The Elephant in the Room Pt. 3...

In a flash, my Honey was gone. The future I thought I had was gone. The hope of my fairy tale ending was done. My life was over as I knew it.

I had never experienced death of a loved one before. Friends, extended family, yes, but never up close and clearly nothing THAT close. Suicide always seemed particularly tragic as well. To be so deep in the pit that you can't see another way out was so sad to me. That summer the football player Junior Seau killed himself and I told Bret about it in tears. And when a member of our doll family, Melissa Windham, died the previous August, I cried for days even though I'd never met her. It has always shaken me in a way that I can't explain.

My family rallied around me while I curled up in bed. I managed to pull it together enough to get my son and myself to counseling. We attended all kinds of meetings and even had some volunteers from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention come and talk to the family. I was going through the motions in deep shock with a large case of PSTD as you can imagine.

Of course a number of people reached out to me. They let me know they were available to talk, to be cried on. But I was coming off a year where I basically had one adult to talk to regularly and he was gone. I didn't know how to communicate or even what to communicate other than huge amounts of pain, and to strangers? I couldn't so I retreated even further.

Everyone told me it wasn't my fault but how could it not be? I pushed him to see the doctor. I was mean to him that weekend. I didn't want to sell my doll. I was his wife, his best friend! I was the only one standing in between him and the door (as if the door would have held him back). How was it not my fault?? And why didn't I know he was that deeply depressed? I should have known! I felt I failed him on every level with every fiber of my being.

It was a few weeks before I got the reports from the pharmacies about which and how many pills Bret was taking. He was prescribed enough to cripple anyone and without a doctor's intervention he never had a chance of surviving on his own. And yet I still blamed myself for not knowing. But we trust: we trust our loved ones to be honest; we trust their judgements; we want to believe them.

Resoundingly, everyone who learned of Bret's death was in shock. No one, and I mean NO ONE, would have believed he did this if I hadn't been right there. In his right mind, he would NEVER have done this to any of his friends or family. He didn't let on to anyone that he was in such a dark place. This gave me a few things: it momentarily gave me a reprieve in knowing he hid it from everyone, not just me; it made me even sadder knowing he felt he had no one to turn to; and ultimately I took on the responsibility of his death even more because I was the one person who could have stopped it. I know now, if someone wants to do it they will do it but at the time and for months to come I would replay the incident and scramble to find something I could or should have done differently.

My own depression set in December 2012. Nothing mattered. I wanted out. And for the first time I understood how suicide isn't "personal". I was in so much pain, all I could think about was ending my life every minute of every day. I learned that tricky line of what I could and couldn't say to my therapists so they wouldn't try to talk me into commitment and oh, how they wanted to. They would bring up my son, tell me I had to be around for him. In my sickness, I was convinced he'd be okay. Of course now I see how very wrong it would have been but back then I was so so damaged. I truly thought I didn't deserve to live for letting Bret down so badly. It had nothing to do with anyone else. It was a black hole that I was ready to be swallowed up by.

Looking back, I don't know how I functioned other to say I was on autopilot. My son's 18th birthday was almost 2 months to the day and I managed to pull it together and play with him and his friends for the day. I remember going on the doll board and buying dream dolls in the hopes they'd make me "happy". Of course this was absurd considering I still had so much guilt tied up in my ultimate dream doll, the Enchanted Doll. I would get a box and take it directly to the closet. I didn't even open them. I met with friends and family but in the back of my mind it stayed...life holds nothing for me anymore.

I didn't stop being actively suicidal (I say that to mean constantly thinking about doing it) until almost April 2013. I wish I could tell you the exact formula for how I got well but I think it was a combination. I was in therapy once, sometimes twice a week; I was on a heavy dose of antidepressants; I cut out alcohol; I had an amazing friend come into my life, get me exercising and out of the house; other friends would make plans and give me things to look forward to; and very slowly, very subtly I began to feel better. I still cried a lot but I no longer wanted to die. I had hope. Tiny hopes but still.

I'd start to feel better then "first anniversaries" would knock me on my ass. Our dating anniversary, Bret's birthday, etc. It was also our son's senior year so he had all sort of milestones he was hitting without his dad...prom, graduation, first year of college. It was a never ending rollercoaster of false starts, unrealistic expectations and frustration with myself. I just wanted to be better already. I was so over being sad all the time but I couldn't help it. I had to learn and accept words which previously repulsed me: gentle...easy....patient. I had never been anything but down right evil when it came to my expectations of myself so you might as well have asked me to accept becoming left-handed. But I surrendered. I didn't really have an option.

Throughout 2013, I avoided the office like the plague. I didn't so much as look at a doll, let alone have the capability to paint. And if I got close to them, my body would tense up and I'd start to cry. The actualization of Bret's absence was never more acute than when I thought about painting because with each step I'd have to face his loss. He couldn't advise me or praise me or reassure me that I was on the right track even. Oh, how I longed to hear him say "You know what doll you need to do...". It got so bad that I thought about selling off everything and never looking back. Often. I was convinced I couldn't get back into it. The pain was too much.

In August I was finally able to say it wasn't my fault and mean it. I still carry it, ever torturing myself with guilt, but even that one day I hope to be able to put down.

The last few months of 2013 brought a turn. I started to talk to other artists about regaining my creativity and how to do so when your partner is involved in your art. My friends all gave me the sweetest words of encouragement which somehow stuck with me. And somehow I was able to remember what I loved about painting and dolls in general. After many false starts during the year I finally resolved to pick up the brushes after the first anniversary of Bret's death passed and somehow made it happen.

It wasn't the same as the last time I "came back". I didn't have to remember how to paint as much as relearn the steps...the little intricacies of brush strokes...the techniques of 3d painting you acquire over practice...and each day I was able to go a little longer. Sure, my back was aching and my hand was cramping but I was creating again and that was all that mattered. And every day I started to notice something else; a hair style that would look good miniaturized, a pretty color to work with, an inspiring spattering of freckles, a great outfit similar to something I had created once. All of the elements that made my style "mine" were coming back to me and I was finally feeling...happy.

This isn't to say I won't have bad days or that I'm "normal". Unfortunately I doubt I'll ever be able to use that word to describe me again. And I'm still not great with people, especially in large groups. But I'm on the road.

Again, I'm not sharing all of this for pity. And please don't feel badly for not knowing what to say. I wouldn't know what to say to me!! Don't worry about it. But if someone reads my story and it helps them get through a tough time then all this turmoil means something. You CAN get out of that dark place. You CAN get better. You CAN reclaim your life. There IS hope. For Bret's birthday I donated enough money to the AFSP to train a volunteer much like the ones that visited us after his death. And one day, when I'm strong enough, I hope to become a volunteer myself and help others through their own journey.


The Elephant in the Room Pt. 2...

(Warning: Those with trigger issues, proceed carefully)

My husband, Bret, and I met on a show called Jack & Jill in 1998. He was a makeup artist, I was a stand in. He claimed we'd talk way back then but I didn't remember it lol. Our paths crossed a lot in the next few years and you could always find us hanging out, laughing and smoking.

To know Bret was to love him. He was handsome; had bright, sparkly eyes; had the biggest, most honest laugh; could always cheer you up; knew exactly what to say and when to say it; and best of all was a decent human being...respectful, honest, kind. His insight belied his age...this guy was an old soul. We'd call him Yoda because he was constantly dispensing amazing wisdom. He was always available to his friends and went out of his way to make people comfortable...not because it looked good on him but because he genuinely cared. Possibly the most impressive though? He was the first guy my mom approved of!

I had so much respect for Bret, not just as a person but as an artist. He did the most beautiful work. His color selections were always right on, his blending immaculate, and his touch was the lightest possible. It felt like he was applying the makeup with a feather!  He could take the roughest face and make it look soft and pretty. "Cheeks!!", he'd say, "You need more cheeks!" lol. I was simply in awe of his talent, along with a great many others.

We both ended up working on Charmed in 2002. We marveled at how anyone could get paid to have this much fun...to be with their best friend and laugh all day...to fall in love. And fall hard we did. Within two weeks of being together as a couple, he proposed. We moved in together within 3 months and spent the next ten years proposing almost every day to each other.

Bret and I both felt and acted like we had won the lottery. We were so fucking happy, we said it felt like our souls did the Snoopy dance. We were the couple everyone hated to be around. It was suggested that we hand out barf bags at our wedding for when we made the guests sick lol. If he was off work for the day, I'd still get 30 texts from downstairs...asking when I'd be finished with my project... telling me he loved me...asking me to marry him. "God yes!! Marry me??" would usually be my reply. "God yes!! I love you so much!!" was his standard reply to mine. And so it went.

I'll stop here and clarify: nothing is PERFECT. We had our ups and downs too, everyone does. But at the end of the day we'd sit, watch TV, have a beer and laugh.

I was already painting dolls in my spare time when I met Bret but when we became "we", he took me to the next level. If I was stuck on a color combination, I knew I could go to him and say, "Honey, my doll is going to have blue eyes and rust colored lips but I'm stuck on the blush" and he'd take out some blushes and recommend the perfect one. He'd give me MAC books for inspiration, taught me techniques in blending, and sometimes even demonstrate the colors on me.

His favorite thing to do was come up with ideas for dolls for me to paint. Without fail, this is how it would go: "Honey, you know what doll you HAVE to do?? (Insert character name)!! But you know, if you paint them, you have to make the costume too. It won't look right without the costume!" I groaned every fucking time he started that sentence because I knew how it was going to end...in 2 weeks worth of work!! I would take him to doll events, he would make food for my visiting dolly friends, he knew most of the sculpts and all of the doll brands, and never so much as grumbled about me rattling on about dolls for hours.

There was not a doll that I painted in the last 10 years that Bret did not either have a hand in or at least review for me to make sure I had the painting right. Even if they looked great, he would suggest a specific tattoo that would obviously be brilliant. With his extensive background in merchandising, he advised me on auction layouts and pricing. When it came time, he fully supported the Empire endeavor. He was intrinsic to my art but I didn't realize how heavily until much later. I can hear him now..."That's all you. I just suggested ___.", his standard response when I'd thank him for helping me out.

When I got sick, I remember being so concerned about the bills at first. Of course that all went away with the rest of my mind, but I was also concerned about Bret. I usually took care of things at home, made sure the house ran smoothly. How was he going to handle all the added responsibilities? And would he still want me if my condition was permanent?

I don't remember my wedding. I couldn't tell you what I wore, or who was or was not there, or what we ate. I don't remember how Bret proposed that October 2011, but I can tell you that I've never felt anyone happier to be getting married, perhaps not even a woman. He'd come into the office singing, "You're gonna marry me, love me and kiss me" (sung a la Sandra B. in Miss Congeniality). And when it came to my illness, there was not so much as a cross word or a frustrated sound. He was always very gentle with me. I don't know if he was complaining to his friends lmao, "Seriously, who FORGETS to feed animals?! They're staring at you! Duh!" but he didn't say "boo" to me and even "I" would have lost it with me!!

Bret was steadily working on shows at that time while I sat at home, trying to remember...um, ANYTHING. Professionally he was doing really well, but he wasn't sleeping well. He chalked it up to wanting to catch up on his shows and I literally forgot about it in minutes. In July of 2012, I finally felt well enough to try painting so I dabbled a little. It wasn't until August that I was able to complete and sell my first repaint and then my back went out because I wasn't used to it. Two weeks later I was ready to try again. Each time I kept having back issues but I was determined. I took every supplement known to man, exercised, yoga'd. I was coming back, dammit! It was a slow process but I was finally able to take some commissions in Sept/Oct. Nothing major though. But all the while Bret would tell me everything was okay.

The reality was he was taking a lot of pain medication. If you're thinking of an amount, double...no, triple it. I wouldn't know exactly how much until later. Financially, his job came to an end and he was stressed. His next job didn't start for months so I put my porcelain Enchanted Doll up for sale. Bret was so unhappy I was selling her. Thinking about it now, I'm embarrassed to say I was pissed because I loved her so much. You know that one jewel in your collection that you want to be buried with? Yeah, that was her. I didn't know it hurt him much deeper than it hurt me though.

I wanted Bret to get help for his addiction. He agreed to see a doctor for depression but kept putting it off from Friday to Saturday to Sunday and we were fighting for what seemed like the whole weekend. Finally, I decided I was going to take him myself. With the auction on my Enchanted Doll closing that day...when most of our finances would have been squared....Monday morning, November 5th, Bret walked out the front door of our house and took his life in front of me.

I need a break. To be cont......

The Elephant in the Room Pt. 1...

In my case, the elephant is 10 tons and fluorescent pink. Sure I have a lot of other things I'd prefer to write about but I'm feeling stable this morning and just want to get this out of the way. The thought of not addressing what's happened never even entered my mind but it had to be in my own time. And because it affects me on so many levels, I feel that if you're going to deal with me you deserve to know my state of mind.

2011 was a doozy. I had felt "off" since the beginning of the year. My blog posts were getting further and further apart, I was on edge all the time, I was having a hard time concentrating, and things were slipping my mind, but I figured it was stress.

By the end of July I thought I had come down with mono. I didn't have insurance and had had it before in my early 20's so I "knew" what I was in for.  I spent August and September in bed sleeping for 16 hours a day which was par for the course but my memory was getting worse. My body ached, my ears hurt, my vision went blurry occasionally, and I had constant migraines. Even sick, I was trying to get a little painting done but holding the paintbrush steady was becoming a problem. I finally gave up after it took me 3 hours to paint a pair of nipples and even then, they were asymmetrical.

It wasn't the physical symptoms that scared me though, it was the mental ones. It was becoming harder to find my words, I got confused easily, had severe ADD, could no longer multi-task and was severely depressed. I joked that I felt like I'd lost my female superpowers and now had become a "guy" but honestly I was only 38 and had the mind of an elderly person.

By the time October came, I was basically invalid. All of my previous symptoms were getting worse, I would spontaneously burst into tears, and now my memory was shot. You know that feeling when you walk into a room and you forget why you were there? Apply it to everything. I had a memory recall of 5-10 minutes. I would start cooking, wander off, and forget I was cooking until the smoke alarm went off. If it didn't happen in front of me or within our walls then it didn't register and even then I'd forget as soon as you told me. I was totally Drew from "50 First Dates". My husband would come home from work and ask me what I did that day. I'd look at him and shrug with a smile, "I have no idea!". I say "with a smile" because literally I no longer had a care in the world. Nothing mattered, nothing existed. The lights were on but no one was home.

I not only lost myself, I lost my friends. Not that they weren't around, but in my head they didn't exist. I had the worst time stumbling through conversations..."You know that thing? The thing, you know, it's got those round things on them....WHEELS! They've got wheels and they....shit, I forgot what I was talking about." I had no means of communication because inevitably half of what I was attempting to say would be played in charades form. And phone calls? As soon as we were done I forgot we even talked. At first it was frustrating. Then it just became life. I had my son and my husband, that was it.

It finally got to the point where I acknowledged I needed medical attention. (I know, I know, I should have done it back in July but I really thought it would mend itself. What can I say, I'm stubborn that way.) So the beautiful man I had spent 8 years with officially asked me to marry him. We were wed and I made an appointment with a doctor within the week. Pre-meno was ruled out, every test known to man was run and when nothing came up, I was scheduled for an MRI.

During this time, I had learned of two other women who came down with symptoms like mine. Both thought they had mono. Both were diagnosed with MS. One was 18, the other 22. At 38, I thought I was screwed. I looked up YouTube videos of people with MS and bawled. "FUCK!", I thought. Is this what I had to look forward to??

On the day of the MRI, I decided I was going in fighting. I prettied up with a bright pink lipstick, chose a really cute outfit and met it head on. I refused to cry but on the inside I was shaking. It took two long weeks to get the results and when they came back clean, I burst into tears and thanked the clinician profusely.

But what the fuck was wrong with me???

We hadn't wanted to worry my grandmother who lives in Australia so we didn't say anything about my illness until it got really bad. At that point she asked me, "Do you drink diet soda?" "Um, only 4-8 every day for the last 13 years!", was my response. She told me to cut it off immediately and check out a website called http://www.sweetpoison.com/. Of the 92 symptoms of Aspartame poisoning, I had 35, some of which mimic MS. I was bewildered. Although I was skeptical when artificial sweeteners made their debut, I figured it must be safe to be on the market that long so I started taking it in, not only in diet soda but also adding it to my tea. But I'd never heard of them making people this sick!

The prescribed detox is a clean diet of water, fruits/vegetables and organic meats. I was almost as devastated as I was when I thought I had MS! I know it sounds ridiculous but seriously?? No take out?? No drive-thru?? No frozen food?? No sodas or tea or lemonade or ANYTHING??? I had to drink water???? UGH! It dawned on me that I was going to have to throw out half the pantry and learn to cook, something I swore I'd only do when I died, I hate it that much. Yeah, you guessed it, more tears. But I made the changes immediately, only with my food and beverages though...everything else was the same, meaning I didn't change my routine, didn't start exercising 5 hours a day, wasn't taking obscure Chinese herbs, etc. Within 2 weeks my symptoms went from 35 to 3. I still had the migraines, confusion and memory loss but everything else went away. It was nothing short of miraculous for me.

I was still going to specialists to find out if there was another cause. Not only didn't they find anything, they completely dismissed the idea that Aspartame had anything to do with my illness...wouldn't even entertain the possibility. I was shocked that they wouldn't even look into it, but ultimately so relieved that I was getting better on my own that I let it go. Once I learned that MSG is the salty equivalent to Aspartame, doing the same things to your nervous system, I became diligent about avoiding it and my last three symptoms improved greatly.

I don't remember months from 2010... hardly anything from 2011...and just bits and pieces until late 2012. The only reason I can relate my story at all is because I've repeated it over and over and over so that it's ingrained. I've literally been shown pictures of work done during that time which I'm not able to recognize as mine. I don't know if those memories will ever emerge. I'd feel sad or bitter but I literally don't know what I'm missing out on so no harm, no foul for now. I still have a little problem with memory. Things tend to slip my mind but I don't sweat it. I'm just grateful to be a regular ole multi-tasking girl again. ;)


Dipping My Toes

As the completion of this doll got closer and closer, I was both excited for the end and apprehensive. I found myself tweaking and tweaking and tweaking: "Oh, I should change this bit" or "Maybe I need to go a little darker here". Finally I had to ask myself whether it really needed changing or if I was putting off being done. And if I was putting it off, then why?

I took myself through the process: Did I not want to finish it? No, I was more than ready for it to be done. Was I worried it wouldn't be received well? No, I'm pretty zen when it comes to how a doll resonates. Was I worried it wouldn't sell? No, I detached myself from the sales part of this years ago. So what was the problem??

It came down to putting myself out there...opening myself up to conversation...conversations that were going to be hard. The normal protocol for auctioning off a doll is to go on the doll boards and announce your sale. It used to be something I looked forward to; interacting with other collectors, proudly showing off my new "baby". But I hadn't visited any of them for ages and the idea of dealing with hundreds of people literally petrified me.

I'm an introvert naturally. I relish my quiet time. It's how I recharge and get into my creative space. Since my trauma I've become even more so. With so much going on under the surface, interacting with people has become taxing and the larger the group, the faster I drain. I'm good for short bursts. I can even make you believe that I'm "normal", that I have it all together, that I've "healed". But the truth is that after an hour or two, my insides start screaming and I want to hide under the blankets and never come out.

However there was no getting around it. If I really was going to get back into painting, I would have to interact in my once happy place. So in preparation, I visited the largest doll forum last week. I hesitantly logged in and when the large pink logo filled my screen, I burst into tears. I used to spend so much time in this place; oogling dolls, joking with friends, discussing the latest releases. And each time I'd get off the computer and relate the daily goings on to my husband. It was ritual. It was comforting. And that part was now impossible.

I scrolled through a few posts, lurked a little, smiled a little and closed the page as quickly as possible.

Tonight I mustered up enough strength to post a little blurb about returning to painting and share my auction. I haven't been able to return though. I figured I'd give myself the night and try again in the morning. The responses I did see were all very sweet and welcoming. I didn't expect anything less, not because I'm so great but because doll people are some of the nicest I've ever had the pleasure to be around so of course they'd be nothing but gracious. I just couldn't go back.

I sit here as the tears roll down my face and wonder: how can something that makes you so happy also bring so much pain? And when will it stop? God, please, make it stop.  


Getting Back on the Horse

So I'm in the process of listing my first doll in almost a year and a half. This will be only the second auction for me in almost two and a half years. I'll get into the "whys" later. Needless to say, every step is taking FOREVER!!

The first hurdle was to be comfortable in the office again (that's a whole other Oprah). The next was to sit down and paint. You don't realize the physicality of sitting and painting until you're not used to doing it on a regular basis. After a couple of hours my back was killing me and my hand was aching so I could only do it for so long. I've literally been working on and off on this doll for a month.

Next was the photo shoot...pulling clothes and accessories. Again, I haven't been acquainted with my office for over two years so I didn't know "what" was "where". You should have heard me: "I know I have jewelry around here somewhere! Don't I have something that looks like "this"? And where the fuck is it???" When I get some time, I'm going to have to go through this place. I was pulling out things I didn't know I had which was kinda cool because I've got some beautiful pieces and now I'm excited to paint around them.

I also had to get used to taking pictures again. Trying to remember the settings on my camera to show off detail was frustrating but I figured it out. I forgot how much this step hurts the back too though...stooping down to get the shots or repositioning the doll. I've been sitting on ice for the last two days.

I'm currently working on editing the photos with my trusty carpal tunnel glove on. My editing computer is old and slow so before I could even import the pics I had to dump about 9k pics onto an external drive to free up space. It was tedious to say the least. Of course it wouldn't let me just drag and drop. I had to do it at a pace of 30 pics at a time so finally after 6 hours that was done. The upside was that they're mostly saved pictures of other repainter's work so I had a lovely, inspiring trip down memory lane. I consider myself to be so fortunate to have all of them as most of the artists don't paint anymore and these dolls are so beautiful.

I struggled to remember my photoshop routine. I don't generally do much: I crop and resize the picture, adjust the color balance if necessary, sometimes adjust the color of the background and blur it to keep the pictures uniform but that's it. Nothing gets done to the doll itself. Still took some time to figure it out though.

The final step will be to upload the pictures to my site and create the sales page. Even I'm intrigued with how long it will take considering I haven't so much as looked at my site in years. I don't even remember how to access it! I'm hoping my automatic pilot will kick in because racking my brain isn't helping lol.

Fingers crossed!

Where to Begin?

To call the last two and a half years of my life "rough" would be a substantial understatement. I've been reduced to ashes not once but twice. The first time took away my ability to function, the second took my will to live.

I'm not only finding my way back to "me" but also to what I loved so much before all of this began: dolls. It's been interesting to say the least so I thought I'd share my journey with you all. I'm not looking for pity or kudos. I'm actually quite apprehensive of interacting with large numbers of people. Plainly put, it scares the shit out of me. You'll come to understand why.

Some posts will be chronological, some experiences as they come up. What I express here will be alternately sad to depressing as hell, funny, informative, relatable, inspiring, and offensive (you thought I cursed before?? HA!), but at the end of the day, maybe my story will help someone else and that is why I'm doing this.

Here goes....