Jenny Cokeley

@cokeley1236569 | contributor
Jenny Cokeley

When Your Depression Makes Your Husband Walk on Eggshells

I feel like I’m made of eggshells. The broken pieces fall to the floor for you to tiptoe around. Sometimes I throw them like confetti, other times a bomb. One misstep—one piece crushed under your heel or gently brushed by your foot—sounds an alarm. Sometimes nothing happens and you exhale with relief. Other times I become a tearful, insecure nightmare asking why you don’t love me, even though you’ve loved me deeply and passionately for years. And then there are times my shell becomes impenetrable and I keep you at arm’s length with my anger, irritability, hurtful words, dirty looks and worst of all, silence. The storm of depression, anxiety, childhood trauma and forced menopause swirl around me and I lose my footing. Other times I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and temper the storm. You never know how I’ll respond, so you prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The truth is, I never know how I’ll respond, either. I never wanted to be this person. It breaks my heart that you must tread lightly because you deserve only the best of me—my biting humor; the off-kilter way I see the world that makes you laugh; my soft heart that loves deeply and unconditionally; my willingness to give you everything I have; my heart that belongs only to you; how I would sacrifice my life for yours without a second thought; and the love notes I slip under your pillow. You see the best and worst of me. I ask you how you could possibly love me and my broken shell. We fell headfirst into a timeless love affair—our true selves intertwined, our bond unbreakable even during the most fragile times. When I’m at my worst, you love all my broken pieces, and at my best, you love me just the same. I’ve given you broken shells and you’ve helped me piece them back together in such a beautiful way—like a Fabergé egg decorated with gold and garlands of diamonds. You help me see the beauty in the broken pieces glued together with love and compassion. You make me feel whole and I am forever grateful.

Jenny Cokeley

When Dementia Slowly Takes Your Loved One Away From You

I am watching you wither away, but there is nothing I can do but love you. Dementia is more powerful than I am. I’m just a human, but it has the power to weave its way into the lives of anyone it wants. It doesn’t care how old you are, what kind of life you’ve lived, how much money you have, or how well-known you are. Dementia was clever. It snuck in like a thief but didn’t steal anything right away. It waited and watched. It wasn’t greedy at first. It took a little bit here and a little more there so we wouldn’t notice — a misplaced item, a forgotten word, a lost memory. After it stole the little pieces, it wanted more. It took your short-term memory, your grandchildren’s names, and the way you understand and interact with the world. It will soon take the last of your independence, your children’s names, times and places, and who you used to be. You’ll forget about me and only know me as the kind woman who hugs you and tells you everyone is safe and sound when you can’t find the babies who grew up years ago. I wish I could put bars on our windows to keep the thief out. You can’t always count on dementia to be the same each day. It doesn’t usually like predictability, structure, or schedules. Sometimes it can swirl you around until you don’t know up from down. Other days, you’re just a regular old lady with a touch of forgetfulness who knows the name of the president and what season it is. Every day is a surprise. You tell me about your day and how busy you were — where you went, who you saw, and what they said. A stranger would believe you, but I know you spent your day traveling through time, and that busy day you had was decades ago. Time travel is exhausting and disorienting. No wonder you can’t always remember when and where you are. You swear people break into your home and leave food in your fridge and cupboards. I ask you, “Mom, why do you have eight boxes of granola bars and three family size bags of chips?” You look at me and say, “Oh, those aren’t mine. Those were here when I moved in.” Cleaning out your fridge is a guessing game. I ask to look in your purse to make sure you have your debit card. Your purse is full— a brush, three combs, one glove, pictures, old greeting cards, junk mail, and $10 in change. Your debit card isn’t in your purse, and I panic. It’s in your pocket. “Oh, I don’t know who put that there,” you say. It’s the same answer you give me when I ask why a watch you haven’t worn in 40 years is in your purse. You are angrier than you used to be. You accuse your twin sister of going through your purse and stealing your money. She is the target of all your wrath. It’s as if a lifetime together has reached its breaking point, and sibling rivalry is alive and well. You yell at her and strike out. Your words drip with anger. “Mumma always said you can’t be trusted. Daddy said to act right and come home right now!” You were just 16 years old when your father passed away. Lately, it seems like your disease is on fast-forward, and we are losing you more quickly. I can’t keep up. I thought I’d be ready, but I’m not. I look at your face and try to soak you in. I touch your soft, silver hair. I wrap my arms around your shrinking body. I want to scoop you up and hold you forever. You are more than my mother-in-law. You are my mother, and I am your daughter. You love me like I’ve always been yours, and you’ve always been mine. My heart will break when you don’t know who I am and how much I love you. I’ll never be ready to lose you.

Jenny Cokeley

If You Still Don't Feel OK Because of the Pandemic, It's OK

I’m not going to lie, 2020 was a rough one. Understatement of the century, am I right? I’m one of the fortunate ones, seemingly untouched by the true horrors of COVID-19, but I’m not OK. Thank goodness it’s OK not to be OK. I’m not OK, fine or alright. Do I have countless blessings? Yes, but I’m not OK. Am I full of gratitude? Yes, but I’m not OK. Do I try to focus on the positive when I can? Yes, but I’m not OK. And it’s OK for you not to be OK, too. We aren’t puzzles that can be easily solved if we fit the gratitude-shaped piece into the blessing border, and connect meditation and yoga with self-help books and mantras. The pandemic has wrecked my mental health, not all at once, but by bits and pieces. Some days, I feel like my sanity is tethered to me by a string of thread. I want to run away, but there is nowhere to go during a pandemic. I have proven to be very resilient over the years, but this feels different because I don’t know how long the pandemic will last or how long I will have to be strong. Growing up, I knew I only had to make it through 18 years before things would be better. I knew my journey with breast cancer involved a two-hour surgery and 30-something radiation treatments. Not knowing is the worst for me. This is how not being OK feels to me: I’m stuck in the middle seat on a long flight with no leg room or elbow space. My seat doesn’t recline. I desperately want to jump out of my skin and tear the door off the plane mid-flight. I’m stuck in my chair and just have to be happy with my cup of ginger ale for a million more miles. I’m walking a tightrope made of a single piece of blue string not meant to hold a human, let alone one full of Uber Eats and Grubhub. I hang on tight with my toes because I don’t want to fall into an abyss of nothingness. I’m lost and can’t see where I’m going or where I’ve been. I don’t recognize any of the landmarks or signs that tell me I’m on the right path. I’m wandering, stumbling and taking tiny steps with the hope I’ll soon be home. A time bomb is counting down in my head, but I don’t know if I have 30 seconds or 30 years. I just know I will explode. It could be a little smoke and noise, or it could leave a crater where my neighborhood used to be. Tick. Tick. Tick. I can burst into flames just as easily as I can burst into tears. I’m wearing a straitjacket made of heavy, black wool that makes my skin itch and burn. I can’t move my arms to scratch my skin and it’s the only thing I want to do. Black tentacles are wrapped around my internal organs and tighten every time I fight. My tummy bursts like a water balloon. Stomach acid floods my body and eats away my brain. Everything matters and nothing matters. I want to curl up under my work-from-home desk and shrink down to the size of a dust bunny and disappear into the heater vent where I don’t have to care about anything. I’ll run away with a lonely spider and we’ll cuddle in its web — just before it spins me into a cocoon and saves me for a midnight nibble. A tornado rips up all my fears and swirls them inside my mind so furiously chunks of gray matter are lobbed like grenades and all my happy little memories are leveled. I’m not OK, but I will be. I have no doubt about it. A version of this story originally appeared on Forever Sassy.

Community Voices
Jenny Cokeley

The Highs and Lows of Being a Highly Sensitive Person

Crybaby! You’re too sensitive. You’re too thin skinned. Oh, my god, are you crying again? You’re overreacting. Just get over it. You’re too soft-hearted. You wear your heart on your sleeve. Don’t take things so personally. Get out of your head. Growing up, being sensitive was not a strength. It was shameful evidence that there was something wrong with me. I was different. It wasn’t safe to have or express emotions, but I couldn’t hide them completely. I just tucked them away into little boxes within myself until I went to bed at night when it was safe to let them out. I emptied out all the boxes, except for anger. That one was shut tight for years. The shame of being emotional followed me into adulthood. I hated the depth of my feelings, how my body instantly responded with tears before I realized what had happened. I cursed my emotions and how they clung to me and touched everything I said and did, how they controlled me and how heavy they were to carry around. It made me feel weak. Forever the crybaby. Even today, I’m easily overwhelmed, and it feels like a tornado in my tummy. My heart is easily broken. I feel every pull of my heartstrings. I feel everything — the energy when I walk into a room, other people’s heartache, moods that are not my own, worries that are not mine to carry. I can sense when something is wrong and am frustrated when I can’t fix it. I notice little things that are easily overlooked. Feeling so much is exhausting. Recently, I scrolled through YouTube and an animated video caught my eye — 8 signs you are a Highly sensitive Person (HSD) by Psych2Go. It led to other videos about being highly sensitive. Each sign described me, as if the videos were home movies that chronicled my life. There are others like me. Just knowing there is a name for it is a relief — what makes me different is special and a strength, not a shameful defect. Knowing that feeling deeply, having incredible empathy and compassion for others, being able to read someone else’s emotions, connecting to people and being a good listener are super powers. It’s genetic. Being highly sensitive fuels my creativity. My emotions are the ink I use to string written words together. It’s not enough for you to read the words. I want you to feel them. I want them to live inside of you for a little while. Being a Mighty contributor allows me to share my creativity with you — an invitation to experience my life. Please consider following me on The Mighty and my blog, Forever Sassy.

Jenny Cokeley

Support for Breast Cancer Survivor's With Survivor's Guilt

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, I didn’t ask why I got cancer. Why wouldn’t it be me? Cancer doesn’t care who you are. It’s very generous in the way it gives. What I do ask myself every day is why I survived and someone else didn’t. Why didn’t I have to struggle through major surgeries, hospitalizations, chemotherapy, profound loss on so many levels — a body that would never function or look the same? I didn’t have to say goodbye. No one had to lose me a little each day. I am so thankful for my cancer journey, but I also have survivor’s guilt that has settled in my brain and heart. Sometimes I feel, because I did not suffer as much as others, my cancer was less than, as if it wasn’t horrible enough to justify any amount of attention, worry or written words. Survivor’s guilt makes it difficult for me to call myself a fighter or survivor worthy of pink ribbons. But just thinking this minimizes the experience of so many women like myself whose breast cancer journey included a lumpectomy, radiation and medication. It minimizes the fear and worry my family experienced while they walked beside me during this journey. It minimizes the work of those who dedicated their lives to treating and supporting people with cancer. And it minimizes every mile walked to find a cure. I want tell survivors, especially myself, that their experience was profound and life-altering, that every worry and tear were justified, that their journey was not less than –that they are not less than for having survived when someone else didn’t. Their story is inspiring and impactful, especially to those who are just starting their journey. I want to tell them it was no easy feat to summon all their strength and endurance to reach the end, no matter what the ending meant for them. I want to say there is no room for guilt because surviving cancer is not offensive or malicious — it was not stolen from someone else. I want to ask them to replace guilt with peace, compassion, and an appreciation of every joyful moment. Having written these words, I realize I can ask the guilt to release its hold on me. I can refuse to minimize my experience. I am a cancer survivor. Follow my journey on my blog “Forever Sassy” at jennycokeley.com and follow me on The Mighty.

Community Voices

Please Stay

I’ve never attempted suicide, but I’ve contemplated it a hundred times. I was seventeen the first time I thought about doing it. I would turn away from my bedroom window vowing never to give my father the satisfaction of my death.

After I left for college, I was diagnosed with depression and began my experimentation with drugs—Prozac was the first, from the lowest dose

to the highest. Then came a slew of others, some on their own, others part of a cocktail of this and that. Zoloft, Effexor, Lexapro, Pristiq, Cymbalta, Wellbutrin, Trileptal, Lamictal, and Celexa. I knew it was time to adjust my medications when thoughts of suicide returned. I fantasized about slicing my wrists open while making dinner, making a sudden swerve into oncoming traffic, jumping in front of a train instead of patiently waiting for it to pass. I didn’t tell anyone, certainly not my psychiatrist or counselor. I was more afraid of saying those words out loud than dying. I lied on every questionnaire.

When my medications were working as well as they could at the time, I didn’t think about suicide, but I didn’t care about living, either. I thought the world would be better off without me. Dying would be better than the incredible pain I carried around and the exhausting chore of living. When my medications worked really well, I thought perhaps this life was worth living after all, but I still hurt.

There were two things that stopped me from harming myself. The first was a promise as important as my wedding vows. My husband asked me to promise to not harm myself. I am accountable to that promise and the love I have for my husband. The second is just as important. I am terrified of the thought that the trauma it would cause my daughters would alter their lives forever. It would change who they were meant to be. There would be a hole in their hearts they could never fill because their mother left them.  They would carry that pain forever, and I cannot live or die with that.

I have great compassion for those who have taken their own lives, who have attempted it, who have thought about it.  Please don’t say they are being selfish. There is no way to describe the excruciating pain and hopelessness they carry around to those who haven’t felt it in every cell in their body. I have felt that pain and here is my plea to those who suffer—Reach out. Make a promise. Be accountable to someone, anyone. Your life is impactful and your death would be devastating. Your life is worth living even when depression tells you otherwise. Choose life every day even when you feel you don’t have a choice. Stay.

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Jenny Cokeley

When Your Depression Makes Your Husband Walk on Eggshells

I feel like I’m made of eggshells. The broken pieces fall to the floor for you to tiptoe around. Sometimes I throw them like confetti, other times a bomb. One misstep—one piece crushed under your heel or gently brushed by your foot—sounds an alarm. Sometimes nothing happens and you exhale with relief. Other times I become a tearful, insecure nightmare asking why you don’t love me, even though you’ve loved me deeply and passionately for years. And then there are times my shell becomes impenetrable and I keep you at arm’s length with my anger, irritability, hurtful words, dirty looks and worst of all, silence. The storm of depression, anxiety, childhood trauma and forced menopause swirl around me and I lose my footing. Other times I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and temper the storm. You never know how I’ll respond, so you prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The truth is, I never know how I’ll respond, either. I never wanted to be this person. It breaks my heart that you must tread lightly because you deserve only the best of me—my biting humor; the off-kilter way I see the world that makes you laugh; my soft heart that loves deeply and unconditionally; my willingness to give you everything I have; my heart that belongs only to you; how I would sacrifice my life for yours without a second thought; and the love notes I slip under your pillow. You see the best and worst of me. I ask you how you could possibly love me and my broken shell. We fell headfirst into a timeless love affair—our true selves intertwined, our bond unbreakable even during the most fragile times. When I’m at my worst, you love all my broken pieces, and at my best, you love me just the same. I’ve given you broken shells and you’ve helped me piece them back together in such a beautiful way—like a Fabergé egg decorated with gold and garlands of diamonds. You help me see the beauty in the broken pieces glued together with love and compassion. You make me feel whole and I am forever grateful.

Jenny Cokeley

When Your Depression Makes Your Husband Walk on Eggshells

I feel like I’m made of eggshells. The broken pieces fall to the floor for you to tiptoe around. Sometimes I throw them like confetti, other times a bomb. One misstep—one piece crushed under your heel or gently brushed by your foot—sounds an alarm. Sometimes nothing happens and you exhale with relief. Other times I become a tearful, insecure nightmare asking why you don’t love me, even though you’ve loved me deeply and passionately for years. And then there are times my shell becomes impenetrable and I keep you at arm’s length with my anger, irritability, hurtful words, dirty looks and worst of all, silence. The storm of depression, anxiety, childhood trauma and forced menopause swirl around me and I lose my footing. Other times I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and temper the storm. You never know how I’ll respond, so you prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The truth is, I never know how I’ll respond, either. I never wanted to be this person. It breaks my heart that you must tread lightly because you deserve only the best of me—my biting humor; the off-kilter way I see the world that makes you laugh; my soft heart that loves deeply and unconditionally; my willingness to give you everything I have; my heart that belongs only to you; how I would sacrifice my life for yours without a second thought; and the love notes I slip under your pillow. You see the best and worst of me. I ask you how you could possibly love me and my broken shell. We fell headfirst into a timeless love affair—our true selves intertwined, our bond unbreakable even during the most fragile times. When I’m at my worst, you love all my broken pieces, and at my best, you love me just the same. I’ve given you broken shells and you’ve helped me piece them back together in such a beautiful way—like a Fabergé egg decorated with gold and garlands of diamonds. You help me see the beauty in the broken pieces glued together with love and compassion. You make me feel whole and I am forever grateful.

Jenny Cokeley

When Your Depression Makes Your Husband Walk on Eggshells

I feel like I’m made of eggshells. The broken pieces fall to the floor for you to tiptoe around. Sometimes I throw them like confetti, other times a bomb. One misstep—one piece crushed under your heel or gently brushed by your foot—sounds an alarm. Sometimes nothing happens and you exhale with relief. Other times I become a tearful, insecure nightmare asking why you don’t love me, even though you’ve loved me deeply and passionately for years. And then there are times my shell becomes impenetrable and I keep you at arm’s length with my anger, irritability, hurtful words, dirty looks and worst of all, silence. The storm of depression, anxiety, childhood trauma and forced menopause swirl around me and I lose my footing. Other times I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and temper the storm. You never know how I’ll respond, so you prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The truth is, I never know how I’ll respond, either. I never wanted to be this person. It breaks my heart that you must tread lightly because you deserve only the best of me—my biting humor; the off-kilter way I see the world that makes you laugh; my soft heart that loves deeply and unconditionally; my willingness to give you everything I have; my heart that belongs only to you; how I would sacrifice my life for yours without a second thought; and the love notes I slip under your pillow. You see the best and worst of me. I ask you how you could possibly love me and my broken shell. We fell headfirst into a timeless love affair—our true selves intertwined, our bond unbreakable even during the most fragile times. When I’m at my worst, you love all my broken pieces, and at my best, you love me just the same. I’ve given you broken shells and you’ve helped me piece them back together in such a beautiful way—like a Fabergé egg decorated with gold and garlands of diamonds. You help me see the beauty in the broken pieces glued together with love and compassion. You make me feel whole and I am forever grateful.