A Guiding Light in the Darkness of Chronic Mental Illness

Two days in New York City, one of my favorite places, not just because I lived there for 8 years as a student, then a professional, but because there’s nowhere like it. Lucky for me, my 8 1/2 years old daughter loves it, too. My husband hates cities, so he was not invited to our girls’ weekend away visiting my brother and his boyfriend. No matter, my daughter and I needed this time to maintain and strengthen our connection as I know she is very aware and senses my ongoing struggle with depression, a lot of anxiety and never-ending OCD. I am usually at my best in NYC. It feels like home.

The first part of the first day went very well, seeing my niece at Barnard and spending some time with her. I had more difficulty with my irritability later in the day and snapped at my daughter a lot. For some reason, she is very forgiving, in an unspoken way. I redeemed myself on day two though and we had a wonderful time. We took a lovely walk in the morning, talking and laughing. We then went down to 42nd Street, not my favorite place in NYC, but she was in heaven. She loved it all. We then went and saw the play, School of Rock, her first Broadway play. I watched her face as she took it all in, and the smiles, laughs and her intention were only part of what continually brought tears to my eyes for over 2 hours.
Going to a Broadway play is not on a list of “needs” for my husband and myself. This was a treat, courtesy of being paid from another piece I wrote about my experience with mental illness. This was very special as I never would have even thought of this as an option now. Seeing a Broadway play is a “want” not a “need” for our family.
When you are sick with a chronic illness, you may be able to recognize those special times in life and not take them for granted. This was one of those times. This was perfection. Being with my light (her middle name is Liora, which means “my light,” so it is fitting) and sharing a great experience. Most importantly, being here on earth to be a part of it. This is why I cry at every one of her performances and school presentations. It’s not simply about me feeling proud of her, it’s me reflecting on the times when this all could have slipped away because of a relentless illness. I was and am here, doing the best I can, which is not following a linear path right now, but here I am.
While she may not understand the significance of Andrew Lloyd Webber coming onstage at the end of the play and why I cried at that moment, she hopefully will one day. It wasn’t just that I was in awe of this extremely gifted and talented man, it was, again, something so special I shared with my light.
When we left the theater, we were in sync, holding hands, talking about the play. She repeatedly told me to “calm down” as I tried to explain the significance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s appearance. I told her I couldn’t calm down because I was amazed. I had to express how I felt. She said she understood, then made fun of me, which was fine. We held hands walking to the subway. We were together in many ways and at least for one day, it was consistent. I was consistent.
I got a day. I had a day where I was (mostly) withmy light, not just in body but in soul. It may not seem like a lot, especially for those who experience more days like these than not, but for me, it was as close to perfect as life could be. I will be honest and say this didn’t continue into the next day when we went home. This didn’t surprise me. It can be the everyday activities that bring about my intense anxiety and most definitely my OCD, so coming back to the “reality” of being home only triggered the increase of my symptoms. I know I have a chronic illness that will not magically disappear although not everyone understands this. Some see me smile and think I’m all better. I wish.
Two days in New York City, living with my mental illness and being “present” with my daughter. This filled a hole that sometimes has too much open space. For me, I know I will hold this and try to use it when I have a tough time with my symptoms and when I have difficulty feeling present with my daughter, her bright light guiding me along.

Some Wednesday Lightness: My History with Barbra

At the young age of 18, I became a true Barbra fan. That’s Barbra Streisand. After viewing The Prince of Tides, I was hooked. I fell in love with her music and her films and did my research about her, as a person. I was instantly impressed with her charitable giving and felt her feminist activism was powerful.
When I went to college in New York City, it was important for me to go by the sites that she had been to and I would frequently experience New York while she sang into my earphones as I walked down Broadway. 
When I learned she would be filming a movie on my college campus, I knew I needed to be a part of it. I was able to sign up to be an extra and was lucky enough to get called. In the weeks leading up to my film date, I would see her on campus and get very excited. I so wanted to talk to her and tell her what a positive influence she was for me. I really just wanted to talk about anything with her, I didn’t care about the subject. I wanted to tell her how I didn’t realize how short she was and on days when she was not filming scenes herself, she looked so casual and comfortable. But, I remained quiet.
The big day came and I wore all brown. We were told not to wear black but to wear neutral colors. I was given a pink scarf to wear by wardrobe and I was ready to go. The scene is toward the end of the movie when Barbra is walking through campus with Pierce Brosnan. I am seen for a split second. Filming that one scene took several hours and was a very cool experience. I was asked to stay while they filmed another scene, indoors, but was not used. I was able to watch the process and really appreciate the work.
At the end of the night (after 12 hours of work) I knew what I had to do. As I got my stuff together, most of the extras had left, probably needing to return to their dorms to study. I took a chance and waited by the front door of the building we were in. I heard someone yell, “Rose is coming,” and knowing that was Barbra’s character’s name in the film that Barbra was coming downstairs. I waited. 
As she walked past me, this was the interaction:
Me: “Barbra?”
Barbra: “Yes.”
Me: “I really enjoyed watching you work today.”
Barbra (smiling): “Thank you.”
Cue her bodyguard who pushed me away from her…
And with that, I walked to my dorm as tears began to flow down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed by the entire experience, but the fact that I was able to have a brief conversation with her sealed the deal for me. I was 20 years old and I felt as if I had lived a dream.
Fast forward 20 years and I am now living a dream with my husband and daughter. I do feel as if Barbra has been there through good times and bad with me. Her music can be haunting and uplifting, depending on my needs. Her films are all wonderful and I highly recommend the little known, Up the Sandbox. My love of Barbra will continue and is now shared with my daughter. 
And really, there is nothing like hearing your 4 year old daughter sing, A Quiet Thing/There Won’t be Trumpets at the top of her lungs while riding to preschool in the morning.