ask for help?” she says. “I don’t know. This isn’t a thing for raccoons. When we’re tired, we just stay curled up in the den. When we’re ready, we come out. It’s not an epic drama.”

I think about this for a moment.

“You bring up a good point,” I say. “Part of the reason it is so hard to ask for help is that people have a ton of expectations of each other.”

“Yeah, you do.” Critter agrees. “You people always make things over-complicated. We think it’s hilarious that you consider yourselves such an intelligent species.”

“Well, we can’t all live on garbage,” I say, frowning.

“Too bad,” Critter answers.

“Anyhow,” I continue, “the hardest part of asking for help is negotiating those expectations. It’s humiliating to have to say to someone, ‘I’m weak, please have mercy on me.’ And it kind of screws up your relationship. The other person either decides that they have no time for you and your fat handfuls of disappointment, or they feel sorry for you, and put themselves in this awkward position where they are afraid to expect anything of you.”

I express a heavy sigh. This conundrum has always made me ache.

Critter looks at me kindly.

“And the worst part for you, is deciding that you can’t expect anything from yourself,” she says.

This makes my eyes well up. They are so puffy from sleep deprivation that the tears won’t spill. Those swollen grey pouches can hold a lot of water.

I blink hard to empty them, and wipe at the raw corners of my eyes with my sleeve.

“I just hate being a let-down,” I whisper.

Critter stands up against my chest and nestles her head into the crook of my neck. I reach up and stroke her back, pausing on the barely perceptible sounds of my hand swishing across her coarse fur, and her heartbeat fluttering against my collarbone.

“Are you going to forgive yourself?” Critter whispers into my ear.

Holy crap, I think. I don’t know.

Although I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to ask for help, I recognise that I need to do so. And more importantly, I realise that what’s holding me back is not so much a lack of creativity, but a refusal to give myself permission.

I don’t know the secret to asking for help gracefully. It’s definitely an art. It requires a fine balance between advocating for your own needs, and acknowledging the other party’s.

In the end, asking for help comes down to a critical choice in your relationship; do you address your struggle and make room for your partner to do the same? Or do you hold back and watch in silent horror as you let them down?

Tonight, if you feel like you’re losing control, but don’t know what to do, I hope you will open your mind to the possibility that speaking up about your struggle might give your strained relationships a chance to heal. And I hope it makes room for new ideas to come that help you manage your needs and obligations.

May we all have the courage to face our weakness, do what needs doing, and accept ourselves as we are.

Like raccoons do.

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