I sold my boat the day before yesterday. I expected it to be sadder, more emotional, but somehow or other the universe decided to simul-cast the offer and selling process with the loss of my Chick and Dude, it wasn’t. Chick and Dude, my beloved pet chickens were too loud for the neighbors, and being people, their comfort and peace in their home matters most. I know this.
I’ve been weeping since Friday, on and off. It’s Sunday now. My sorrow goes something like this: they are so happy, their new caretaker is a crazy awesome chicken couple, which makes me happy, kindred spirits, they have a better yard, a better coop… and, we are thinking of moving, so maybe, just maybe, I can have Chick and Dude back. Just those two, my sweet little loves. My little flock of feathery familiars. Here I go again.
So this morning, I took a couple hydraulic lines down to the boat. The new owners are a young woman and her boyfriend, and they each are fishing their own boats. When I got there, the windows were fogged (a sure sign of someone on board), and a new dog barked and jumped off deck to check me out. Thor, a good boy, is taking care of the boat. Protecting it, and it’s new captain, and she’s also taking good, good care.
You gotta be scrappy to get into commercial fishing as a little guy. Like, a tiny, tiny, 31” little guy. The banks don’t loan on wooden boats, good luck getting insurance, and hey, climate change is real.
This couple is scrappy, and I remembered the feeling- the racks of things at the local gear shop that each cost a million trillion bucks and you need one of each. But, but, but this trip, this next one, will break me even, it’ll be the jackpot, the one. And, it never is, but that never actually feels disappointing, because it was surely an adventure the likes of none other. Even when it’s a grind, even when it’s year after year. I know people that are so sick of fishing, so damn burned out on low prices and no fish and they are the people that I know who are back at it, every day, every year. Because there’s something about it.
The boat taught me a lot. It taught me that every professional role I had ever had was a supporting role, and traditionally female. The closest I came was in writing, but even there, the writing that actually supported me was all copy for someone else.
The things I thought I knew about equality were untrue, I had just been living in the privileged place of not challenging the system. A woman captain, a woman who is her own mechanic, a woman in general, was a challenge for a lot of people. Don’t get me wrong, of course not everyone- but the ones who didn’t bat an eyelash are the ones that stand out because of that, not the norm. When I called in for parts, it was usually assumed I was calling for someone, and one time, the woman even told me to ask my husband to check what I was saying to make sure I was asking for the right part. Fun stuff.
But none of that mattered out there.
The first year, I showed my son what my dad taught me about the ocean, the fish, the world. We worked together handtrolling, just us, 31” of beautiful wooden boat, lines, hooks and the ocean. The first year, my son was still struggling with finding the right mix of medications to both quell the worst symptoms of schizophrenia. Several times, my husband came out with us, and we would literally cheer, scream, holler, high five, dance and shout. Fish on! It was some of the happiest times of my life.
Also, there were some gut checking times. Times I worked physically harder than I had ever worked in my life. My body took a beating and got strong. Really, really strong. My physical confidence took on a whole other dimension- it mattered not one tiny shit what anyone thought of my body- it’s job was to keep me safe, to do what needed doing, and to pick up some legit Michelle Obama arms in the process. But I did it, I cut the kelp off the stabies, I grabbed the wire (bad idea) when the brake gave out on the gurdy, and held it with my hand as I tried to clip it off and take the gears apart to reset the break on the gurdy, because there weren’t any of the washers I needed in town.
And then, there was the time that I foolishly got knocked out by the hatch cover, and it wasn’t because of a stroke of luck that my son happened to be right there to pull it off and help me wrap my head up. The lines were out. Someone had just seem me pull literally the one king salmon I’d gotten in a day and a half, and was now following me in my drag. We didn’t stop fishing, although I now know we should have. I say it wasn’t luck because it was me, demanding he watch me go beast-mode on the ice, which led to my foolish actions that got me hurt. That first summer, I was still trying to get him, us all, to fit into some mold that was already cast- trying to find a place to be, a way to live, some way to just BE in this new normal, my new role as medical guardian, and mental health advocate. I had been experimenting with being a dragon, but the worst of times had just passed, and I was trying to learn how to live outside the red zone, the undiagnosed, unmedicated, full-throttle, scared-to-death-every-second-of-every-day zone that we’d lived in for years. It had been one year since diagnosis, and I was still raw. We all were.
After the ice-hatch incident, my son didn’t like being on the boat. Schizophrenia, practically speaking, turns stress and the resulting adrenaline into poison for the sufferer. Every time he went below for a nap- which was a lot, anti-psychotic medications are not a joke- he’d have nightmares, intrusive thoughts that I would fall over board or otherwise die and I wouldn’t be there when he got up. By the end of the season, I fished alone.
That first year, I went from being pretty sure I could fish the boat alone, to having already done it. I pushed myself hard that year, sometimes harder than I thought, because I was reading the weather incorrectly. It turns out, growing up fishing, or even fishing on boats as an adult, there was so much that I didn’t know until it was all on me.
That year, I figured I was doing worse, knowing less and way more scared than anyone else, but I kept on. I proved something to myself that year, and it took a couple more years to realize that I had nothing to prove. Back then, my life felt like a constant defense, I was constantly defending myself, my choices and actions. It took a while to understand that I was not on trial.
Well, the next year. In the winter between, a couple things of significance happened. My son forgot how much he’d hated it, and got excited to go fishing again. This was partly because his prospect had started to feel a lot slimmer to him. We went the route of being open about schizophrenia in our family. Hiding it implies some kind of shame, and even when I was busy living in the depths of my own grief and shame, I knew that my kid had nothing to be ashamed of. This disease, this awful disease was not something he had done, and we wouldn’t live like it was. So I was beginning to explore advocacy, to understand my new role, not as the mother of a child, but as the advocate for the young man struggling to spread his wings under a set of circumstances he had never prepared for.
The other thing that happened that winter were the pulmonary emboli. Sometimes, very rarely, anti-psychotics can trigger them, although, truly, the unprovoked ones cannot be determined yet almost a third of the time, so no one really knows, and the result was the same. Blood thinners were added to the lifetime rxs.
But as it turned out, he only came out once. It was a really good trip, and we’d come so far since the beginning, but it was still stressful, still scary, and now it was boring, as he wasn’t able to do anything that could cause bleeding or bruising.
So then, the boat taught me a lot about failure. The rest of the season, I failed as a fisher person, and I failed as a caregiver. I failed the boat, doing some maintenance as it was needed, which is a really bad idea. I failed myself, by not honoring what I knew: this wasn’t going to work for us. This dream, this forever dream, of fishing, was no longer an option, at least, not like this. Because the boats gotta go where the fish are, and it’s good if the captain’s there, too. And even when I was, I wasn’t. The knots in my stomach and heart, the aching of a constantly clenched jaw, the soreness of a constant stress headache were unrelenting when the cell phone signal was out, which accounts for the majority of the grounds I needed to be fishing in. The fishing had given me something I had needed, but what I needed now was to put my proof where my heart was, my action where it was needed, and that was home. Home, to tend my plants, to tend my chickens and to tend my advocacy, to not let up in favor of keeping on failing in the interest of… of what?
Being needed at home had kept me from working outside the house pretty much since the beginning of the acute phase of schizophrenia, and also left me with the realization that I had been needed at home during the prodromal phase, too, and instead I had buried myself in long days of blissfully unscary work.
I also wrestled with a lot of opinions. I had a nurse from my sons clinic, on her way out tell me that the reasons she was burnt out was because there were no success stories, that it would always be bad, worse. She wasn’t wrong, but she sure as hell wasn’t talking about us.
Another professional told me that I couldn’t keep up the level of support I was giving my son forever, because I would die and then what. Even she immediately looked a bit chagrined as we both acknowledged that ridiculousness of that: one really unexpected blessing of being a super young mom is that I’m not old, not at all. I started to realize at that point that the goal for my son was conformity, discipline and routine. Low income housing was brought up a lot, the need to be independent.
It was through this that I realized I wasn’t going to get permission or approval for being true to myself, to my son and husband, for living authentically and unapologetically. No one else knew who we were, how could they? What was best for us was to give as much support as we possibly can, to advocate for, and to support the natural independence of the adult suffering from a chronic, often degenerative disease. And there wasn’t one person anywhere who could do a better job that that, and also, not one person who could make believe that I was being a martyr, or giving up on my own life, because those were just indications that they didn’t know me. I was being a martyr to pretend there was anything else in the world more important to me, and I didn’t have to pretend otherwise to fit anyones assumptions.
It wasn’t only negative opinions. We were lucky to have established care early on with a wonderful psychiatrist and an MD, both of whom were amazing. And we needed it, because for a cyclic, chronic illness, it doesn’t have to be because of anything that someone gets sick. My son went to the hospital several times that year, for varying lengths of stays, from the time he was dismissed by a caseworker with instructions to: to “watch tv as a distraction,” to the couple weeks he spent in an inpatient program.
These were some rough times, but I was there. I was there to help. To see the signs and start talking. To open the communication, to drive to the hospital, coordinate meds, and new meds, and finally six meds a day, all on different refill schedules, because this pharmacy doesn’t take this insurance, and that one’s in another town, and insurance won’t pay for it out of schedule, so I can’t get it all lined up. But, I do. I have a calendar, a system.
Now, my son is working, my husband is working, and I am working. It’s only been a year since a nurse in a behavior health clinic told me there were no success stories. And, if she hasn’t gotten over her burn out, maybe she’d say he’s only 22, and the stories not ever, and she’s right: he’s only 22, the stories not over, how dare anyone write him off.
Now, another nurse told me he’s the patient that the psychiatrist is so amazed by and proud of. In the past years, since diagnosis, he’s passed four college classes, he’s written an incredible library of music, lyrics and beats, and he’s explored many, many theories on everything from stocks to the law of attraction. Sometimes, he explores his delusions, because he now knows that some of the beliefs he had were delusions. I wasn’t the one to tell him, it was time and healing. Good, stable medication, therapy and space, room, acceptance. At 22, he was adopted by my husband, and that was a happy, happy day.
So, today I said goodbye to the boat, in my heart, as I walked away, and I came to the realization that this weekend, I had been given exactly what I asked for. My darling chickens had a beautiful yard, my beautiful boat was questing on, and my family was good, solid. Everything was shifting, but what I was letting go of was expanding the joy, the love and the freedom.
In the warm sunshine, walking down the dock, feeling the layers floating off, I recognize my sorrow as love, as deep, deep love, and I am happy that today, at least, I am exactly the person that I would want to meet.