“If I end up dying because of my side cancer will you marry someone who isn’t crazy? I’d like the boys to have a mom who isn’t crazy.”

“Karen, no. I have married crazy people 100% of the time. So statistically I would marry someone else who is crazy.”

Surely there are folks with chronic mental illness who aren’t also hypochondriacs. I am just not one of them. I don’t remember how the side cancer joke got started, but I do remember being particularly pleased with my witty retort that it was in remission. Joking about side cancer is a way to casually and lightheartedly acknowledge my mental illness. La de da! Side cancer, so funny! I feel like I am dead inside!

The next day I told Zeke and our couple’s therapist that I was thinking about hurting myself. Zeke immediately understood why I brought up the side cancer.

Since we got back from our summer travels I have been in rough shape. Usually it passes after a few weeks. This time it got worse. I didn’t know how bad it was until I was coming up with a plan that seemed to make a lot of sense in the moment. One that took into account that it would be cruel to follow through anywhere Zeke could find me.

Numbness laced with pain makes me really dumb.The cycle is old, but the shame feels like the first time every time. Who wants to be married to someone that is so much work? Who wants to be friends with someone who is so self-involved? Who wants to be mothered by someone who can’t always engage because she is so wrapped up in herself? Who wants to be sick with worry over their kid who is almost 40? Who wants to live in a narcissistic mind that is also ashamed by how much energy it is sucking from everyone in its life? I can’t bear myself, it stands to reason that no one else can either. Each time I am in bad shape I am sure I will deservedly end up alone.

I am better than I was a dozen years ago, truly. I can ask for help. Last fall I had the same urges and I told my friends. They held me accountable. I was honest with Zeke and my therapist. I agreed to increase my meds. This time I messaged a friend who struggles with her own demons. She listened. And then she contacted Zeke.

Twelve years ago I couldn’t leave our apartment without help. Today I am able to leave the house. I can fulfill minimum responsibilities. I had everything ready for the first day of school for the boys, lunches made, clothing laid out the night before. I have been taking the kids to school, picking them up. I dread it. I don’t want to look anyone in the eye. But I do not cry. I smile and chat even while trying to avoid eye contact with friends, especially those who know what is going on.

The illness blocks reason and logic, the familiar patterns of anxiety ebbing and flowing are forgotten. As fall approaches every year I only seem to remember the good parts. It is my favorite season; the excitement of back to school, Z and I celebrate our anniversary, Halloween with two boys in the house.

The hard parts are a shock every time. The change that excites me also terrifies me. My little boys are now big boys, time is stuck on fast forward and I can’t catch my breath. September 11th. Jesus, September 11th knocks me on my ass. How can it be 15 years ago when I can taste the smell of the burning rubble in the back of my throat? Part of me is still standing on the hill in Fort Greene Park after returning to Brooklyn that afternoon. I am looking across the river at the cloud of fine grey-white dust obscuring lower Manhattan and I believe when it clears the buildings will still be there. All fall I am sure that the void in the sky is a mistake and the next time I look the towers will be back where they belong. I am stuck there and I am ashamed I don’t know how to move past it.

I don’t know how to move past any of it.


In less macabre news, we had a lovely dinner out on our 16th wedding anniversary. The smile is sincere. Which means, all things considered, I’m in pretty good shape. I can escape the destructive voice in my head at times, something I was less able to do in the middle of bad periods many years ago.


Silver hollowwear is the 16th anniversary theme. Z made this lovely little charm.