Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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And February Was So Long, That it Lasted Into March*

I’m calling it: January is the cruelest month. Or maybe February. Or maybe the entire January-February continuum, from New Year’s to the first of March. I always have high expectations for January. I’m off school, so I make a copious to-do list, embrace the time, and plan to walk into February light as a feather, with 56,000 new words written, my closets cleaned out, my shoes polished, my psyche clean, and my body well-rested, in shape, perfect.

Instead, this January kind of sucked. I struggled constantly to figure out which project to work on. I got some good notes towards a novel but ended up only finishing one essay. The entire family got sick, and days went to tending L and M. I fought off low-grade depression the whole time. I did clean out my closet, the last night before school started, in a burst of desperate energy. I did not get to Goodwill, get my pants hemmed, find the Savings bond I was looking for, locate an affordable piece of furniture to house the six or seven box-worths of junk that’ve been waiting in the living room since we moved in in October. I did not get a date night with M. I did not sleep very well.

I did have some nice times: one perfect, lovely weekend in Inverness, a tiny town next to Pt. Reyes National Seashore, with my creative lady friends. We hiked, meditated, did yoga, read books, drank wine, chatted about writing and art and creativity. The last day, L and M met me there and we spent the day at the beach, L frolicking in his underpants in January sun (Boston, eat your heart out). We went out for lunch in Pt. Reyes Station, the charmingest of towns. Driving back into Berkeley, I felt M’s and my energy kind of sink with the weight of the impending week, though I held onto the nice feelings from the weekend for a few days, felt lighter, happier, more possible.

But last week, when classes started, this low-grade panic took over my body. Monday night, I told M I wasn’t sure I could do it (teach these classes I have taught a gazillion times, that is. I did it, obvs). Tuesday night, I junked out on the couch, exhausted. All I could think about was getting to Friday. But now that it’s the weekend, I feel more of the low-grade panic, plus a general feeling of malaise and depression, kind of like I just don’t want this life of mine anymore. Kind of this feeling that I never get a break, that a weekend isn’t even a weekend. And that maybe I wasted January.

I know how this sounds: whiny, extreme, annoying, privileged. And I must confess that I woke up with a really rotten cold and spent the morning moping in bed, trying to sleep, so that can’t be helping my mood. But it’s kind of, well, how I feel.

I wonder if this is a problem of expectations. Or of connectivity. Like, if I hope too much for things and don’t just accept things as they are. And if I feel depressed because I realize that, even when I don’t have students to attend to, I’m already too “on.” I used to look forward to weekends; now I dread soccer and the social events that characterize them. And I’m anticipating things to come—a conference I’m participating in, a workshop I’m leading—with an unhealthy level of anxiety. The other day, I thought to myself, I just have to get through February. And at least once a day, I have fantasized about getting in the car and just driving back to that beach in Inverness and hiding out until it’s all over. Until what’s all over? Exactly. Who knows.

This doesn’t seem like any way to live.

Last week, I saw this therapist I’ve been seeing lately, and I confessed that sometimes I wonder if January has been hard the last couple of years because it’s the anniversary of the miscarriage that nearly took my life. She looked shocked; I hadn’t told her of my dramatic ectopic explosion in January of 2013. I told her that last year, in January, I commemorated the miscarriage by getting salmonella and spending a week in bed, thinking far too much about what had happened a year earlier. This year, the depression, the family getting sick, and then a trip to the ER because I thought I might have a blood clot. I told her how, being back in the ER for just an hour (I was fine) last week, I had this strange desire to go back upstairs to my old room and stay the night, nurses poking and prodding me, everyone else in control. I didn’t want the loss again, but I wanted something else.

“Well,” she said. “Trauma works like that. We often have trauma anniversaries, times when we just feel off as the body remembers what’s happened.” She suggested I revisit the trauma, heal it, so I can move on. I haven’t thought of myself as deeply traumatized by what happened, honestly. But it still makes me teary to think of it, to write about it, so maybe there’s something to it. Maybe January is a little doomed because of it.

And I feel better even having written this. I’m sitting on my back porch. It’s the most gorgeous day ever. M is happily working in the yard. L has been a love lately. And tomorrow, it’s February. Maybe February will surprise me. Maybe next year will too. To quote Dar Williams: “You never know how next year will be.”

Love,

BB

*A line from a really fabulous and sad Dar Williams song called “February,” which you can listen to above. Thanks, Dar


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Sick Mama

I almost can’t believe what I am about to write. Warning: it’s graphic, and maybe a little shocking. And quite sad.

But let me step back. I loved bussokuseki’s evening comment on my last post, “Sick Kid”:

My Zen teacher said something to me on Sunday that I have been sitting with since, and of which I am reminded reading this post: “Could it be that this moment, this very moment, is the moment I have been longing for?”

Not just accepting…but longing for…? Even if you aren’t sure of the answer, what incredible space this question opens up.

I thought of this twenty minutes later, when Lex was vomiting so hard he had puke in his eyes, his nose, his ears and his hair. We took him into the bathroom and gave him a bath, and then my sweet boy lay pale and red-lipped in his daddy’s arms while I put his bed back together. I decided to sleep in his room that night in case he needed me, but the sickness had passed and he didn’t throw up again. I asked myself whether I could have been longing for that moment, and decided I was: one of the beautiful, fundamental things about being a parent is being needed. And I was not unhappy to be going to bed that night knowing I’d be needed the next day, and maybe even that night. I was ruminating a lot on parenting, and how it throws your life into tumult, and how you must long for that tumult. I thanked bussokuseki in my head for helping me see that.

I was seven weeks pregnant, you see.

At four a.m. I woke up feeling like I, too, had the stomach flu. I started to vomit and have diarrhea and I was so uncomfortably…uncomfortable I couldn’t quite sit with myself. On the way to the bathroom to throw up, I passed out on the floor. I made it into bed, and spent the day in agony. Calls to the advice nurse yielded little since we kept insisting that my son had stomach flu and I must, too. They agreed. I was not bleeding; I was not miscarrying, I kept thinking, because I was not bleeding. But I was in so much pain and agony that I kept passing out. I’d huff too much air in an effort to get over a wave of nausea–though I’d stopped throwing up much, much earlier–and black out. Eventually around 7:30 p.m. I told Marc we needed to call 911. He was skeptical, I think we both were; the cost, the extravagance. But I knew I was dying of dehydration if nothing else, and I suspected something else might be really wrong. And I knew I could not get myself into the car and over to the emergency room without help.

Marc called my friend Steph, then 911. Steph took three minutes to get here. 911 took six. When they arrived–six uniformed men straight off the cover of a firemen porn magazine, and me sweaty, my teeth unbrushed, unable to breathe, dying–I felt enormous relief that someone else could take over. Being carried into the back of an ambulance, given oxygen, asked questions, prodded, poked, none of it was as I’d have expected. I kept thinking how I could not long for any moment that had happened all day, not one of them, save perhaps being in the back of an ambulance and not having to deal with the agony anymore.

At the hospital, it was more of the same: they gave me fluids, they gave me oxygen, they did blood tests. They were still treating me for extreme flu. I started to worry that I would leave the hospital feeling no different than I had, just slightly more hydrated. The doctor mentioned an ultrasound. Yes, I thought. Could the baby live through this flu?

Around midnight, the news all came together: my hemoglobin count was at 7, the pregnancy hormone was 9,000, I was anemic. The ultrasound happened and the doctor put it this way: “I think we have a bit of a tubal going on here.”

I don’t remember when everything registered, but all of a sudden I got it: I was anemic because I had an ectopic pregnancy and my fallopian tube had ruptured. I was bleeding internally, hence the horrible stomach pains. I needed emergency surgery and the fetus, unviable, was floating around somewhere and needed to be removed. There was so much blood they couldn’t see for sure which tube was ruptured. Just the week before I’d found myself thinking how much surgery terrified me and that I hoped I’d never have to do it. In the hospital I realized I had no choice: I would likely die if they didn’t operate.

The story has, I guess, a happy ending: an hour or so later I came out of that operating theater alive. I lost a liter of blood and one fallopian tube and, obviously, the fetus. Marc was with me the whole time, minus while I was being operated on. I have an active imagination for the “what if?” and he and I have needed to go over it a hundred times: what might have happened if we’d waited any longer? The good news is that we did not. The good news is modern medicine. The good news is those EMTs. The good news is Steph so gracefully arriving to sleep on the couch until we called my father in law, who came from the city in the middle of the night to relieve her and get Lex to school the next morning. The good news is the friends who have brought food and taken Lex for playdates. The good news is my husband, who has been an incredible nurse, even with his Ratchett-like moments (forcing me to drink the last of a raw kale smoothie, insisting on a walk down the block). It is good to be nurtured and encouraged to heal. The good news is my parents flying out this afternoon.

The sadness is there, but it’s secondary, floating, strange. Since telling my family and a few friends what happened so many women have volunteered their own losses: multiple miscarriages, absorption of twins, other stories of ectopic pregnancies. I was even in the very hospital ward where my friend C had to spend five weeks because one of two identical twins was stillborn and she needed to be on bed rest until they could safely deliver the other. These stories all put mine in context. What feels different is that the loss of the pregnancy is almost a separate issue, because it turns out we could very easily have lost me.

I hesitate to ask if this is all TMI–too much information–for a blog post. But I don’t know how I would go on in this blog if I didn’t come clean. I wonder how the Buddhist practice supports one through a trauma like this. I think I will be figuring that out.