It's not you, it's us (but we could use some kindness)

We humans are pretty good at helping friends or family with obvious illnesses. There are meal chains, get-well cards, bouquets of cheery flowers, and prayers at services. But we humans are not quite as skilled at ministering to loved ones who are battling “invisible” illnesses like depression, anxiety or PTSD.

If you have a friend who is bright as sunshine one day, then disappears off your radar for weeks, you might be dealing with someone whose inner battle has escalated to a dangerous melee.

Please, please do not take it personally. Ask how their brain is doing; don’t assume they’re an antisocial fake jerk. They are already embarrassed by their need to withdraw. They want to want to hang out. They want to be that sunshine for you every day. They want to be blithe with a brain that only whispers kind things to them. But it’s not that simple. Chances are good they are in pain.

Even those with mental illness who eat well, exercise, create things, take meds, talk to therapists, visit psychiatrists, meditate, and steer clear of recreational drugs can have vicious setbacks that are completely mortifying to them. If someone trusts you enough to tell you it’s their mind acting up again, believe them the way you would believe a friend who confided that they are fighting cancer.

Dump the stigma. Do kind things for them without being asked, because chances are good they will not ask, because they already feel like a terrible freak and an utter failure. If they seem anxious about a social event, remember this: It may only be a little get-together for you; to them, it may drain them of precious life for a week afterward.

I have a brain like this, a brain I have a love-hate relationship with. It tells me I would be better off not here, but it is the same brain that says, 'Look at that sunrise! What amazing children! Oh, this is love!' It is very hard to explain this mind to those who have not lived with a brain that can be calm one minute, and vicious and scathing the next.

I have trouble knowing where I could possibly belong, with this brain. I don’t handle changes in plans easily. I don't like surprise visitors. I need lots of down time, alone and with a chosen few. I can’t just always “go with the flow.” I jump to the ceiling if I hear an unexpected noise. If I try to be the social creature I think you want me to be, just because I adore you and don't want to let you down, I will often pay dearly for it the next day, the next week, the next month.

Please know these brain illnesses are very much genetic and biochemical and above all, very, very real. And exquisitely painful. Be kind with those who dart back into the shadows. I know you miss them. They miss themselves, too — their least panicky, most chill selves.

Be gentle to those who are brave enough to tell you what they think they can handle and what they think they can’t. If they are telling you that, they love you and trust you more than you realize. Believe them if they say they are in pain and can't handle having company at the moment. Send notes. Cuddle them if they are cuddly sorts. A quiet 30-minute cuddle is better than a 10 mg Klonopin for a yes-touch-me type. (Just make sure your lovey is a touch-me-when-anxious type.)

Don’t stop inviting your neuroweirdos to social events; just let them know you love them plenty even if they can’t make it, and that they are always welcome in your life. We need our neuro-balanced dear ones. We need voices that argue on our behalf, that we are good enough and worthy of love. Our own minds cannot always do that for us, and that is precarious territory. We're pretty sure we're more trouble than we are worth. That's a hard way to wake up every day. Many of us would rather not wake up, because we know we will wake up with the same brain we went to bed with the day before. And we've tried All the Things. So we wake into the world gingerly. Will it be an okay day? Will we get stuff done? Will we meet up with someone for lunch? Or will we need to hide, need as much quiet as possible?

Trust me, on behalf of all neuroweirdos, we love you lots. Which is why is hurts so much to feel like we are letting you down. We can see in your eyes you don't quite understand what the problem is. The thing is, we don't either, and we really wish there were one magic pill that could make our brains behave. But it's more complicated than that by far.

We're doing the best we can to stay here on the planet with you, raise families with you, send you off to college, take you to amusement parks, make memories with you, ones in which you remember us as strong and funny and healthy and beautiful. We are doing the very best we can to do things that scare us or overwhelm us to so we can stay in your life, because we think you rock. And we are the best friends ever when it comes to accepting your flaws and mistakes and imperfections, because we know better than anyone that this life thing is HARD and nobody makes it through unscathed. Please help us to stay on this spinning globe with you by being as patient as you can, taking time for yourself when you need it, and reminding us of anything, literally anything, we've ever done right. It really helps. I swear.

you me us

You drive me to the airport once again,

through the unkind dark before dawn we 

both know too well.

This time, there is no wolf in the mood

for a passing salute. Your worn blue 

running shoes hitch a ride, back seat.

In case you did not know: 

I am learning from you that love lives 

in the quiet between soccer podcasts 

and NPR broadcasts. 

I am learning that love lives

in the rumbling gaps between 

highway mile markers,

in the spaces where our rough fingers 

come together again and again

to make things right when words are

wrong, when no words will do.

Untitled by Roy Croft

I love you,
Not only for what you are
But for what I am
When I am with you.

I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself
But for what
You are making of me.

I love you,
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you,
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.

I love you because you
Are helping me to make
of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.

The kitchen sinks

In Massachusetts I stand at the kitchen sink
with no view. I nudge the faucet right to
get cold water, and I wonder what happened
to the yellow clock that once did me the favor
of standing in for the sun.

In Wisconsin I stand at a kitchen sink
with a view. I had forgotten what it was
like, to consider light this way, to
contemplate the odd twist of a tree,
the weather, what I might have said—
while my fingernails scrape congealed
oatmeal from the new bowls.

Here, I nudge the faucet left to
get cold water, and I wait. Here, 
the cold water is in no rush and
takes its good old time. I wait and
I remember when half of you
was gone from me, but this way:
head and torso communing with
the plumbing, unseen,
your thick bare feet and stained
trousers a better view than the one
just outside the window. If I knew
how I would nudge you to hot
and show you what I would like
to remember.

 

Start with what you know

Start with what you know. Your face. Your neck. Your shoulders, and all that rests below.

The freckles are getting bigger. You refuse to call them "spots." But you know this is age, reminding you that you are part of the human race. You are not exempt from the mottling, the grays, the aches, the droop, the sag, the parchment skin of your grandmothers. You loved their skin, can feel the thin, dry, papery touch of it under your plump child's hand. Skin was not then something to fear.

How to Meet Meryl Streep (2005)

There are many, many things you must not do right now. But here is what you must do: stay calm. Breathe as deeply as you can, which is not very deeply at all. Your ribs are crumpling from the pressure. In case you lost consciousness for a moment, you are standing two feet away from Meryl Streep, under the suspended halves of a very large boulder...

Sailing lesson

I. EMBARKING

We embark on our nautical adventure
knowing and not knowing a few things,
separately.

You're not so sure about your sailboat motor anymore.
Like you, it's over 40 and doesn't like to admit
that it's always sore in the mornings...

The door

The door would not close.
I had tried for years
to close it behind me.

So like me, to fill a room
too full, to keep too many
useless things, to fear
pardoning the ghosts...

this silence

This silence would be deafening
if you could hear it, still. 

It broke you years ago, when
you were seized with a fit
of wanting needing so violent
you dug your way out through
your own skin...