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Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Cranich Begin Within

We are the compulsives. The chameleons. The deluded. The wounded.
Addicts. Bigots. Enablers. Aggressors.
Gossips. Accommodaters. Over-sharers. Fixers.

We are the guarded. And the stuck.

We are passive. People-pleasers. Avoiders. Myopic.
We envy. We compete. We keep secrets. We give up.
Liars. Caretakers. Impulsives. Fanatics.
Re-enactors of traumatic events.
Prisoners of mindsets we refuse to reject.

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Pissarro Family Legend

We are allowed to love ourselves.

We are allowed to show up. We are allowed to take the compliment even when we fall short of our own standards.

We are allowed to determine the standards.

We are allowed to talk about how hard it is to love ourselves. We are allowed to enjoy our own simple company. We are allowed to release our grip. To revel in the small days. To have just one or two good friends.

We are allowed to think of our family, whatever its shape, as worthy of a crest.

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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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fairy pot

When we stop trying to find the solution, the solution finds us.  The idea of “adding in the good stuff” is all the rage healthy living.  Don’t worry about giving up cheese fries and soda.  The pull of the food industry is powerful, and fighting it grinds our sense of efficacy down to sawdust.  Instead, do a few leg lifts while brushing teeth.  Put leafy greens beside whatever else is on the plate.  Keep the focus on adding the wholesome.

This same bubbly counsel showed up in a recent parenting class.  When an attendee began slipping down the shame spiral about their ineffective parenting, the instructor reminded us not to worry about what we’re doing wrong.  “Do more of the good stuff,” she said.  Put special time on the schedule.  Focus on connection over correction.

Eventually (the theory goes) these little bits of goodness will crowd out the destructive patterns.

If this works with diet and family, why not mental health?

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Door Out

I was putting groceries away in the tiny kitchen when I opened a cabinet down below the silverware drawer. Empty. Large, deep, and completely bare. This was six months after I bought my home. For half a year, I had stood in front of this cabinet and chopped vegetables, rolled out pizza dough, stacked plates. I never noticed it.

For a condo dweller, this was gold. Free real estate had edged open new possibilities in my tightly packed world. My joy clanged through the house. I remember laughing as a whooshing sense of openness coursed through me. All that time I was fighting for room, this open place was right here!

I kept it empty for two days, peeking in the open door at that inviting space. Now, of course, sports bottles and travel mugs fill every crevice around the cupcake carrier stored down there. The 10-pound bag of rice I bought today is homeless, squatting on top of the loaf pans behind the cereal boxes. The hidden space in my kitchen has all revealed itself. New nooks only appear these days if I purge and rearrange them into being.

Tonight I stand at the counter inches from that packed cupboard and try to keep the knife steady. The handful of chopped spinach goes first on the plate. I flip the eggs, finish them with a quick brown skin, then nudge them onto the bed of greens. My lips are moving as I speak the steps. Garnish with the white cheddar. Rinse the grapes, take a napkin.

Stay alive one more night.

My wrists jitter. The counter is a mess. I carry the plate with two hands and leave the chamomile tea to steep.

I take a deep, uneven breath as I sit to eat. As I exhale, I quietly thank my younger self — Two year-ago me? Maybe pre-40-me? — for her generosity. It was thoughtful of her to stick with good habits at a time when skipping would have been inconsequential. She was already in a happy mood, hopeful and in love, yet that woman still walked every day. She renewed the gym membership, cuddled with the dog, downloaded the podcasts. She took the stairs.

Younger me went to the trouble of stocking fresh produce in the fridge week after week, even when it would have been easier to grab a Power Bar on the way to game night with friends. She stopped drinking alcohol on a whim, making the decision when she was lighthearted and clear-headed. She decided that being a teetotaler was both simpler and a helluva lot easier on the wallet.

I have to thank her, repeatedly and intentionally, to keep from hearing the foul invective spewing from the loudspeakers nailed to the walls of my mind. She and every other incarnation of me that has ever inhabited this skin is right now enduring a campaign of pure terror. I have slogged through two weeks physically shaking from the severity of this bout of depression. For the first time in my life, I understand the impulse to cut. What a relief it would be to concentrate the darkness, to focus it, control it.

The pain is everywhere. It is almost unbearable.

Except that I’m bearing it.

Because younger-me chose to stay alive. She chose, over and over again, to keep moving against her inner resistance. She decided to test the limits of her capacity instead of simply believing the rigidity of them. Along the way, she learned 100 new skills that she has put to work in her world. She chipped those boundaries away, smoothing the walls ever wider. She carved out for herself then — and thankfully, for me now — a studio (workshop? sanctuary?) that is as capacious as it is versatile.

That room is here.

Here somewhere. Under the counter or inside the next task. Within this ink, this dog’s willing flank, this 12th lat pull at the gym.

Maybe it waits inches from my knees, promising to steady them as they threaten to buckle under the weight of this vile albatross.

It’s somewhere close, and it’s been here all along.

It’s pointless to feel too urgently for it. Fingertips hungering for a secret recess in the stone wall of this dark maze will only rub themselves raw. Instead I mimic the sure steps younger-me practiced when she was stronger. I follow the songlines of habits she trod into our shared earth. I curl the free-weights in my shaking grip and count to 15. I walk the two mile loop. I slice the vegetables, drink the water, run the laundry, go to the office. Plaster on her smile. Look up and pretend I wear her eyes.

I turn away from the hissing indictments of my conduct and follow instead the sound of her simple affirmations. I pretend to be the woman she worked so diligently to become.

I may indeed lack the will right now to make room in myself for the needed restoration, yet it turns out I contain plenty.

I come to the end of another unbearable day.

It turns out I might be able to face one more.
 

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The specific enterprises that will create purpose in life will differ from person to person. . . I expect what is common among people is that however purpose is created, it can hold depression at bay. I still have my depression-prone temperament and a set of genes that pull for low mood, and life is as stressful as it ever was. But purpose is like a talisman, a charm that can ward off serious depression. This again is a reminder that we may be better off if we think about recovery, not simply as the absence of depressive symptoms, but as a set of active qualities or practices that prevent low mood from taking root, despite the presence of liabilities elsewhere.

Jonathan Rottenberg, The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic

Even when you can’t tell weed from blossom, keep tending your plot. It is early yet.
 

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From the curtain rod it dips
low and rises again, as air-laced
as a playground swing brushing
branches and kicking down
showers of petals brighter even
than months ago.

They call this kind of floating
delicacy Georgette, the scarf an ornament
carried in folds
of rolled summer shirts, a gift
from Australia.

At first it draped like jewels
around my neck. Now it serves
a higher purpose, casting its nameless
coral-drunk flowers, its sapphire reef
across the threshold of autumn’s breach.
It jars the white blinds
into dimensionality, pulling them from wall,
carpet, ceiling, from the insistence
of a morning that hasn’t even bothered to bring the sun
along for reveille.

My eyes wish for nothing now. They fall on absence
and do not complain.

I know the danger.
Fortification is imperative.

After the scarf is hung soft
enough there, I position a lamp
bought just today, just for this
corner. Knock-off Tiffany,
it is too big and the wrong shape
but needful nonetheless:
pressed-leaf glass shade, the sweep
of flora, celadon and indigo twining
between amber-veined isinglass panes.

Who could wither in this glow
of meadow, monarch,
day?

Color is a collusion
between evolution and light
to help us survive
the winter.

I tie a purple ribbon around the cord to pull
the switch near and call
my eyes like the face of a flower
back
to lift,
to thirst.
 

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