Sunday, May 31, 2015


Happy birthday to me. Today I am 34 years old.

Here is where I pause and roll that figure around and around in my head. Thirty-four.

My birthdays are always important to me. I think they've gained importance with age, as opposed to becoming something I shrug at or dread. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it is my new year. A few days ago someone raised the point to me that every day is somebody's new year. Very true, I said.

Today feels a little surreal right now. I woke up and told myself: today is my birthday and I should do what I want. I made coffee. I worked out despite telling myself I would take the day off from sweating. It is something I take pleasure in, I told myself, so I might as well do it. I made lunch and talked to my dad, who texted me birthday wishes as soon as he woke up. J brought me flowers yesterday and today they look exceptionally beautiful. I've done a fair amount of staring at my face in the mirror, counting freckles that weren't there a year ago, noting hair that is steadily becoming more grey than not. Later we have dinner plans with a few others. I have also cried today, which isn't something I had listed under "things I like to do." Also not on that list: dealing with nausea and dizziness and stomach pain from adjusting to an antidepressant again. But that is part of the process.

I went to a doctor last night who listened to my situation and agreed that I'm experiencing a relapse with my depression. As of last night I'm back on my meds, and I know there is an adjustment period and I intend on being as patient as I can.
Last night I also spoke with a close friend and, for the first time other than on my blog & with family, talked about how I've been struggling. I had difficult expressing the toughness of this place. Unless I can pull a stunt like the main character in the movie Powder, I don't expect anyone to fully get it unless they are here, in the same scenario. You get tired of explaining third world country frustrations.

Even now I pause often in typing this entry out. I'm still wading my way through the dark and writing about it feels like a chore. How many ways can the heavy be described? I go to one of my most favorite places, the thesaurus, and find: desolation, bummer, abjection, blue funk, bleakness. I first sounded out the last word as "blee-knees," which I actually kind of like. "Oh, I just have a case of the blee knees. Ice and elevation. Don't mind me."

On birthdays I usually like to reflect on things, but today my mind is tired. Many times in my life I've wished that our heads could be safely detachable--especially during bad migraines or when I'm feeling exceptionally blue. As if I could simply take her off for a bit and shoo her out the door, tell her to go play til the streetlights pop on. But our bodies do not work this way. As much as I may pine for the detachable cabeza, I am also determined to fight the urge to disconnect. The thing that is going to get me through this is myself. I refuse to let go of that. Hold on with one hand and search for light with the other.

I don't know. I guess this year my birthday is turning out to be much less about reflection and thought, and more about allowing myself to simply be. Here, now, this.

That sounds good. I think I'll stop writing now and go be for a while.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

this isn't really a disclaimer...but i wasn't 100% sure about making this post public until I realized that May is Mental Health Awareness month. I'm tired of being so oddly protective of my depression, as if not talking about struggling makes it less real. If you don't like that sort of thing or only come here for the pictures then stop reading.

Last week my brain broke.

This is a term I've used very rarely: my brain broke. It seems to be the only way to describe how depression can disintegrate my emotions, my thoughts, how the outside is processed internally. Think tumbleweed of short fuses and broken apart cookie.

The last time this happened: fall of 2009. I was sitting at my work desk mid-week. Each day leading up to that one presented a steeper pitch, a descent picking up speed. The evening before I saw my therapist--he was a nice enough person, encouraging me to say to myself "I am a lovable person; I am a valuable person" each time I walked through a doorway. This was something I honestly had trouble doing--I wouldn't allow myself to believe it. That evening he gently suggested I get an emergency evaluation if I wasn't feeling better. I don't remember much else about that session, other than crying a lot.

The next day I was sitting at work trying to read a paragraph on my computer screen, and I couldn't get past the first sentence. My brain couldn't make sense of it, or at least my brain didn't see any point in making sense of it. I felt panicked and broken at the end of the day, and instead of going home I walked myself up the hill to get an emergency evaluation at Western Psych. I didn't feel that I needed to be hospitalized, but I needed the broken feeling to stop. I was afraid that it wouldn't. I wanted to be told that what I was feeling wasn't okay, but that I would be alright. I met with a few doctors. My visit lasted nearly five hours. I went home. Plans were made for extensive therapy, and I was put on a new antidepressant.

I was on my antidepressant for five years, and happily so. The medicine took the layer of dark away and reintroduced me to my ability to function. I was okay. I still had to work on casting away negative thought and loving myself. It was not a cure or some magic thing but I was able to make sense of how I felt through clear glass instead of some muddy, distorted view. It leveled my light and dark. I did things. I worked and played hard. I fell in love. I traveled.

At the end of April 2014 I started tapering off my med. I did this on my own, weeks before going to see my doctor to let him know. He raised his eyebrows when I told him. He knew I was moving away, eventually to Egypt. He told me he didn't think I should go off the meds, but supported my decision. It was mine to make. And now, looking back, I see train wreck in my logic. My logic then was: you are losing your insurance, and you are moving to a place where this medicine might not be available. I didn't want the prescription to become a headache. I thought I was extinguishing a potential problem before it started. My intentions were good, but poorly timed: I left a place I knew as home for 13 years, moved back to my hometown for 7 months, then I moved to Egypt. All while bidding farewell to a medication that worked.

It took a while for me to taper my meds down to nothing, but I did it. And that feeling of hopelessness was waiting in the wings. Steadily, the dark layer came back and everything I built ended up submerged beneath it. And now it's here, and we are back to: my brain broke last week. It is that rare, other level type of wrong. Since then I've felt...two dimensional. Half here. Lost. I don't have the words. All this to say I am having a hard time again.

I tend to stay sort of private about these things, but right now I don't feel like it's best for me to keep quiet. I am hurting.
Life in Egypt has been incredible, but also difficult. It is a truly challenging place to be.I talk with my family often. I send email updates and pictures to friends, but when you're this far away it's hard to know what people truly want to hear from you. I can take pictures and describe certain quirks of Cairo, but when do I talk about feeling lost, displaced, forgotten? Dare I even mention it? How fortunate I am to experience this part of the world...I know this. I know this. I don't want to take this part of my life for granted.

But depression doesn't care where I am, and I believe it would've returned regardless of my place on a map. Being here just makes it a bit more inconvenient. I would love to say that I can do this without medicinal help, but maybe I can't. And that's okay. Now is not the time to be stubborn about what works. I recognize the dark and I feel the balance tipping. I know I need help. I have an appointment to see a doctor this weekend. While it's a bit daunting to be starting this process again, I realize I'm doing the right thing. It's self-care now or never. Despite the challenges right now, I am hopeful. I hope you are too.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

a love letter of details (3 - ode to felucca)

I've been teasing J about it since my arrival: I must buy a felucca. I will own a felucca and then all my problems will be solved. I will stay in Cairo with my boat, charge for rides on the Nile and blast my favorite music. I will only dock on the island for koshary or a lemon mint with friends. I could sleep on the boat in the shade of the bridges(like I spied one fellow doing). A felucca's life is the life for me.

A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat used on the Nile. You will find them docked up and down the river. A ride around the island costs 200 Egyptian pounds(approx. 28 dollars...and that was for 2 of us). Feluccas vary in ownership and decor--some boast neon lights around the edges that glow and flash at night, blasting music that echoes off the buildings along the riverside. Some feluccas are small and may hold 5--10 people, while others might hold a bit more. If you are new to Zamalek, it's a great way to introduce yourself to the island. Pro tip: try to pick a felucca with a "roof" that covers some(if not most of) the sitting area. Sometimes people like to spit from bridges.

J and I took a felucca ride on Friday. His first, my second. Now that I'm here, it's a rarity for me to show him something since he started living here first. We walk the island all the time, but everyone can benefit from a change in perspective.

There are so many beautiful sights you can only truly see from the water. There are many waterside cafes and gardens hidden from the street by various gates and partitions.

I'm not buying a felucca any time soon, unfortunately, but a gal can dream. A gal can dream.

a love letter of details (part 2 - visuals of a neighborhood)

J and I often take walks in Zamalek. The island is a beautiful mess of streets both busy and quiet. Sometimes I have to walk a street five or six times before I learn to recognize it--from one end to the other I will see something different for each time I walk it. A new friend for every stroll.

like this little guy

or this one

note the plate on the left of the sign is upside down

There are times when we are walking a street that can only be described as a clogged artery, or hot mess--a tangle of traffic and parked cars and trucks making deliveries. Right when the madness of car horns and voices and exhaust reaches mindcrushing crescendo, we will make a left and find ourselves on a peaceful, near empty block. No traffic, only bird song and the occasional delivery bike making a shortcut. A lone worker finding a moment of rest in building's shade.

the wind took this sign down months ago. I pass it on my way to the gym.

you might call this a local bulletin board. Renting a flat can be kind of tricky here--I don't even completely understand the process myself.

pledges of love. the full thing reads: "Dolphin loves Farah & he wants to marry her"

sometimes you find a parking space and never let it go...I see this type of thing often enough to be baffled by it. J and I agree that owning a car on the island would be incredibly difficult. Yesterday we were walking past a parked car just as a branch loosened itself from the tree above and bonked it on the hood. Some cars are parked so long that you will see where the road has been paved around their spot. And when it comes to traffic, you're much better of walking it(or, if necessary, grabbing a cab). I feel like I revert back to talking about transportation in this space often, but it's pretty fascinating...especially coming from the states, where roads are meticulously lined and people throw fits over a scratch on their bumper. One night, J and I were walking and we passed a pristine Maserati, and we both immediately started laughing. Good luck with that, buddy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

a love letter of details (part 1)

When I was a kid I held a belief that a place only existed when you were in it. I believed that once we left it, where we once were folded itself up and ceased to be there as well. I thought that maybe places like Paris were only imagined, or that vacation destinations were only real for the length of my stay. Kind of like object permanence, kind of like not. With time and travel and departure/arrival this idea of mine faded. All of the places exist, all the time. The ocean still crashes, no matter if I stand in front of it or not. The hometown still hums, Eiffel still stands.

I think about this now during my limited time in Egypt. The end of my living here will come, and call to prayer will go on, the dust will still gather and the roads that are now buckled will most likely remain that way, or erode to worse conditions. Ever since my first visit to Cairo, I've been determined to get down the details and find ways to rightly describe my existing here--I want to share it and share it well with my loved ones. There have been many days when I've parked myself in the coffee shop and scribble down everything that crossed my vision--a man in galabeya talking on his cell phone, a group of friends laughing and smoking out front. The candy apple Fiats and cats perched victorious on top of piles of trash. Is it the little or big that make a place? What have I still not noticed?

You never know how many shades of brown exist until you live in the desert. The way dust, sand, dirt lands on everything--how it finds a way even with all the windows and doors closed, especially during sandstorms. How every car carries an injury--missing side mirrors, dents, scrapes, an elaborately cracked windshield. They will be double and triple parked in the most unlikely of places. Here, most people have to leave their vehicles in neutral so that the parking guys can move them and refit them like tetris along the street. It's always a little surprising to see what fits where.

in Pittsburgh, everyone knows about "the parking chair." Here in Cairo, anything can be a parking space saver--grocery carts on their side, potted plants, or a broken vase, as pictured above

Miraculous vats of gelato at Gelato Mio, where two scoops on a cone costs 12 Egyptian pounds.

photo via identity-mags

Even littler the undeniable oh so sweet smell of shisha filling the air on a weekend afternoon. Spotting a street weasel while walking home at night as it scurries from one dark place to another. The funny cooing of doves outside the study window in the morning and the wet steam emanating from the iron guy's shop. The background noise of arabic and car horns--soccer balls for sale on the top floor of the grocery store. Little empty glasses of tea on the ground next to shop entrances. The two security guards who always play dominoes at their post. All the policemen changing from winter's black uniform to summer's whites. A volkswagen serving as permanent display case.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


this entry was written over a period of days(Monday to today, Wednesday), so excuse any error of past/present tense used...I'll try to use headings to make it easier

Monday evening
Good evening from Cairo. I have returned. I'm sitting on my balcony. Here is my current view:

Confession: I've only been awake for 3ish hours. I hate this confession. I hate it so much, because it means I've been asleep for a good part of my day due to jet lag. She is a mighty, mighty beast this jet lag thing. I am never prepared for the reality of it until I realize I've gone an entire night without sleeping(aka last night). I busted my way through 9 time zones so the 'lag is a surprise to no one. Well, maybe a little bit surprising to me(but that's because I am naive and assume that I can somehow outsmart the body clock and conquer it every time I travel--NOPE).

Aside from this grueling jet lag, my trip back to the middle east was relatively easy. As easy as 3 flights, 9 time zones can be. I am growing into quite a fan of Qatar Airways. Vegan meals! Oh so important on such a long haul.

obligatory "i'm in the sky!" shot because I never ever tire of being around some clouds

I miss my family a great deal already, but I am also happy to be back. I feel like I've done a bit of internal peacemaking this month, especially in regards to my relationship with Cairo, my current home. I suppose a part of me thought I would get here and jump in/swim with the current. No problem, no weight, no worry. I came to this place so hellbent on respecting it, and somewhere along the way my determination to be respectful turned me into a two-dimensional shadow of a person...aka just not being my damn self. I'm not sure why this happened. Maybe jumping into the mostly-unknown brings up a more reserved nature in me? That's a simple way to say it. I'm also starting to understand the true impact of the past year in my life--a lot of loss and change. So very much change.

Wednesday, early afternoon
Finally finally finally! I slept some proper hours last night. I woke up at 10am, very bleary-eyed, but awake. This was a welcomed change from staying awake all night and then sleeping 7 to 3pm. I had granola and coffee with J for the first time since I returned. We watched The Daily Show and enjoyed the moment. continue my ramblings from writing on Monday...I've returned to Cairo with a much better attitude than I departed with. A new determination to give myself a shot in this new place. To not just understand my environment, but to believe in who I am within it. That was my previous disconnect. I have felt so flung out in various directions--bits of me left in Pittsburgh, more of me left in my hometown(from first being there then returning) many rooms of my mind are piled with memories/emotions/moments from these places, and I am the type of thinker who must go through all of them, who is desperate to remember all of the gestures and measures and shifts in wind. It is this enormous amount of examining that has held me back and created a feeling of being half-here. Being present in the past does nothing for my now. There are answers in my living, not in what I left.

And is anything truly left behind if we lived it?