Review: YOU BELONG TO US by Molly McCaffrey


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My much admired professor, mentor, and friend, Dr. Molly McCaffrey, launched her memoir, You Belong to Us, today. I preordered my copy and received it a few days ago and have been absolutely blown away by the emotional journey captured within its
pages.

Adopted at the age of 6 weeks, Molly grew up knowing she’d been adopted but loving the life she’d lived with her adoptive parents–her real parents.

In her late twenties, out of curiosity about who and where she came from, she hesitantly began the steps required to find her birth mother. Her memoir emotionally chronicles the fear, curiosity, confusion, guilt, and anger that guided her through finding and meeting her birth family.

Her experience was especially emotional because, not only did she find a birth mom, she also found out that, after putting her up for adoption, her birth mother and birth father reconciled, got married, and had four other children who were all Molly’s full-blooded siblings. Instead of finding one person, she found an entire family, most of whom never even knew she existed… some of whom would like to pretend she didn’t.

The book is a very emotional read that begs the question… How much does our biology affect who we become? And is it possible for one person to heal a thirty-year-old “wound” that the other person sees as a blessing?

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the human condition and both our abilities and inabilities to accept, adapt, and move on.

You Belong to Us can be purchased here or at Barnes and Noble.

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A Letter From a Writer’s Depression to Her Husband on New Year’s Eve


Dear Husband,

I wanted to say I’m sorry for taking your wife away from you. I thought it might help if you knew that I never gave her a choice. I mean, I couldn’t really. It’s my nature to just take what I want. I wanted her, and I took her.

If it helps, I’ll tell you a few secrets. Whenever she looks at you, she gets an overwhelming feeling of love and happiness. I mean, she literally feels a warmth in her chest, and she even still gets butterflies in her stomach. I can’t take that away from her. Trust me. I’ve tried. The point is, she loves you so much…

… loves you so much that it makes her feel even worse than she already does when she realizes I’m affecting you too. She realizes that she isn’t easy to get along with a lot of the time. She knows she snaps and gets angry a lot easier and more often than she should. She especially recognizes the fact that she takes things out on you that she wouldn’t take out on anyone else. It’s only because she’s more comfortable with you than she is with anyone… even herself… especially herself.

I just thought you’d want to know that I’m not here for you. I’m here to feed on her happiness and her life. When she considered going out with you tonight for New Year’s Eve, it terrified her to even think about being around all those people and having to force a smile when she knew she’d be fighting the urge to run the whole time. At the same time, she really wanted to do it for you. She hates that you’re tied to me like she is. She feels like she’s cheating you out of being able to have a happy wife who’s fun and goes places and does things with her husband. She hates what she’s done to you more than she hates what I’ve done to her.

She’s terrified she’s going to lose you someday. You do everything you can to make her smile and laugh, and you do a really good job. Even I can’t stop her from being happy around you most of the time. But deep deep down, she’s really scared. You’re the one thing in her life that’s holding her together, and she knows that you’re bound to get sick of me someday. For what it’s worth, I hope that doesn’t happen.

I’m not here, specifically, to hurt her, but I don’t know how to do anything else. She tries really hard to suppress me. For you. More than anything, for you. I give her a break every now and then, but I know it’s hard. So I just wanted to say I’m sorry if I stole the woman you married. She was great. She still is though, you know? She’s still in there, and she loves you more than life itself.

So please be patient. You’ve been so wonderful. You let her get angry, and you let her get sad. You hold her when she’s upset, and you make her get out of bed when I’ve convinced her it’s the only place to be. She’d be a mess if it wasn’t for you.

One day me and her are going to learn how to live together. We’re working on it. And when we do, she’s going to need you to spend time and have fun with again. She loves you so much. Don’t ever forget it.

My Most Sincere Apologies,

Your Wife’s Depression

Top Ten Books of 2014 (Part Two)


Making top book lists is always so hard for me. I read a lot, and it seems like almost every time I finish a book, I feel like it was the best book I’d read in a long time (not every time, just almost). But, these ten are the ones that stood out to me the most, the ones that stood up in my mind and yelled, “pick me” when I sat down to make my list. They weren’t all written in 2014, but that’s when I read them. So, anyway… Here goes the first five. I’ll post the last five tomorrow.

Note: The summaries contain some minor plot information about the stories but do not give away the endings or any major plot points. Still, if you’re the type who doesn’t even like to read the back of a book before you dive in, they might be considered spoilers.

My Top Ten Books of 2014 (Part One)

Yes Please Amy Poehler

6. Yes Please by Amy Poehler (2014)

I will admit, I’m not the biggest Saturday Night Live fan out there. It’s not that I dislike it. It just isn’t my cup of tea, but I’d read several “top books of 2014” lists prior to even considering writing my own, and Yes Please was at the top of several of the lists. I figured there must be a reason, so I tried it out for myself. I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve read some truly snooze-inducing autobiographies in the past, but this book isn’t just 300+ pages of a narcissist’s musings. It’s actually fabulous for several different reasons. While you do get a chance to get to know things about Amy like what her childhood was like and exactly how the birth of her children went down, she also manages to turn her 352 pages into a journey of love, learning, and inspiration.

Mostly, she addresses body image and self-respect, but she also touches on living with anxiety. Without resorting to the didacticism of preaching cliche statements like “Love yourself,” “You’re beautiful,” and “We’re all unique,” she addresses the ugly truths behind the real self-esteem issues that lead to depression and even suicide in millions. She calls out the “demon” of self-hate and doubt that lives inside everyone, telling them they aren’t good enough or they’re fat and not pretty. By learning how she deals with her own demon and realizing that even someone as beautiful and successful as Amy Poehler has the same thoughts as all of us, she gets her point across very well.

And it’s impossible to forget the fact that Poehler is one of the most dynamic comedians of our generation. This makes her inspirational, honest, and righteous autobiography as entertaining as it is healing. I definitely recommend.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

7. The Circle by Dave Eggers (2014)

The Circle by Dave Eggers is a novel that grabs you by the lapels and demands attention. While it is considered somewhat of a utopian novel, there are several concerns raised within the pages of this captivating story.

Mae Holland lands a job with the super tech company, The Circle, and she feels like she’s on top of the world. The sprawling campus, complete with pools, tennis courts, movie theaters, concerts, fitness classes, dorms, and anything the employees could possibly need, seems like it might be too good to be true.

Mae is quickly overwhelmed with the social media obligations related to the job. Staying connected online 24 hours a day and attending functions in order to participate in the “community” leaves no time for Mae’s life outside of The Circle. With an ailing father and a personality that appreciates some occasional alone time, Mae finds herself faced with a decision. Walk away or completely immerse herself in the public life of The Circle.

Entertaining from cover to cover, The Circle begs the question, how much is too much? Where does the line between public and private lie? And are we treading on dangerous ground?

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

8. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (2014)

I have to admit, I am a die-hard Stephen King fan. I’ve read all his novels minus maybe two, and the minute a new one comes out, I snatch it up. Stephen King was actually the first author who got me into reading. My dad had a collection when I was younger, and Pet Sematary was my first full-novel read. That being said, I might be a little biased.

Mr. Mercedes was no where near my favorite Stephen King book. Actually, it’s a part of King’s crime series, and I prefer his more supernatural books. However, King is still and always will be the master of suspense and horror in my eyes.

The book starts off when a man drives a stolen Mercedes into a group of unemployed, down-on-their-luck people who have gathered and are waiting overnight to apply at a job fair. Ramming the crowd of people, backing up and plowing into them a second time, the maniac manages to kill eight people (including a baby) and injure fifteen. The killer gets away.

The novel is a race against time before the maniac with a taste for blood can strike again. A retired cop, still haunted by the crime, received a letter from the killer, and then begins the heart-stopping, bone-chilling race to stop him before more people end up dead.

King is a master of words and metaphor. His style is my secret love, and Mr. Mercedes doesn’t disappoint.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

9. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (2012)

The Buddha in the Attic is the winner of the Pen Faulkner fiction award, which is no surprise at all. This novel is a chilling reminder of some of the darker days in America when equality only existed among the rich and the white.

Otsuka writes a novel about the “picture brides,” a group of Japanese women brought to San Fransisco nearly a century ago to be the brides of men whose identities were embellished more than just a bit. The story chronicles the women’s trip across the world, their new lives as wives to strangers, bearing children, burying children, and living in a world where they were looked down on and appreciated by few. The story of their journey is spellbindingly beautiful, capturing their loves, fears, loyalties, and the lengths they will go for one another. Keep a tissue handy.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

10. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2014)

I have this strange aversion to the books that everyone’s talking about. The more buzz it gets, the less interested I am. I’m not sure why I feel this way. Maybe it’s because I was disappointed so many times by TwilightThe Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Grey, etc. Not that those books were lacking in story… But being a literature junkie, I tend to appreciate the literary aspect of a work above the story. If I can’t find a sentence that makes me stop and think, “wow, that’s just amazing,” no matter what it’s referencing, I’m just not that interested. I’ll admit, 50 Shades entertained me, but it didn’t “wow” me.

That being said, I was a bit apprehensive about buying this book. I figured it’d just be a sappy, tearjerker about a kid with cancer with all of it’s value being in the emotional response. But, what can I say? I have no self-control. I always wonder “what if”… What if I’m missing something? What if it’s not that trite junk that I’m expecting it to be? Well, I’m truly glad I questioned myself about The Fault in Our Stars.

I can’t say the actual story was the greatest thing I’ve ever read. Yes it was engaging. Yes it was sad. Yes it was inspirational. Yes it was sweet. It also had many suspension of disbelief issues, some cliche characters, and a few parts thrown in simply for the value of sadness. BUT the writing.

The writing was genius. I absolutely loved it. If you read Part One of my 2014 book list, you’ll know of my habit of highlighting anything that I find clever, smart, and basically anything that makes me think, “Man, I wish I’d written that.” This book is almost completely pink and green. I’ve gone back several times since just to scan the highlighted parts. Green is a master of metaphor and manipulating the English language into something beautiful. For that, The Fault in Our Stars was simply amazing, and I look forward to reading his other books as well. If you have any recommendations, please comment and let me know.

Check out Part One of this list HERE

What is Depression, and Why Can’t I Just Cheer Up?


While most people think they understand what depression is, it’s actually one of the most commonly misunderstood mental illnesses out there. So much so, some people don’t even consider it a mental illness. They tend to look at is as more of an emo/goth type lifestyle that people choose. As if feeling worthless, hopeless, and like you might actually be going crazy is something anyone would choose.

Okay. So What is Depression?

First of all, there’s a lot more to depression than just being sad. I guess if I had to choose the one word that was the easiest to spell that might come anywhere close to describing what it feels like, sad might work. But it’s really a lot more complicated and agonizing than that.

How Depression Makes You Feel

Lonely

It is absolutely possible to feel lonely in a room full of people. Not only that, but it’s possible to feel lonely when you’re with someone you’re intimately close to.

The fact is, being around people who seem to be feeling great can actually make you feel worse. You begin to question what’s wrong with you, and why you feel the way you do. You don’t feel a connection to the people around you because you are so emotionally removed from them, from everything. This leads to feeling like nobody understands you, and you’re the only one in your “boat” so to speak.

Unmotivated

Aside from just not really wanting to be around a bunch of happy people when you feel like shit on a stick, depression leaves you feeling absolutely zero motivation to do anything. Suddenly you just don’t give a damn about the things that you usually enjoy.

Nine times out of ten, you don’t even want to get out of bed. Not because your bed’s extra comfy, but because when you’re sleeping, you aren’t feeling. It’s an instant escape from the misery you’re experiencing when you’re awake. Also, depression causes fatigue which tends to help out with the whole sleep thing.

Worthless

Considering the fact that you don’t really feel like you can relate to anyone, and you have absolutely no desire to leave your bed, let alone your house, chances are you aren’t being very productive. The dishes are piling up, you probably stink like 3-day-old sleep, and if you can’t even perform the most basic daily rituals, like bathing, what exactly are you good for? 

Not a whole lot. Or so you think. You know other people are going on with their lives, and there you sit, wearing the same pjs, sporting a permanent pillow mark across your face, and your hair seems to be transforming itself into something closely related to dread locks. No matter how horrible you feel about how you look or smell, it isn’t motivation enough to do anything about it. I mean, what’s the point?

Hopeless

Nobody understands, and you’re purely worthless. There is absolutely nothing in your life to be happy about, or so that’s how it feels. All of a sudden, you become acutely aware of the fact that you’re however many years old, and all your old friends from high school seem to have all their shit together…according to Facebook anyway. What is wrong with you?

In fact, you are so far away from having your shit together, there’s really no point in even trying. This feeling of utter misery is never gong to end. Your life is an absolute joke. You actually start to ask yourself questions like, “Do I really want to live like this? What’s the point? Wouldn’t it be easier to just…”

Feeling Removed from the World

If you hadn’t already noticed, by this point you’re in pretty deep. Questioning the point of living is pretty much as scary as it gets. You can hear cars going by outside. Your friends call to see if you want to have lunch. The Oscar’s was on last night, and the people looked so happy. What kind of alternate universe are you living in where life has no color and everything blows?

Everybody else is just going on like all is well, and you begin to jump at the sound of something outside your door. You find yourself praying that nobody knocks. If you do happen to have to leave the house to go to work or run to the store for toilet paper or something, you feel like a leper. Everyone is staring at you, and wondering what in the hell is wrong with you.

Anxious

If you haven’t already reached the anxiety point, this is where it kicks in. Though they can and often do exist separately, depression feeds on anxiety and anxiety feeds on depression.You start to REALLY live inside your head. You pick apart all the irrational thoughts, and even though you KNOW it’s the depression causing all of this, you can’t stop wondering…

Crazy?

Are you going crazy? Why in the hell can’t you snap out of this? What kind of person feels like this? Why is everyone else fine, but you feel like absolutely everything in your life is wrong somehow? Why can’t you stop picking, prodding, and probing every single thought that goes through your mind? Why did you suddenly burst into tears when you ran out of diet coke? Why are you terrified of someone knocking on your door? Why can’t you get dressed and face the world like everybody else? Is it EVER going to end?

And then it does…

Either you just wake up and feel normal one day, or something finally pulls you out of it. But suddenly, you’re back to yourself. You think back and realize that the past few days were horrible, but misery loses its intensity in hindsight. You feel so much better, you barely even give it much thought. So, you go back to your normal life… until one day, maybe a week, maybe a month down the road, the dice fail to roll in your favor, and you fall down the hole all over again.

Why Can’t You Stop if You Know What it Is?

The truth is, it’s a mental illness. It overrides all rational thought. Depression isn’t just something you think. You aren’t just sitting there thinking about how terrible things are. There chemicals in your brain are unbalanced. There really is a “feel good” juice, and your brain doesn’t make enough of it.

So rather than just thinking differently when you’re depressed, you actually feel different. You are different. People who suffer from chronic depression, me included, even experience physical pain during these episodes. You should never let anyone make you feel like you should just be able to pull yourself out of it. It doesn’t work that way, and someone who’s never experienced it could never understand it.

What Can You Do?

If you haven’t already, definitely see a doctor. Whether you’re for or against pharmaceutical treatment, you need to see someone who can help. I can attest to the benefits of medication. It’s nothing like the negative stereotypes make it out to be.

The strongest contributor to these negative stereotypes is that some of these medications can cause negative side effects when you first begin taking them, and almost all of them take four to six weeks to build up in your system and actually work on the depression. Too many sufferers begin the medication, experience clouded thinking or muted feelings, and stop taking them immediately. The truth is, most people just don’t give the medicine enough time to take proper effect.

I don’t walk around like a zombie with no feelings at all. Depression medication doesn’t dull or turn anything off. It works to reconnect the circuits that aren’t firing like they should be. They alter the chemical levels in your brain, bringing them to a normal level.

Do I still get depressed? Yes, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often or last half as long as before. Either way, your treatment is your choice. However, if you are suffering from depression, please do see some kind of doctor. You don’t have to do it alone. Also, I would be happy to help in any way I can. Talking to someone who actually understands what you’re going through can make all the difference in the world.

Anxious, Depressed, and Literarily Inclined


My initial intention was to create a cookie-cutter writer’s blog about books, writing, reading, more writing, and even writing about writing. However, at the last moment, a large part of me staged a surprisingly intense intervention with the smaller part of me. Differences were hashed out, a die was cast, and a compromise was made. If I’m going to put myself out here and attempt to portray an even remotely honest version of myself, I’m going to be real. No sugar, no candy coating, and no frilly decor. Just plain old, unadulterated me. So . . . Here it is.

This is my blog—a blog about real life, living with anxiety and depression, the ups and downs of marriage, and of course writing, reading, words, grammar, books I love, books I hate, and everything literary. Writing is a major part of who I am, but I’d be kidding myself and you if I pretended not to be dramatically affected by the other important parts of myself. Some may call them imperfections, and I’ll admit, there are times when I would wholeheartedly agree, but those imperfections make me who I am. As cliché as that is, it’s also true. Why do you suppose so many famous authors suffered from depression, anxiety, alcoholism, etc.? The troubled simply have more to write about.

That being said . . . I pledge to be brutally honest, even when it’s ugly. Especially when it’s ugly. Because somewhere out there, someone else feels the way I feel, somebody else is struggling alongside me, and maybe they have an intense passion for the written word as well. Who knows? Either way, if I had to choose between entertaining thousands and helping a few, I would help. Every single time.

So . . . I’m Brandy. Welcome to my blog. Welcome to my life. I’ll warn you; it’s rocky, but we have life vests. I will dedicate my next few blog posts to further introducing myself and the different challenges I face, and then we’ll get to the good stuff.