Baking Bread Memories

When the kids were little, I used to bake bread. A lot of bread. I made bread for 2 and 3 families at a time sometimes. I loved baking bread.

Learning to Bake Bread

I didn’t grow up knowing how to bake bread. There was no Internet either, of course, so I would borrow books from the library or, when I had money, I would buy some books on how to bake it.

The very best bread book I ever got was Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.

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I used Laurel’s book so much, it became Scratch-n-Sniff from all the food I spilled on the pages. (My La Leche League Whole Foods for the Whole Family was like that, as well.)

I read and read before ever trying that first loaf. I’m sure I almost memorized the Basic Recipe by the time I poured the first packet of yeast into the bowl of warm water. After a few months, I never had to look at the recipe again; I could feel the different amounts and measurements.

Dough

It’s been 30 years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread, yet I can still smell the scent of yeast as it was mixed with the warm water. I tried lots of different sweeteners to “feed” the yeast… sugar, honey… but settled on dark molasses.

When I learned yeast was a living being, it changed how I saw raw dough. I began treating the dough with more purpose and attention. I respected the yeast more, hence also the dough.

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I didn’t know anything about Mindfulness back in the 80’s, but if there ever was a mindful meditative state, it is when kneading huge blobs of dough.

I learned that adding flour (I always used whole wheat flour, spring wheat if possible), even to the counter so the dough didn’t stick, wasn’t the best idea, that dough stops being sticky after kneading until you feel like your hands are going to fall off. Then you knead that long once again.

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My dough was darker because of wheat flour and molasses.

Before learning to respect the dough, I plopped it into any ol’ bowl, even plastic ones. Forgive me! I didn’t know any better! Once I learned more and shifted my attention, I bought 2 enormous glass bowls, specifically for rising dough. Learning to cover the dough with plastic wrap was an epiphany, but I also got myself 2 white cotton dish towels to protect the dough as it rose. I didn’t realize it, but I’d developed a Bread Baking Ritual.

The Periphery

I always had to set some dough aside for the kidlets, so they could knead at the dining room table. I’d sprinkle flour over much of the table and the kids would be busy for an hour, creating their dough shapes, letting them rise and then waiting to eat them after they came out of the oven. Oh, how I wish I had pictures of those times. I can see it clear as day in my mind, though. It’ll have to reside there forever.

When it was time to “punch” the dough down after it rose the first time, I did just that… punch… finding it amusing to watch the dough curl around my fist. After my this-stuff-is-alive realization, I began being gentle pushing the dough down again. I would use my hand like a spatula and slide against the side of the bowl, watching the (gluten) threads stretch then snap back to the mother-dough.

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I nudged the dough down before folding it neatly, then covering it with plastic wrap again and placing the white cotton dish towels on top, allowing it to rise (in half the time as the first rise!) once again.

Into the Oven

After the second rise, I hand-spatula’d the dough down once again before separating it with a plastic scraper into the proper sizes for the bread pans. Over the years, I tried a variety of ways to keep the baked bread from sticking to the pan: oil (yuck), Crisco (not bad), but finally settled on Pam spray. I curled the raw dough into the bread pans, covered them with plastic wrap and the dish towels yet again, allowing them their last rise.

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I wanted slashes in the top of my bread. It took at least 100 times before I didn’t deflate my dough trying to get a lovely slash in the top. I tried sharp knives, serrated knives, forks… even razor blades… and always struggled with that part of baking. Eventually, I learned to zip the knife through fast, not slow and deep. Just pull the knife quickly. Poking around for pics, I see there are now dozens of tools to make beautiful scores in your bread. But back in the olden days….

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My Nose Knows

It was when I began baking bread that I realized I had an interesting cook’s gift; I can tell when baked goods are finished cooking with my nose. I need no timers, there is a distinct scent that wafts around the house and I’m able to get the bread or brownies or pie out of the oven before any burning occurs and without any under-baking.

Out of the Oven

There is no smell so heavenly as fresh baked bread right out of the oven.

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It was a red-letter day the first time I tumped a loaf out of its cooking pan without it falling apart. Once the loaves were out, I put them on cookie racks to cool.

As with the slashes, I had to learn how to cut the bread. This was a shorter learning curve, quickly passing on the dinner knife and non-serrated knife. A sharp serrated knife is definitely the way to save your loaf from looking like crumbs. If you have the capability to let the bread cool even just a few minutes, it won’t fall apart as easily as right out of the oven bread.

And then the butter. Ahhhhh, butter. Not margarine… ever! The fresher the butter the better. Slathering it on, watching it melt into puddles on the bumpy surface, air bubbles holding the creamy sweetness aloft, just waiting for your first luscious bite.

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Types of Bread

Besides the Basic Whole Wheat Bread I made every day for years, I experimented with other types, rarely finding success.

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Sourdough Starter

I could not ever ever ever get Sourdough Bread right. I tried a dozen “full-proof” recipes, believed the promises that grandma’s 100-year old starter would be The One to give me a lovely loaf of sourdough bread. Nope. It never happened. It was worse trying to make starter myself! It reminded me of how I could never keep a plant alive… cultivating living things just was not one of my fortes.

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Desem Bread

In Laurel’s Bread Book, she waxes poetic about Desem (Day-zum) Bread. It is a massively complicated process that includes burying your small starter loaf in a 50-pound bag of whole wheat flour for a few weeks, taking it out for air every few days, taking away some of the dough, replacing it with new flour… on and on. And on. (I have not looked at the recipe in 30 years so I could be telling you something totally false, but this is how it was for me trying to make the Desem Bread.) How I thought I could make Desem when I couldn’t even keep sourdough starter alive was beyond me. But I tried. More than once. Failed every single time.

Where I did find success was in Laurel’s Banana Bread recipe. I started with hers, but quickly altered it to my tastes. For real, you need 6-8 ripe (not over-ripe!) bananas (“the bread will only taste as good as the ingredients”… great life lesson right there.) to make this 85-pound loaf of bread. 6-8. In each loaf. Not kidding.

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I usually made 2 loaves; one with raisins and one with nuts. I like raisins, Zack liked the nuts. You can put cranberries in there… cran-raisins, chunks of chocolate, cherries… anything your banana heart desires.

The scent of banana bread in the oven is exquisite. (I could smell when it was done as well. No timers for me!) Eating hot banana bread with gobs of butter… I’m nearly weeping remembering the taste.

Passing It On

All of my kids have made bread. I like to believe I had something to do with offering fearlessness when trying those first few times.

Technology has given us bread makers, but I know I would not use one because of the hypnotic deliciousness of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, watching the second rise, then into the pans for their third rise… all before baking.

Looking from this vantage point, there is something special about the length of time it takes from yeast proofing to butter on hot bread. Lessons in patience, small attentions and watching the making of a staple of life humbles me.

Hmmm… didn’t know I would say so much! Hope the kids enjoy this.

Whole Wheat Bread

Organic Watermelon

Into the Desert

When I was a student midwife, I went where the main midwife took me to assist her at births. So when we had to drive over an hour east of San Diego, a chaparral ecoregion covered in small shrubs and lots of desert sand inbetween, I sat back and enjoyed the view, talking about babies, breastfeeding and all things birthy. Another assistant was with us, too, so the three of us chattered during the drive.

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When we got to the house, it was… not quite a mobile home, but more like a home built out of scrap materials. Well-made, but small and quite worn, probably by the wind and sand.

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See the tiny house in the middle upper third of the picture? That is what it looked like driving to their house. That tiny dirt road was about 2 miles long.

The mom wanted to birth outside, so we set up the Fishy Pool for her.

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We put more cold water in than hot because it was blazing outside. Flies and bees were everywhere, dive bombing us while we worked.

With Fishy Pools, unless someone had a washer and dryer hook-up, we had to carry pots, pans, coffee pots, etc. of hot water from the stove to add to the cold water going in from the brand new hose.

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We set up the pool in the searing sun even though there was a Pepper Tree near. The tree housed a beehive, so a bit of a distance was good.

Howling Silence

The labor was lovely; the birth, magical.

The mom would have contractions that had her howling like a desert wolf, then inbetween, complete silence from all of us around her. If she moved, we would hear tiny splashes, but none of us spoke above a whisper, and even then only when necessary.

But from the Pepper Tree, the bees were not silent. In fact, they seemed to be amplified as our sounds faded. Buzz Buzz Buzzzzzzzing from the Pepper Tree. It was mesmerizing.

California Pepper Tree

In the short space between the end of labor and the beginning of pushing the baby into the world, some sort of surreal experience hit all of us at once. The Pepper Tree emitted a scent, intoxicating… the bees swirled around and buzzed… the flies vanished. I felt dizzy and wondered if my glucose was falling, but I saw the others were feeling something as well, our eyes gaping at each other, waggling eyebrows a bit to say a silent, “Yes! Me, too!”

It was as if time had paused for the mom to gather her strength and we were giving her ours as well.

Onward

Then the sensation vanished as quickly as it had begun, the world moving once again, moving with the baby who was born in the water soon after, sweetly and easily.

Once the placenta had been born, mom wanted to still sit outside for a bit and wanted under the buzzing Pepper Tree, so we laid out a couple of blankets with towels on them for her. She sat while we cleaned up quietly around her, not speaking unless in a whisper.

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I took note the bees and flies kept their distance and respected the new life under their wings.

These moments, from right before the birth until we rose from under the tree were… I really have no other word for it… Holy.

Mom nursed the brand new baby as dad held her in his arms in front of him.

Eventually, the heat was oppressive and the baby was getting warm and needed a fan as much as the rest of us. (Babies are rarely fanned! Keeping them warm is much more the usual routine.)

Nourishment

Before we could move into the house, the housemates, who’d been out in the garden on the other side of the property during the birth, brought over some watermelons picked mere moments earlier.

Sitting on the small porch, we caught more of a breeze, so, comparatively, we cooled off.

The gardeners proudly held out the odd-looking watermelons (“they are organic!” I was scolded). I frowned that they were not cold, but was hungry so held out my hand for a big slice. The new family was settled on a cushioned (and covered) bench, already taking bites out of the red watermelon.

As I brought the watermelon to my mouth, I caught the scent and it was so powerful, I pulled it back and looked at it quizzically. When did watermelons smell like this? Never before in my lifetime. I then opened my mouth and bit into a hot chunk of melon. I am sure I swooned, newly in love with a food I thought I knew, but really was just meeting for the first time.

“Oh my GOD, this is GOOD!”

Someone smiled and said, “This is organic watermelon.”

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I have tears in my eyes remembering the taste, the hot squishiness on my tongue, the juice oozing down my chin, hands, arms and elbows. I looked at the others, equally covered in red natural syrup and dreamily taking huge bites, consuming 2 watermelons in a half-hours’ time.

When we’d all finished, someone turned on the hose and we took turns splashing off the drippy stickiness with too-warm water.

Resting After Birth

I was given the hot and sweaty job of getting mom and baby into her bedroom, a small 8×8 room with a fan strung up high, blowing downward, the electric cord snaking from outside the room, through and back outside the window with holes in the screen. She and her partner, and now baby, had a mattress on the floor.

I got things laid out to protect the mattress, helped her to pee before getting down onto the mattress with the baby. I got her a big glass of water (no ice in the house) and plopped down with her.

But There Were Flies

I swear there were over 100 in that tiny room. Zizzing around, up, down, into the corner of the baby’s eyes, landing on anything they could find… our mouths, noses, heads, hands, arms, legs, feet… it was mercilessly hot and the flies were taking up space and air we needed.

I asked the new mom where the flyswatter was and she looked at me horrified.

“We do not kill things at this house! You can use a piece of newspaper to brush them out of the room and then outside.”

I looked to see if she was kidding.

She was not.

I went to find some newspaper, folded it in half and began shooshing the hordes of flies away from the new mother and baby and out of the room as best as I could.

It was a losing battle. (You knew that already, I know.)

Eventually, I just sat down, newspaper in hand, waving it gently around the nursing pair.

“This would be the most difficult part of my living out here… the flies.”

This newly postpartum woman began talking very softly and asked me to close the door.

“Are you sure?! It’s going to stop all the air flow!”

“Just for a minute.”

I crawled the couple of feet, leaned over and closed the door. The temperature climbed 15 degrees within seconds.

She called me to come closer. I could smell her musky sweaty newly postpartum scents. She crooked her finger to come closer, so I leaned my ear nearer her mouth.

Barely above a whisper, she confessed:

“When I am alone in the house, I use the vacuum cleaner hose to suck up the flies. I figure I am not directly killing them, right?”

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Wanting to laugh really loud and hard, I swallowed my extreme amusement and soberly agreed that it was not directly killing them. I did not want her to feel one more second of guilt about getting rid of the nasty flies in her bedroom.

All These Years Later….

It’s been 20 years since this happened and I can still feel the heat, hear the bees, remember the Holy experience… and taste that amazing watermelon.

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Bipolar Diary: The Rough Cut

I feel like cutting my tongue out. I swear someone is using a course-grit sandpaper, rubbing it over and over and over, while I sleep.

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What’s sucky, too, is the Tardive Dyskinesia is doing overtime even while I am awake. Unless I am purposefully monitoring my tongue and jaw action, my tongue is scraping across my molars or my front teeth. Continuously.

Thank the Universe no one is noticing (probably because I am in the freakin’ house!), but even working on the phone, talking sexy, no one has noticed a difference. After a call longer than 30 minutes though, my jaw and tongue are sore (muscle sore) from trying to do two things at once: trying to keep getting the guy off and try not to make it sound like I am licking the phone. (Whereas upon reflection, that might not be such a bad idea.)

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artists, Mrzyk-Moriceau

Wellbutrin

I am lost over what to do about the TD. I would need to cut down or quit the Wellbutrin and I feel so, so much better on it. The prospect of stopping it terrifies me. (And the TD might not go away after stopping the medication anyway!) I see the Psych in a week and will talk to him about it, but the decision is 100% mine about what to do: stay on it OR go off of it and try yet another medication that might cause TD even worse, and possibly permanent symptoms, than this.

Fuck, I hate dilemmas.

Anxiety Attack? O, There You Are!

Last night I was talking to my cublet, we were ranting a lot about that Hitlerian President-Elect, sharing our thoughts, our fears… our terror… with each other and then I needed to write.

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Descending Distress

So I went to work on Stunned, Shocked & Saddened and right as I got to the end, I began to feel crappy, then worse, my heart started racing, my stomach was in knots, I began sweating like a piglaletta and finally I told my cub, “I feel like shit! I need to go lay down.”

Once I was on laying on my bed feeling horrid, I began breathing deep to try and lessen the distress.

Then I thought, “Oh, I recognize this. This is an Anxiety Attack.”

I situated myself on the bed, laying down, feeling my body’s frantic fight to keep control over my mind, but I strong-armed the panic so I could do my Mindfulness exercises.

I felt the sheets under my arms and legs… listened to the air conditioner’s humming… smelled the scent of cinnamon from the witch’s broom I have in the corner.

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Working Through the Experience

When I could, I texted my cub that it was an Anxiety Attack so he wouldn’t worry. He then asked if I had meds for that.

My cub is under 30-years old and has zero experience with mental illness, so his frame of reference is me. On meds. Getting new meds, getting them adjusted, and making sure I take them properly. While he knows I do Mindfulness Meditation and that I use it at times of stress, he doesn’t know Anxiety would have been one of those times.

Later, when I could explain better, I shared that I grew up in a Pill-for-Every-Ailment kind of family, so I have always seen meds as a free-for-all. My mom, sister and I have all been addicted to pills of one kind or another… my sister dying of an overdose of pain meds, mainly the 4 Fentanyl patches she had on when they found her. I am now about 2.5 years clean from Opiates (Percocet & Norco). I then shared that while acknowledging my forever-need for Psych meds, I do try to minimize other meds where I can.

Anti-Anxiety meds (Benzodiazepines)  are one of those types of meds I would rather not be using. I tried them when I had the Agoraphobia and hated them; I was doped into a stupor. I was on a dozen other meds including the opiates, so probably to be expected, but still. So I made the choice to not use the Benzos, but Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation instead.

Back for Good?

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The picture above is so accurate, showing the electrical currents zapping the brain and heart, sending them surging into overdrive… often for no apparent reason. Mental ones that are short circuiting, sure, but often for nothing we can pinpoint.

I was confused why the Panic Attack even hit in the first place, but my cublet reminded me (lovingly and gently) that the (fucking) Election has brought out intense emotions and then I spent a lot of time writing the previous post. Then the Panic consumed me.

Now that I remember what they feel like, I am on alert (not HIGH alert, though) for when/if it comes a’callin’ again.

Of course, I hope I don’t have another, but if I do, I am ready…

…to breathe.

Anxiety: Agoraphobia & GAD

I was going to see President Obama on Friday, October 28, 2016. Strategic obstacles left me out of the crowd (another post), but lots of feelings of anxiety crept up that I needed to write about.

I was extremely excited, but I was also terrified. I was scared there would being a bombing, an assassination, a mass shooting, a stampede… you name it, my mind could create a scenario for its occurring during in any public function and in any space where people congregate.

Agoraphobia

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I had agoraphobia (the fear of the marketplace aka the fear of leaving the house), a form of an anxiety and panic disorder, for an 18-month period about 4-5 years ago. I only left home when I could go with my then-partner Zack; he was my talisman against freaking out. I was even able to go to Costco (the most open marketplace ever invented!) with Zack in attendance. Alone, I could not even get to the car in the driveway without a panic attack.

Only in the distant retrospect am I able to see the agoraphobia was in response to 1) being ostracized from my midwifery community and 2) Zack’s coming out transgender. The stress of the two kicked my anxiety level into overdrive.

My least favorite memory was when I laid on the floor of Target, after the registers, before the doors (in front of god and everybody) and EMS tried to talk me into getting up and sitting on the Starbuck’s couch. I was so immobilized it took many minutes for me to even hear the requests/commands to move already. It was after that I didn’t leave the house alone for over a year.

Panic & Generalized Anxiety Disorders

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So, GAD isn’t a label I wear, but have worn for a short time in my psych history. It came right after the agoraphobia, before the depression, during my opiate addiction. The Panic Disorder came with the agoraphobia.

Despite being on Norco and Percocet, along with a (literal) handful of other psych meds taken 3x a day, I was prescribed Benzos -anti-anxiety pills. Benzodiazepines are highly addictive. I took a few of the pills over the next few days, but they put me in a stupor (not surprising at all considering what else I was on) and decided they were not for me. However, I knew I would turn to them when/if I ran out of my opiates, so had Zack lock them up from me. I do not recall ever wanting them again. Over the years, I have met so many benzo addicts I am so glad I never got into them.

Mindfulness Meditation

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I have written about Mindfulness Mediation before in relation to getting clean from opiates. It was also responsible for my climbing out of agoraphobia eventually. I went to a class at UCSD on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)… it taking extraordinary effort to get there each time… but the new skills helped tremendously and I was able to gradually let go of the anxiety and resume a life of going to the store without Zack again.

Anxiety in My Life Today

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artist, Lottie Geliot

The state of the world makes me very nervous when my family and friends go out to festivals, restaurants, concerts, etc. I am able to stay safe for the most part, being disabled, but the fear of violence (which does not have a “phobia” name that I can find) nearly paralyzes me at times. I think twice, three, four times before heading out to even the store. I have to breathe, remind myself: It is on the news, that’s how rare it is.

But Pulse was a few miles from my home. And that made the news. Those 49 Doves gone in a matter of hours. It could happen again, right? And, to be honest, we all know it will happen again one day. Worse even.

So when things tangled into such a mess that I could not go see the President, I was able to exhale and sit in a small out-of-the-way restaurant with my mama instead.

I don’t know if I will ever be totally free of anxiety… it seems not… but I just keep breathing.

Bipolar Diary: Depression Deepens

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Depression

The last 2 weeks have sucked even worse than when I wrote on July 13, 2017. Tears. Tears. Never-ending tears. The suicidal ideation is coming more often and is more vivid than when I started the Paxil. And the damn hallucinations are back.

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Almost all of my time is in bed, either curled in pain (another post), staring at the ceiling or sleeping. I leave I Love Lucy on in the background. Sometimes Friends. I’m listening to Mists of Avalon (a book I love), but when I listen in bed, I fall right to sleep. I’ve replayed Chapter 6 four times already.

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artist: Edvard Munch

An Odd Sorta Depression

When looking for images about depression lying, I came across several pieces like this one below:

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Not sure if I’m just more familiar with my depression than when I was younger or if it has really shifted, but I do not hear the lies the girl in the image does… nothing negative about my body, how alone I am in the world, how fat/ugly/sick I am. I did when I was younger, but not anymore.

I just feel sad. An overwhelming sadness. A pall of melancholia that separates me from the rest of you. I cannot even touch what I am sad about except for the endless distress I have about our country because of 45. But this joylessness is deeper than the fear-for-our-lives kind. I feel like I’m under the thick glass of my Nana’s cake pedestal, so close to others, but unable to penetrate the barrier of dreariness to make a connection.

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Medication Changes

The psych doc upped the Paxil to 30mg after 2 weeks on 20mg. He said he still might have to increase it when I see him in 2 weeks. For fuck’s sake, can’t this stuff take effect already? I hate this waiting part.

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I have weaned off the Cymbalta. Is that the reason for this huge dip? Who knows anymore. He wanted to increase my Risperdal, but I refused; the eating is out of control with more Risperdal… can’t abide by that.

An aside: I despise the new packaging that seems to be taking over the medication world. I am not stupid, can follow directions, but they are incredibly difficult for me to get into. I’ve asked the Pharmacy to open them for me and then I rip the inner blister pack out, throwing the outer box away. If you haven’t see them, let me introduce you.

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“Follow these 3 simple steps,” it says. Push the blister pack all the way in, then press on the “lock release button” on the left . Finally, pull the sliding pack out at the same time as pushing the spot on the left. I wish it was as easy as they make it sound! It’s almost worse that rubbing my head and patting my belly at the same time.

Suicidal Ideation

I’ve had lots of suicidal thoughts. My cub stayed with me one night when they were especially bad, reminding me every few minutes that Depression is a Liar. Hearing that, knowing it for certain, is what kept (keeps) me going. Hearing that so-and-so loves me doesn’t do much for my mindset because I rationalize that away easily. Depression Lies, however, works wonders.

Depression is a lying bastard

The thoughts of suicide are so enticing. They call to me seductively as if they were sirens on the ocean’s rocks.

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I try to block them out listening to various albums I have memorized. The Eagles, Carly Simon, Sting (Living Sea), and, of course, Hamilton: An American Musical.

I also try to find positive recovery-from-depression-and-suicidal-thoughts articles and posts online. This is one I go back to over and over:

Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone who is Suicidal and Save a Life

“A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. People who take their lives don’t want to die—they just want to stop hurting.”

When I had my first serious clinical depression in my late teens, I didn’t understand the “wanting the pain to stop” aspect and teetered really close to the edge of death.

As I got older and had some decent therapy, I was able to verbalize the inner turmoil and excruciating emotional pain that was drawing me towards dying. Understanding that I didn’t really want to die, but just to stop hurting… a pain that went so deep as to injure my soul… I was able to cling to those brief seconds of “medication will help remove the pain… hang on a little bit longer.”

Medication and therapy have not failed me yet.

Working/Not Working

Work has been nearly impossible the way I feel. I can do one call, then need 2 hours off to regroup. The calls are easy, mostly with regulars, but the energy expenditure exhausts me. Even writing this post has taken 4 days so far. Ugh. I need to be able to work!

Okay, I need to get this out to you all. It is not a cry for help, I promise. I will not hurt myself, have no plans to.  It’s just those random thoughts that flow through my mind… sometimes like heavy cinder blocks and others like wafting vapors. As long as they continue moving on the conveyor belt, I think I’m okay and headed towards healing.

trudging along

Thanks for listening

depress help
Always reaching for help.

Blog Refocus: Life Through the Eyes of Food

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At My Daughter’s Nudging

So, after my Baking Bread Memories post, my daughter Meghann, also a writer, insisted I start another blog and talk about my life through the eyes of food. Not wanting to start over with yet another blog, I decided to edit this one and begin the project my daughter asked me to write in this one.

Besides the food refocus, I could not edit out my Bipolar and Diabetic experiences. I really feel my mental illness as well as my diabetes are intertwined with my life of eating; they are inextricably combined.

Long List of Memories

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My mama’s hand.

I began a list last night of times in my life where food took more than center stage and already have 29 potential posts!

Come along with me as I jot down memories for my children and entertainment for you readers.

I better get to writing.