Crispy, Barbecue Self-Care

Less than 500 words of writing

Eyes closing

One hour and twenty minutes worth of recaptured sleep

Salty, savory snacks

Humorous programming

Mindless knitting

Are my muscles spasm-ing or atrophying?

Is this self-care or lethargy?

A day of needed slacking or anhedonia?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

I’m Baaack

I remember peeling off the cocoon of my bulky winter jacket one of the first times I came here.

Perching nervously on the edge of one of these same chairs.

Feeling completely vulnerable and exposed.

Wanting desperately for someone to mold me back together – yet not touch me.  Not look at me.  Not judge me.

For my weaknesses, my failures, my inability to just be.

It’s been awhile.  But I’m back.  And so are all the same feelings.

‘Sweetness and Light’ Amidst the Darkness

“’So what new stuff are you going to plant in the garden, Mom?’ I ask.

‘Plant?’ Mom says. She looks out at the yard and shrugs.

‘How about if we make a list? Marcy said it was good for you to make lists and cross things off. When you first got home, you made lists.’ I stand up to go get some paper and a pencil. I want Mom thinking violets, daffodils, tulips, bright colors flashing in her brain.

‘Thinking about spring tires me out, Chirp,’ Mom says.

‘But in May we can pick lilacs!’ I say. ‘We love picking lilacs.’

Mom reaches for my hand. ‘Just sit with me, honey.’

I sit back down.

I need to stay patient with Mom, especially since her new psychiatrist just told her that he thinks her depression is chronic, which means it will never completely go away. She’s been depressed at different times in her life and will probably always struggle with it. That’s news she needed like a hole in the head just two weeks after gettting home.

Three black-capped chickadees play follow-the-leader around the rhododendron bush. I can’t tell if Mom’s watching them.

‘You don’t have to pick lilacs,’ I say. ‘You can just keep me company when I pick them.’

Mom puts her arm around me and squeezes tight. When I look at her face, tears are streaming down.

‘Listen, Chirpie,’ she says, brushing the tears away like they’re pesty no-see-ums. ‘I need to tell you something important, okay?’

‘Okay.’

‘You’re a really special girl. A beautiful, strong, special, special girl. You know that, right?’ She’s gripping my arm.

‘Uh-huh.’

‘Good,’ she says. ‘It’s important.’ She lets go of my arm. She rests her hand on my knee. ‘When I was a girl, my mother loved to tell me what was wrong with me. I made no sense to her at all.’ Mom stares out at nothing. ‘Luftmensch.

Luftmensch?

‘It’s a Yiddish word. It means a dreamer. From my mother, the worst thing a person could be.’

‘But didn’t she like some things about you?’

Mom doesn’t answer for a long time. Finally she says, ‘My hair. My mother liked my hair.’

Wind whips across the yard. The grass shivers.

I touch Mom’s hair, but she doesn’t look at me.

‘She didn’t love me,’ Mom says quietly. ‘That’s just the simple, hard truth.’

A crow screeches, and all three chickadees take off into the air at the exact same time.

‘Wow!’ I say.

Please, Mom. Please, Mom. Notice.

‘Wow,’ Mom says, with a little smile.

We watch the chickadees until they disappear into the trees.

‘Lilacs are my favorite flower,’ Mom says.

‘I love them,’ I say

‘Me too,’ she says.

‘They smell so good.’

‘Like sweetness and light, Chirpie.’

I put my hand in Mom’s pocket. She reaches in and holds my hand. It’s sweetness and light, our hands together in her warm pocket.

— from Nest by Esther Ehrlich

All Sorts of Bombs

The hours that stretched between late afternoon and evening yesterday were tough.

I hustled my three girls off the bus and into the car, rushing off into the next installment of the ‘passport debacle’ (I may pen a frustrating short story of the same title). They were tired, hot, sticky, hungry, and probably would’ve had to pee if they weren’t so dehydrated from the high temperatures. After toting them through two venues and experiencing botched passport attempts (adding to the overall debacle), they hooted and hollered, spat and pinched the whole ride home. Home. The place where I got to give my husband a quick smooch, eat a hamburger right off the grill as I set the table for the sit-down dinner the rest of my family would be enjoying while I rushed off to a curriculum night at the school. School. The place that was boarded up tight because the curriculum night is, in fact, tonight. I got back in the car and thanked my lucky stars that I’d loaded Led Zeppelin II in the CD player so I wouldn’t go out of my ever-living mind. I promptly popped a bottle of beer when I got home and joined my husband on the porch. Trying to recount my frustration and agitation to him, I was repeatedly interrupted by our cherubs, one of whom snagged a butterfly net over my cranium, God bless her.

In a rare moment of calm, I said to him, life would be so much easier if we hadn’t had them.

That’s one of those statements you know you probably shouldn’t say out loud; that you know was a mistake as soon as you see your spouse’s face.

In his ever-present magnamity in the face of my melancholy, he replied, but we wouldn’t have the joy, either.

I know, you’re right, I sheepishly yet grudgingly replied. Still, my days the last week or so have been fine – until I have to get them off the bus.

And then – not with a lightning bolt, but with a gradual blossoming like a-bomb footage on slow mo – I realized that I’d have had depression anyway – with or without them. If left to my own devices, depression would’ve snuck in in the quiet moments, seeped through the cracks of career dissatisfaction, cycles of stress and PMS, self-loathing and pity.

abomb

Life with three little people is insane. It would be so easy to pin my struggles on them. It’s hard to see anything else, to even draw a spare breath. And the tenor of my life with them did seem to kickstart whatever this alternate mental atmosphere I’m living in is – but in that one absurdly clear and dissonant moment, I saw my struggle, my illness, my self for what it is.

That doesn’t make it any easier to raise three littles in the midst of all that. But it makes it easier not to resent them and their needs. And to love myself – faults and all.

My Depression: The Up and Down and Up of It

So this was my day today.

mydepression

My Depression: The Up and Down and Up of It by Elizabeth Swados

Thankfully, not the actual experience of depression, but the viewing of this documentary.  Or maybe the fact that watching a thirty-minute documentary is all I did hints that the black cloud of depression is looming, but we’ll call the sleeping and loafing I did the rest of the day self-care.  Waking from my two disjointed yet extended naps on our decaying couch, I grabbed a tall glassed concoction of green tea, seltzer, and pomegranate juice and a bag of tortilla chips.  Agog at the television viewing options sans kids, I scanned the documentaries’ list on HBOGo.  Politics?  I didn’t feel like crunching on the facts.  War-torn countries?  I didn’t want to feel the despair.  Alzheimers?  I didn’t want to cry the tears and face my fears.  Depression?  Why not?

Seems like an antithetical choice given my desire to relax and detach, but in the ever-present search for dissection and understanding of the insidious diseases of the mental health variety, I am drawn to all things depression – things done well, that is.  And My Depression: The Ups and Downs of It by Elizabeth Swados, is.

The cartoony quality and upbeat music initially threw me off.  The narration of an overview of living with depression, voiced by Sigourney Weaver, seemed too bubbly or glossy for me.  Then, I realized, it wasn’t necessarily for me, someone who lives with depression; it serves as a great introductory primer to those who don’t deal with depression, who have no clue what it’s like under that deep, dark cloud.

And deep and dark is certainly where things turn when, overcome by seemingly insurmountable odds, Elizabeth’s animated avatar is paid a visit by a ghoulish skeletal guy, voiced by Steve Buscemi, in an ice cream truck named the Suicide Mobile.

But Elizabeth prevails.  Somehow, the human spirit pushes that dark cloud away enough so she can get help – in the form of self-help and love, medication, and therapy.  A particularly striking image is when she doesn’t feel visible or worthy or at all at home in the world, her therapist literally brings her back to life by wrapping her in the warm embrace of a blanket.

My Depression was a little hard to watch.  Initially, because I’d already lived the story, knew the plot line – and ultimately, because it hit so close to home.  For a brief documentary, it covers a lot of psychic ground – and a topic that needs covering in the worst way; for, the dark cloud of depression covers a lot more people than we know.

* Click the image above to link to a trailer of the documentary

A Man Called Ove

We all know a man called Ove – or better yet, exactly like Ove.

A crotchety old man. The neighborhood watchdog policing persnickety policies about which no one else cares. A man who never has a nice word to say, who always has something about which to complain.

He exists in every family or neighborhood. In archetypes and novels. Small screen and silver.

He excels in Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_lg

A third person narrative and clever titles for each chapter continually referring to the main character as ‘a man called Ove . . .’ (backs up with a trailer – as in chapter three) establish a sort of psychic distance between Ove and the reader. We see him as the world does. The archetypal cranky old man.

But just as many of us secretly yearn for the day and chronological age at which we can tell the world around us how we really feel, such outrageously brusque behavior almost endears Ove to the reader. At the very least, it entertains us. His dysfunctional interactions with his neighbors and clerks at the Apple store made me laugh out loud more than once. The fact that Ove is resolutely dedicated to his lifetime car of choice, Saab, brought me – as a Saab driver myself – even more joy.

While the chapter titles are structured the same throughout the book, readers slowly move closer to Ove and his motivation, the reasons for his dysfunction and underlying sadness. He wants to be left alone. He purposely pushes people away because the one person in the world who made him live – his wife – is gone.

“If anyone had asked, he would have told them that he never lived before he met her. And not after either.”

And so now, “Ove just wants to die in peace.” He wants to meet his wife on the other side and will try whatever means it takes to get there.

What I appreciate about this novel is the empathetic way it deals with depression and attempted suicide. Ove, while archetypal in other ways, does not fit the stereotypical profile of a suicidal person. Backman’s portrayal shows that depression can be situational – and elicit feelings of such dire circumstances that the only option left seems to be suicide.

However, Backman’s novel also shows the amazing strength and redemptive powers of love. It may be love that causes Ove to yearn to be reunited with his departed wife, but it is also the long reach of her love that reminds him to be a better man. It is through the initially annoying love and attention of his neighbors that Ove finds a reason to live. It is the hard fought and won love of a feline companion that offers him solace.

There is love in a riotously abstract portrait blasted in color by a three year-old. In a hand to hold. A skill transferred. A deed proffered. A meal shared. There is love in a sense of belonging, community.

A Man Called Ove reminds us all what it means to truly live and love – and I loved every minute of it.


In fact, I loved Ove so much, the next few ‘Weekend Write-Off’ entries will be dedicated to favorite excerpts of the novel, which is just full of gems.  Ove and I will see you next Friday!

I Wept

For the pregnant woman
who loved her child enough to stop taking the psychopharmaceuticals she desperately needed
to guarantee its unencumbered growth –
and that of her paranoia and compulsion
until she threw herself and that unborn child off the top of her building

Because she loved her child so much and had run out of ways to keep her safe

For the grown man
acutely aware of his condition and how to manage it
with a cocktail of meds and careful counseling –
until one tile shifts out of place and sends the rest clattering to the floor in an instant

Because he thought he didn’t have to look over his shoulder for the rest of his life

I wept for their stories, their lives, their pain
I wept for the syncronicity, the melancholy, myself

I wept
because there is never a safe enough distance from the places they – I’ve – been

 

 

As inspired by the June 6th edition of Fresh Air, “Pregnant Women With Depression Face Tough Choices, No Easy Answers” with author Andrew Solomon.  Click below to listen – well worth the time.

pregnant-depression

Relearning Life

People in their right minds – or moods anyway – don’t anticipate their next inevitable bad day. The appearance of them every once in a while proves their unfortunate existence, but people in their right minds don’t dread bad days on a daily basis.

I don’t dread such days either. I live down days every day of my life.

A good day is the out of the norm experience for me.

The words, I feel good, dawn as a surprise, a foreign thought and sensation.

What should be the modus operandi of my life, with the occasional interruption of shitty days, becomes a cause for suspicion. A lightness of mood, a clarity of mind, becomes the bone of contention. That is the square peg for the round hole – rather than the overall scheme being the problem.

I feel my psyche has sucked me into a trap; luring me closer with the promise of bright light and fresh air, only to drape me in cobwebs deeper and darker than before. Instead of experiencing a ‘ lightness of being’, I drag around the weight of fear – that it won’t last, that my life will never be the way it was before the clouds.

. . . That we should all bask in the warmth of sunshine on our skin . . .

Irham Anshar

Irham Anshar

In my Resting, In my Rising

I chase down cures in my dreams,
seeking the open office door,
the present practicioner,
but they’re never there, never open.

Test after trial, trial after tribulation
No solution in sight.
Tablet, pill, capsule.
Needle, scale, survey.

No magic bullet.

There are symptoms, there are diagnoses,
but no cure.
No point of origin to return to and restart.

I want someone to fill this hollow inside –
but the only cure is in there as well.
It lies at the core of me,
but I am so very tired . . .
and cannot wake from this nightmare.

Let-down. Easily?

The excitement I felt as a child spying Christmas lights through the trees, the twinkling points brightening the darkness, a magical apparition amidst a black backdrop – to say that’s gone away as I’ve gotten older would be a lie. It may have dimmed, but it hasn’t disappeared altogether.

Long drives to relatives’ houses, country roads turned unfamiliar by nightfall, the conical Christmas trees aglow in the windows we pass become the markers, the golden deer high on a hill the waypoints.

Our family traveled to one relative’s house both Christmas Eve and the following Saturday. The same route, the same sparkling spectacles, but somehow, within the space of a few days, the lights had lost their magic.

What once signaled possibility, now was a sad reminder that it was over; the points of light now a poignant prompt of what was. Looking at those lights depressed me in a way I couldn’t name. Not in the way it may have as a child, if Santa hadn’t brought me the one thing I coveted. Or knowing the time of unlimited treats was over. Perhaps because all the preparation leading up to that one day, all the hours reduced to a mere twenty-four, passed by in a flash. There was nothing now to which to look forward.

The lights would soon go out. The joyous strains of Christmas carols would end. The bleak days of winter would set in.

The end of the season is capped with the celebration of New Years’, but that’s always depressed me nearly as much – if not more.

A time to recount what we’ve done wrong during the past year, our mistakes, opportunities missed, amazing moments gone. Waiting in a suspended state, on edge, for – a kiss? A hangover? A mess of confetti to clean up? To wake up the next morning bleary eyed and cranky. What an auspicious way to herald a new beginning. The fact that, for years, New Years’ also signalled the end of vacation for me and the restart of my teaching schedule certainly didn’t help. That was anxiety-inducing and depressing in and of itself.

The whole of the time period between Christmas and New Years’ is a weird dead zone. There no longer is the excuse or mask of Christmas to impel us to at least fake happiness. There is a winding down, a let-down – with the building stress of creating a killer list of resolutions, ways to make our flawed selves better, to overcome our frail ways, to defeat the demons plaguing us for years in this one year. No pressure.

There is a hollow space in my chest during this time. A sadness somewhere behind my eyes and down in my throat. It is a return to normal. A return to a time with no distractions. While stressful with its added expectations and tasks, the time leading up to the holidays gives lots else to think about – rather than our problems. Or at least a good way to avoid them. Now it’s back to ‘ordinary time’.

And while that may not be the designation on the Church calendar at this time, that’s what it feels like to me. No longer extraordinary.

I know if I remove the decorations, the piles of gifts, the social commitments, there is the ultimate fulfillment of my wildest expectation in the birth of Christ. In the silence that follows all the earthly tumult is His quiet peace. I know I’m missing the point if I mistake the silence for sadness, when it should be taking me truly to the heart of the season, the true meaning. Perhaps that’s what the hollow is – the fact that I am missing it. But it is sometimes hard to cross the bridge between knowing and feeling – not because I do not want to, but because my body, or brain chemicals, or something won’t let me.

There is always the problem of unrealistic expectation. If I go from moment to moment, living it for what it is, sucking the marrow out of this minute, rather than anticipating the next, I will enjoy rather than lament. But I’ve always found it hard to balance preparation and mindfulness.

A couple of things I may try:
gratitude jar

Reading these next New Years’ Eve would put a positive focus on the end of the year, what I’ve gained and experienced rather than what will be lost.

Also, viewing the holidays in the terms put forth in this post from Life at the Circus would help keep my perspective from being skewed negatively and keep the absence out of the space after the holiday.  It may even keep me from feeling less in the pressure to make New Years’ resolutions.

May you all continue to see and feel the light of the season – even in the darkness behind your closed eyes. May you find ways to make that light last throughout the year to come.

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