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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

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Today is a day you send back in time. Your younger self needs a hint, however fleeting, that this day waits for her. She won’t know you’ve hand a hand in whatever traces across her skin. She won’t even know you’re here watching over. Even so, today and the other days like it twine their slender threads around her. Lift her gently from the vortex of whatever drain she’s circling. Help her break the surface.

When she’s found her breath and feet again, she’ll call it luck. Or coincidence. She’ll credit a friend’s arrival, a passage on a new page, lyrics she’s never heard just so. The meds. Her own grit. She won’t know you’ve transported the snapshot complete with its texture, its scent and fizz, to shiver through her senses. She’ll never know, not until later. Until now.

You’re okay with her ignorance. You only need her to stay alive for a little while longer. To reach you. (more…)

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Raft of Books

ship book

First I picked up the books. Then the books carried me. The past several months have tried to push my head under. I could barely trust my own breath. So I read. Some came recommended. Mostly I stumbled and grabbed. Books by authors of color, books about the dangerous future. If the book didn’t buoy me, it went back in the library bag and the next one had its shot.

Dozens of authors worked their magic craft, quieting the inner cacophony. They nudged me across the churning waters into places where everyone speaks in a voice other than my own.

(more…)

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labor-of-love

The friend says the pressure to love her body is too much.  “Isn’t it enough to not hate it?”  This is what we are supposed to do as women. It’s yet another thing to add to the list.  Love ourselves.  Love our bodies exactly as they are.

That word, love.  It covered my notebooks in junior high, markers and hearts.  As a teenager, those four letters grew far too big for crushes.  They became like currents sweeping the earth in a gusting flourish, ecstasy and aspiration with a peace sign woven into the O.

The tropospheric ribbon of script I tattooed across my days was a declaration of protest.  It was a way to give voice, unformed as it was, to an infant movement.  A confederacy of truth was gathering, and it was growing skeptical, maybe downright mutinous, of the dogma that ordered my inner life.

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Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.


-Wilkins Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield

The last slide on the budget PowerPoint lays out our school’s financial plan:

  • Increase revenue
  • Decrease spending

(Seriously?)

The boss man knows enough to apologize for it but not enough to skip it altogether.  None of us wants to hear it again.  We are familiar with the formula. Every pixel of internet clickbait loops us back around to yet another listicle that peddles yet another version of the same recipe.

Want to get fit?  Exercise more, eat less.

Tackle the day?  Fewer screens, more sleep.

Be a good friend? Listen more, talk less.

A good lover? Less grasp, more give.

Scale it up and the formula breaks down. Good luck giving global overpopulation the “less babies, more birth control” treatment.  Large-scale social problems have to reckon with the complexity of human cultures, histories, and economies.

This is why we love the personal self-improvement principle almost as much as we loathe it.  While its simplicity balms the wounds of chaos, its refusal to acknowledge complexity drives us batty.

Too hooked on your fix? Use less, breathe more.

Struggling with social anxiety or loneliness? Isolate less, connect more.

Stuck in your career? Hide less, lead more.

Anyone who has ever come up against a tough challenge knows that paths are crooked and terrain that at first appeared solid turns to quicksand in a blink.  It’s only when we’re far on the other side of it — or perhaps when we’re judging some other poor sucker’s fight — that we apply the simplicity principle.

I’m not the only one in the room looking at those PowerPoint bullets through rolling eyes.  As if.

As if all our problems could be solved so easily.

But now I wonder.

What if Mr. Micawber is right after all?

Not for everything, but for one thing in particular: when it comes to this life-choking, spirit-sucking, too-many-decades-in-residence depression, what if Mr. Micawber’s formula is exactly the one I’ve never really tried?

More happy, less misery.

Of course it can’t be that easy.  Not for most of us anyway, and definitely not for the hard core clinical pits into which I stumble, body and mind shattered, bruised and slick with mud. . .

Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of metaphor that costs me twenty pounds nought and six.

Happy = revenue.  Misery = expense.

How might this look?  Here’s an example:  When I remember yet again that awful phone call from Friday in which I learned that Bug and I missed an opening from a many-years waitlist for family camp because I called one minute (the registration lady told me) after the last person who got in. . . I say to myself, “Rehashing this makes me sad. I’m going to think about something else now.” Then I cast around for something nice to notice and remind myself that we’re going to have our own adventure this summer, whatever it is.

Or it looks like this: When my kiddo scowls and tells me yet again that he doesn’t love me and in fact I stink like a rotten poop-eating skunk, I consider how much better laughing feels than fussing. I clap my hands in delight and say I love eating rotten poopy skunk carcasses, they’re even better if they’ve been marinated in worm puke. Then we’re giggling and tickling, and our smiles bounce off the walls.

Or it looks like putting on music when I’m home alone and dancing while I do the dishes. Or texting a girlfriend just to say hello. Or carrying colored pencils in my bag so I can doodle while my son carries on with his buddies at a birthday party.

Or just frittering away my time stuck in traffic counting off the day’s 100 blessings.

It looks like noticing when I’ve started to pay the inflated cost of ruminating while missing an opportunity to generate some pleasure revenue.  A person who tends towards depression needs only one thundercloud to knock the account all out of balance again. Building back up from that kind of debt is a wearying toil — an avoidable one, as it may happen.

When I have enough attention to notice, I might choose to forgo the temptation.  Do not overthink, do not give in to self-pity.  Like walking past the Cheetos at the supermarket.  Just don’t.  Sure, those things are familiar but they make me feel disgusting, and really, they don’t even taste that good.

Can it be this stupidly, improbably simple?

Give it a shot, Smirk.

Choose happy whenever possible.  Or colorful, or musical, or goofy. Choose anything that lifts and ignites over anything that weighs and chokes.  Marvel at the beets, smell a bunch of dill.  Imagine what new recipe to make.  Flirt with the butcher.  Hum while trundling down the aisles.  If it increases the happy income, do it.  If it exacts its price in misery, walk on by.

It makes me smile just to begin.

See? Already, I’m saving for happy.

Simple as that.


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Baltic Human Chain

This is a story about a Metrobus and a jacket.

Yep, as primary returns roll in and the future of our too-fragile (we now realize) democracy hangs in the balance, this is fluff about public transit and rush hour stress.

Maybe this is the best I can manage. Maybe the chilling prospect of the Fourth Reich overtaxes a mind until it can bear no further weight. Maybe getting up early to vote means the work day was long and a girl is weary.

Maybe it’s just because this is what happened.

On a day when the temperature creeps up to 60 degrees, the leather jacket needed to ward off the morning chill becomes an encumbrance by 5:00. I heft backpack, lunch bag, jacket onto the bus to head home. It squeals to a stop, I hop off and walk about 50 yards before I realize.

Backpack (check). Lunch bag (check).

Jacket. . .?

I stand frozen for a full 15 seconds. The bus is long gone, heading north on that crowded rush hour artery. Riding quietly in the back is one of the nicest pieces of clothing I own. The fine leather was a gift from my sister maybe 15 years ago. Trim and versatile, it’s grown buttery with time. It’s one of those rare possessions that helps me feel less poor.

When it goes, I won’t be replacing it. Coats are like the rest of our wardrobe now: Hand-me-down, charity from Grandma, or Goodwill.

I start to run. Not towards the bus, though. Towards home. Backpack and lunchbag flopping against my back, I run through the park past the strollers and dogs and teens shooting hoops. The dog can wait. I pull out my keys and leap into my car.

Where does the bus go? Think think think. I’ve never taken it further than my stop. It must go to the Metro here before it heads further north. I wait at one light, then a 4-way intersection, lines of cars, a polling station. A bus pulls out onto the road ahead as I turn right before I realize — too late — that it was my bus. I crawl through the Metro parking lot back to the main road. Another red light. Another line of cars, another polling place. Idling, I pull out my phone and bring up the timetable. It’s 5:25 now, the next stop is a couple miles down the road, at 5:31. Can I get there?

Nope. Intersections, commuters heading home. Cars and bikes and pedestrians. More buses, the wrong buses. I just miss another light and sit there clutching the wheel for too many minutes. It’s 5:28, then 5:30.

Then the tears come.

They come riding a cold gale of thoughts: I hate rush hour, screw this soul-killing, congestion, this is why I take the goddamned bus, that jacket is one of the last nice things I have, somebody probably stole it anyway, why does everything suck?

And without even a blink of a transition, local winds swell to global catastrophe.

That self-promoting demagogue is going to be president and I’m so fried and weary I can’t even keep track of my stuff let alone do anything good for my kid’s future and here I am DRIVING a BUS ROUTE, as if the apocalypse isn’t coming fast enough already, Smirk.

I hear the swell of self-pity and anxiety, and just when it’s about to drag me under, my tears stop. Click, just light that. A quiet grin creeps up from somewhere buried. With it, this:

I choose my mind.

So I decide, right then, that chasing down this jacket is not a burden. It’s a quest. The light turns green. I crank DC101, roll down the window, and peel out.

Onto the main road, a snaking ribbon of taillights. The lanes widen from two in each direction to three then four. It is 5:37 now. The timetable tells me that my bus will be leaving the monstrous new Metro station at the heart of the mega office-commuter-consumer district at 5:45.

Eight lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic fan out before me. Buses are turning in and out from every direction. The station is connected to a shopping mall and parking by an elevated footbridge over this surging mass of cars. I have no idea which way to go, so I turn right because why not? But all the buses are the wrong bus, and now it’s a mall entrance —  wrong wrong wrong.

I turn then turn again, back onto a different major road. I pass over the Beltway, its travelers trying to squeeze on and off its ramps into unbroken chains of cars. I cross eight lanes, turn again, go al-l-l-l the way around a second mall (they’re a matched set!) and now it’s 5:44, and the Metro station is somewhere ahead of and above me, and where are the buses? Where is the parking?

Another bus bay. Big red signs say “AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY.” And there, at the end of the queue, is my blinking chariot. I swerve right, pull up behind, and hop out.

My driver is stretching his legs by the shelter, counting down his last minute.

My driver!

I jog up to him. “Hi! I think I left my leather jacket on your bus!”

“That’s your leather jacket?”

“Yep, it’s my leather jacket.”

He steps on board and opens up a cabinet near the front. There next to the fire extinguisher is my soft, folded baby. He hands it to me with a smile.

“Geez, thank you. That would have been one expensive bus ride.”

I stride back to my car with a stupid grin on my face. I pull back into traffic and my driver pulls right out behind me. We inch our way south now on the same road we just followed. He keeps going as I veer off into the first chain restaurant I see, order a plate of fish tacos, and wait out rush hour in the company of my New Yorker.

I am tired. Not like that bus driver is tired, driving back over that same loop again and again, but tired all the same.

Tired of nursing my precious helplessness. Tired of letting crippling thoughts limit my capacity for action. Of depression’s terrible lies. Of assessments based in archaic narratives no empowered person would ever choose.

Demagogues rise in part because each stunned and disbelieving individual fails to act in some way — any small way — to stem the tide.

This isn’t a story about a jacket. It isn’t a story about a Metrobus.

It’s a story about choice. And about power. And about the moment when those two snap together and the truth becomes clear: they are a force, a matched set.

A whole.

Choice + Power.

Choice = Power.

If a series of small acts can buck DC  area rush hour traffic, put the lie to the anonymous self-interest so easily ascribed to strangers, and land my beautiful leather jacket back in my possession, then maybe I — maybe we — have a little power.

Just a little.

But a little is more than nothing.

And that’s all we need, each of us, as long as we keep our purpose in our sights.

Even when we don’t know the way. Or when a thicket of obstacles blocks the view.  Or when — especially when — we break down and want to give up because we have no idea if we’re going to succeed or even if we’re doing the right thing at all.

As long as we choose to hang onto each other and keep tracking what we hold dear, we have power.

As long as we don’t let anyone — especially ourselves — steal our capacity to choose our minds.

We have power.


 

 Image: Baltic Way, a 600+ km human chain linking Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in 1989 as they demanded their independence from the Soviet Union be recognized.

 

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Stormy Sea

Be a more attentive friend. Make meals at home. Save every penny. Walk. Take the metro. Clip coupons. Go to the gym, to Zumba, to the mountains. Find a group. Be the least awkward. Breathe through the irritation.

Lift weights. Smile at everyone. Ignore the men. Take the pills. Take the vitamins. Go to counseling. Go to church. Bike there. Carpool. Pack water bottle, reusable mug, hand sanitizer, glasses.

Respond without yelling. Appreciate out loud. Remember mom. Remember all the birthdays.

Get to work on time. Stay on task. Buy the groceries on lunch break. Run on lunch break. Walk on lunch break. See friends on lunch break. Take lunch from home. Stay until the last possible minute. Leave with enough time to get to child care. Run for the train. Push through the crowds. Run for the bus. Shake it all off. Greet your child with serenity.

Empty the sink, the dishwasher, the backpack, the laundry basket. Meditate. Pet the dog. Give her a long walk. Look over homework. Manage dinner, shower, teeth, clothes, packing up, settling down. Read to the kid. Watch the clock. Ignore the clock. Speak gently. Breathe. Don’t cry in front of him.

Write in the journal. Post to the blog. Update the resume. Go to a social event. A networking event. A lecture. Take a class. Get a certificate. Learn a new skill. Read something edifying. Plan a party. Be mindful of the guest list. Befriend successful people.

Respond to the emails. Upload the photos. Pay the bills. Track the money. Notice the steady shrinkage. Resolve to create wealth somehow. Rethink the financial plan. Resolve to apply for all the jobs. Try not to notice the absence of jobs.

Speak with positive problem-solving language. Ignore feelings. Schedule a meetup. Wash. Iron. Fold. Put away. Keep the wardrobe up to date. Make a hair appointment. Restock the toilet paper, the dish soap, the dog food, the baking soda. Use less. Shop smart. Read ingredients. Note materials. Consider the planet. Eat vegetarian. Think of landfills. Think of Indian trash-picking children. Do we need it? Can we make it at home? What is a less toxic alternative? What other store sells it? How much? Unit cost?

Feel the pull to be doing anything but this. Ignore the pull. Inhabit the aisle. Save pennies, save packaging, save for college, save the world.

Pay attention to the calendar. Note the upcoming holiday. Figure out summer vacation. Hope the money will come. Map out the weekends. Sign up for after-school activities. Show up for basketball practice, for karate, for games. Pay for all of this.

Make new friends. Remember names. Don’t give male friends the wrong idea. Be kind but not flirtatious. Check the pantie line. Check the body language.

Remove dog hair. Patch worn places. Get another year out of the coat, the shoes, the Goodwill purse. Blow dry. Apply lips, cover blotches, rinse the pits, glow. Count calories, calcium, miles, pounds. Brush, floss. Walk with bold steps. Don’t scowl.

Kiss better. Send sweet notes. Remember to ask questions. Learn the love languages. Appreciate. Communicate. Pause. Give the benefit of the doubt. Speak your truth.

Don’t complain. Don’t gossip. Bear the weight of this list alone. Shut the door when you cry.

Resist the craving. Sleep more. Shut off the phone. Look past magazine covers and success stories and smiling facebook families. Try not to notice the cracks. Avoid schadenfreude.

Learn their secrets. Trust yourself. Live your full life. Don’t measure yourself against them.  Aim high. Simplify. Dream big. Think less. Take account. Shed what you don’t need. Be honest. Know your heroes. Listen to the still, small voice. Follow in the footsteps of great ones. Be yourself. Picture your future self. Know that what you have is enough. Strive. Be quiet. Create. Count blessings. Resist inertia. Meditate. Spark a revolution. Fake it til you make it. Honor your shadow side. Write your own story.

Keep moving. Be here now. Be kind. Be fierce. Be better. Be you. Become someone. Surrender. Fight on.


Image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1801, “Dutch Boats in a Gale” (The  Bridgewater Sea Piece) from the National Gallery, UK.

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20151129_154608

It’s worth fighting through the inertia.

True as that may be, my self-pity disagrees. In its defense of digging a deeper rabbit hole, it would rather filibuster than concede. Its zealotry twists the mere suggestion of celebration into an offense against reason.

Birthday? Bah. What would you be celebrating anyway? Your troubled finances? The end of your relationship? The last dozen fights with Bug, an anemic field of job prospects, your dearest friends in crisis?

The silk-throated devil reminds me that I’m stretched too thin as it is. “Tired” is no longer an adequate descriptor for the perpetual state in which I exist. Wouldn’t you rather just rest, read, heal? Wouldn’t your time be better spent re-tooling your resume?

And:

Once you’ve had 40-something of them, birthdays just become days. Throwing yourself a party at this stage is both tacky and desperate.

No parties. No people. No no no.

But also yes. Because every reason to skip out on pleasure is a dolled-up version of submission. In fact, the more convincing the justification for staying low, the more I should suspect — and upend — its dominance. A toxic mood relishes its alpha dog position, growing in power unless I subvert it.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has a simple and ingenious approach to this. Just choose the opposite.

To break this feedback loop, we need to engage in a behavior inconsistent to the emotion we’re trying to manage. This is a technique called opposite-to-emotion behavior. To do this, identify the emotion (sadness), identify the mood-dependent behavior (inaction/isolation), then do the opposite of that.


Opposite to Emotion Behavior from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A snap, right? Take the stairs. Don the cape. Put a friggin foot on the gas and go. Even when it seems like the most useless act in the world. Especially then.

So, snarling and irate and certain the endeavor will fail, I hurl a few names at Evite.

Fixing a time and place leads to tidying, menus, asking for help. I cobble together activities. I send personal invitations to a new neighbor and to old family friends going through a tough time. My mother gets on board — bless that lady — and then I am dashing around, slapping on lipstick and jamming in earrings as the first guests knock on the door.

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As with so many actions, motion generates momentum. It’s almost irrelevant the direction of travel. Any push will do.

The friends arrive. More follow. They hug and meet and hoot and gossip. They bring wine, sweets, kids, dogs. A few play along with my contrived icebreaker activity, milling around five zones of the house where markers and paper on the wall invite joyful thinking about our community and our time together here.

As with so many choices, intention determines outcome. It’s almost irrelevant the details of the text. Any welcome will do.

Earlier in the day, Tee whisked Bug off to a college basketball game. Halfway through the party, he’s dropping the kiddo off. When half-ass planning this whole shindig, I’d been wearing armor of thorns and stink. My invite list failed to catch half the people I love. I’d also been too tight-hearted to ask Tee if he’d like to come. If I have to throw this stupid party, I don’t want my ex husband here. My birthday. My party.

Mine mine mine.

Then my son walks through the door and the room erupts in a cheer. Bug’s face lights up and he skips into the Studio 54 buzz and music and sparkle. Tee is already backing out, saying good night. “Come in,” I say. “Eat. Have a beer.”

“I’ve got a lot of school work still to do. . .”

I gesture wide. “There’s hot cider, Moroccan veggie stew.”

“Okay, just for a minute.” He steps inside and stays for an hour.

Tee is still there when my loved ones gather in a circle around the room. Everyone speaks out loud their wishes for the year ahead as well as their thanks for the right-here-and-now. My mom. The junior-high pals. The Zumba instructors who’ve become sisters. The new neighbor, the writing group fellow, all these the people who just happen to be my people. Even Tee shares how happy he is that we are parenting together as friends and that our son is thriving. Words upon words brushed with almost-tears and lots of chuckles weave their light web around the room.

Bug and the neighbor’s son, chasing down dogs who are chasing down crumbs, dart through the throng decked out in sunglasses and bandit masks, mercifully demolishing our grownup drift towards solemnity.

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It’s an extraordinary and dizzying experience to stand inside the metaphor of a circle of love manifesting in real life.

That incessant need to be on, to get things right and be just so, has slunk off into some forgotten corner. In my home with these dear ones, I feel at ease. It is as if I really am — for the moment — okay as me. Clumsy, gushing, nerdy, cutting, tempestuous, so-very-lucky me. . . just a gal entering her 43rd year in the happy company of her tribe.

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(And, as I remind several perplexed friends and my son: Yes, a 42nd birthday is the beginning of a 43rd year, because math, people).

As the music starts up again, the circle dissolves and takes on new shapes. Small pockets of conversation dot the room. People who just met giggle like old friends, a baby is passed to a new set of arms, men talk coaching and gals talk travel. Folks who haven’t seen each other in years cover lost ground. The first roots take hold under nascent relationships.

Orientation determines truth. I tilt my head and the whole thing resolves into sharp-edged clarity. Throwing oneself a party is also giving a party. A birthday is just another day, yes. It is also a gift, a perfect excuse to open a door and invite a fledgling community to weave itself into being. This circle is so much more than mine. It holds my son, parents, neighbors, and all the friends who show up with attention, voice, and story.

My girlfriend says that each year is “a free vacation around the sun.” Even so, it can also feel like an extended solo trip. It can take a few revolutions (or a few dozen) before it becomes clear that we have always been in this together.

This time I can see how many are at the helm, how strong the crew, how wide open the skies.

 
 

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