Tag: brother’s death

Grief and Loss, Pandemic Prose, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Prozac in the Time Of Pandemic

Dear Reader:

I woke today to find, with a quick look at my social media feed, that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week . How appropriate, I thought as I swallowed one 20mg Prozac with my morning coffee. That’s not the first time I started my day with a little help, but it’s the first time in nearly a year.

I’ve had an on again/off again relationship with Prozac for twenty years. I filled my first prescription a month after learning of my younger brother‘s terminal cancer diagnosis. At the time, I didn’t have the luxury of pondering the merits of antidepressants. It was necessary.

I was a stay at home mom with a four year old daughter. I had to function reasonably well so that I could take care of my girl. Children can really help to clarify things in life. Decisions become easy.

I did express concern and ask my doctor about how I’d get off the medication when the time came. But, it’s the type of question that you ask even though you know there isn’t a good answer. My brother was given three months to live. He lived for a year. I needed both counseling and pharmaceutical help during that year and in the year that followed.

I don’t remember when I made the initial decision to stop taking the meds, but l remember other moments through the years when I either resumed use or discontinued use. Life goes on and there are challenges along the way. I have consistently believed that I should take the meds only if I need them. I experiment.  If life seems stable, I try to live without Prozac. Sometimes it works.

I have learned that, for me, a regular schedule of very intense activity can affect me positively both physically and mentally. During the time that I lived in Carmel and worked with Jonathan at Zone Fitness, I was able to remain drug-free.

Upon my arrival in Sacramento, I slipped into depression and had to resume my meds. In November, we celebrated one year in our new home. I was beginning to make friends with my new city and I felt better. I had established a new fitness program. My daughter was set to graduate in December with a job in…wait…can you believe it…Sacramento. Life was good.

That brings me to three days ago when I started to cry a lot. The week had brought a few minor interpersonal irritations, news of the death of one of my daughter’s favorite teachers and an injury to my right leg. Plus, there’s this pandemic! Maybe, I was feeling exactly as I should?

I paused and pulled out the old familiar tool box.

  1. Am I reluctant to leave the house?
  2. Has my personal grooming ritual fallen off?
  3. Am I schlepping around in sweats and napping often?
  4. Am I retreating from social life?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

The threat of COVID-19 has changed so many things including the criteria for determining if I need medication. But, I didn’t need to take a deep dive to find my answer. I knew the answer at a gut level. And, I am blessed to live with a man who has known me since I was 16 years old. I had only to ask the question: do I seem off?

I am a woman who has everything: a loving spouse, a wonderful daughter, and a beautiful home. I also have a mental illness. I am depressed.

In the past when I’ve written about this topic, people have commented: “Oh, how brave of you!” I’m still not sure how to respond when I hear that. I can, of course, see that the comment is meant to be a compliment. But, it makes me sad, nonetheless. Why I wonder is mental health still a taboo subject? If I said I was suffering from high blood pressure (I’m not), you might say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” But, I don’t think you’d call me brave for revealing it.

I don’t think I’m “brave.” But, the fact that there are people who do, keeps me coming back to the subject. I feel compelled to share my story if it helps anyone. Today, I decided that I need to take care of myself. Adding Prozac back into my daily routine is one way to do that.

Best,

Michele

Creativity, Family, Friends and Neighbors

My First Tattoo!

Traditional Tattoo
I’m going in!
My First Tattoo
Meet Brian, my tattoo artist
My first tattoo
Winnie likes it!
My tattoo!
It matches my black Lululemon’s!

Dear Reader:

My daughter insists that she remembers the day we passed a tattoo shop in Lahaina, HI and I said, “Someday, I’ll get one!” She was five years old, so I would have been 42 years old. I don’t remember the moment, but I’m sure it’s true.

I stop to admire people’s tattoos all the time, and sometimes I ask if I can take a picture. My phone is full of random shots of stranger’s body art. So, when Natalie told me she had a second ear-piercing done at a tattoo shop, I thought…it’s time! I visited her the following weekend and asked her to accompany me to Traditional Tattoo. I figure a college town is a great place to find a good shop; they work in volume.

Before an artist begins to work on you, there’s paperwork to be completed. I laughed out loud when I read the question on the consent form asking if I was drunk or in any other way unable to make a sound decision. Ha, ha…I thought…I’ve been planning this for 16 years!

Then I met my artist, Brian, and told him my story and showed him a picture. I wanted a shell on my ankle because two of the three most important people in my world have or continue to call me “Shell.” My dear, sweet brother, who was four years younger than me, could not say: “Michele.” So, he abbreviated from a tender age and continued to call me that until he died in July 2001.

Sometimes, when there’s a death, little things like nicknames will disappear. But, I’m fortunate. My husband of 32 years mourned the loss of Matt with me. And, he picked up where my brother left off and still occasionally calls me “Shell.” It always touches my heart when he does. (I haven’t told him that…oh, now I have!)

There’s one more very good reason for me to carry a shell around with me; I’m leaving my home by the ocean to move to a tree-lined street in the city! You can read more about that right here in the coming weeks.

Brian checked out my photo and asked if I’d like it exactly as shown or if I wanted him to artistically interpret it. You guessed it. I told him to put on his artist’s cap. He came back a short time later with a tracing of a shell and I agreed to it immediately. I was then ushered back to a room that resembled one in a dentist’s office…if the dentist was really wild.

I took a seat in the dental chair and felt the butterflies alight in my tummy as he cleaned my ankle and started to prep for work.

“Two things,” he said. “Do not move without first giving me a head’s up. AND NO WHINING!”

“I don’t whine,” I said as my daughter took my hand and nodded in agreement.

He began the work slowly pausing to allow me to gauge the level of pain I was going to feel. I knew I could handle it. It’s a small tattoo. From prep to clean-up, it was a mere twenty minutes and we passed the time easily talking about his three daughters and the ink he’d placed on his wife’s body. We laughed when he told us that he sometimes gets carried away checking out his work and noting needed touch ups when his wife would rather he stay focused on her other assets.

My art was covered with a special, medicinal tape used for burn patients, so my after-care has been easy. Nothing was needed until I gently peeled back the tape four days later. After another four days, the redness has dissipated and I love the look. I continue to simply clean it  and apply Thayers Witch Hazel Toner and Vanicream lotion to alleviate the itching.

As we left Traditional Tatoo, my daughter asked if I’d be back for more art. My initial response was “No!” But, within ten minutes, I noticed that I kept referring to my shell as my FIRST TATOO!

Well, dear reader, have you been inked?!

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Grief and Loss

Forever Young

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Matt Lehman, February 1964 – July 2001

Dear Reader:

I’m a writer; I love language.  But sometimes a picture says it all. Just a glance and you can surely see the joy and the pain I feel when I think of my brother. He was handsome, charismatic, kind and very easy to be with. It seems impossible that he’s been gone for 17 years. He will remain forever young as he is in this picture joking about his girlfriend’s early morning romp through the water.

Michele

Dogs, Grief and Loss

Dia De Los Muertos

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My altar
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Catrina draped in my grandmother’s rosary beads
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A lamp made by my brother

Dear Reader:

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a misunderstood holiday celebrated in Mexico, and in my home, on November 2. Given the timing of the holiday and the macabre imagery and costumes, people assume it’s simply “Mexican Halloween.” But, the meaning of this holiday is so much greater.

In the year 2000, my 35-year-old brother was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer and I did what I always do when presented with a major life challenge; I researched and read about the topic of death. Books have always been my saviors. During the toughest year of my life, as I watched Matt die, the accumulated wisdom of others brought me comfort. It was during this time that I learned about Day of the Dead.

The holiday takes its origins from the Aztecs and was celebrated around the end of summer like Halloween. With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, Catholic influence led to the combination of the holiday with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. Dia De Los  Muertos follows the same two-day structure. In the Catholic tradition, All Saints’ Day calls us to reflect upon how we should live; All Souls’ Day is a celebration of those we’ve loved and lost. In the Mexican tradition, November 1 is the day to remember the loss of children and November 2 is the day to remember adults who have left us. The most important aspect of the holiday is the belief that the spirits of the dead join the living for the celebration.

In preparation for the party, altars are created that contain remembrances and offerings to our departed loved ones. (Sugar skulls are often included for children and alcohol for adults. You may have noticed KAH tequila in my display.) I love arranging my tribute each year and I love talking about my altar to visitors in my home. Those who are represented are gone but not forgotten; that truism is comforting to me.

I remember:

  • My grandmother, Rose Carmella Bartucci. She had a big heart and memories of her make me smile. My daughter never knew her, but her middle name and nickname (Rosebud) are in her honor.
  • My brother, Matt. I miss you so much.
  • My father-in-law Jim. My husband inherited all your best traits and my daughter adored you.
  • Bart, my faithful four-legged companion. The pink shed isn’t quite the same without you.

During the time that my brother was sick and following his death, I often felt very alone in my grief. It’s not easy or natural to speak of death and dying in our culture, but I believe very strongly that we should. What better way to start a conversation than by bringing the departed back into your living room?

I’ll end this now as it’s time to toast my loved ones.

Cheers,

Michele