Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Undercover Depression

I recently met a man at a party. He was very funny and outgoing. It was obvious that the people around him interacted often with him and were very fond of him. He certainly added to the level of fun that was happening. We spent a little one on one time together after that, and he ended up telling me that I would probably be surprised to know that he struggles with depression. I told him I was indeed surprised, but after some thought I wasn’t surprised at all. My response was also that he would probably be surprised to know that I struggle with depression as well. See, I was also pretty fun at that party. I have a decent sense of humor and can usually crack people up in a crowd.

Today I had lunch with one of my oldest friends. Ok, she is not old, but I have been friends with her for a long, long time. If you had to describe her, the word that pops into most people’s minds first is bubbly. She has an infectious laugh and usually has a crowd in stitches. I don’t get to see her very often, but over the years I have gathered some stories that have let me know that under the beautiful smile are also years of struggle and tears. Today, she talked about her struggle with depression.

At first glance, my thought was that people like the three of us can use our humor and outgoing personalities to mask our depression. I guess that is possible. But I decided I am rejecting that idea. Something about that sounds like our antics are not genuine somehow. It seems like a negative. I prefer to think we are “AND” people. We are fun-loving and witty AND we also struggle with depression. It isn’t necessarily some kind of cover-up. And I would also say, “thank God!” Can you imagine being depressed and not having the other side of you that can laugh and bring joy to others? That would really stink.

I’m about to start publishing a new book and I already told the author I would take the book on, but wanted him to know I disagreed with him philosophically. He is one of those extremely positive people who thinks that every person needs to choose how they view life. Period. I asked him if he had ever personally dealt with depression. He said no as I expected him to. I told him that anyone that truly has struggled with it, would never suggest that they could simply choose not to be. Trust me, if there was a way to choose it away, we would.

There isn’t a soul alive that knows anything about me that could say I haven’t tried to eliminate the depression. I have tried dozens of medications over the years. I have seen psychiatrists and therapists. I have gone to spiritual directors. I have done acupuncture treatment. I have tried doing nothing. I have recited positive affirmations til I’m blue in the face. I have kept gratitude journals. I have depression. It is what it is. AND I also can be a barrel of laughs. That is what it is too.

Those of you that wrestle with depression will know exactly what I’m talking about. Those of you that love people who struggle with depression, need to know that depression isn’t a result of you not caring enough or loving enough. And those of you that just judge others, well, shame on you. Just thank your lucky stars that you don’t have it. And for those of you that look at others with envy because they seem so happy and free, just know that perhaps that person may also have very, very dark moments that make them wither.

Ok, off my soap box now.


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Plodding Along

They say that the most-read blogs have catchy how-to titles. I have to laugh because the older I get, the less and less I feel like I know “how-to” do much of anything. Maybe I could write one entitled, “How to have no brilliant earth-changing ideas” or something like that.

My schedule is usually over the top. I’ve probably blogged about it a few times. Last week I spent some quality time talking with my peers, friends, and counselor about it. A couple of themes emerged so I’m pretty good at figuring out it’s time to listen to the message when it gets repeated in my life. Over the weekend I spent a pretty large chunk of time conceiving and implementing a new scheduling system. I knew it wouldn’t make me more efficient necessarily. I’m already the efficiency queen. But I was hoping that it would help me be less exhausted at the end of the day.

It wasn’t terribly hard to implement. It was just a re-shifting of ideas and priorities, not a massive lifestyle change. Almost a week in, I’m sorry to say it was a dismal failure. It hasn’t made my life harder. It hasn’t made me less efficient. It just plain didn’t make a difference.

I’ve been so excited (and frankly, shocked) that I’ve been off anti-depressants. Acupuncture has really made an impact. I think that is why I’ve been telling myself so adamantly that I’m just having a bad day. I didn’t want the wave to crash. The end of last week, my acupuncture doc and I decided that perhaps I needed two sessions this week, even though we had made the encouraging decision to go down to one treatment a week.

Yesterday I went in for my second appointment this week. I was laying on the table waiting for her and it started to happen. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide it. I couldn’t hide it from myself, and I couldn’t hide it from her. She walked in the room and asked me how I was doing. Then it happened. I just started crying. Not sobbing or anything worthy of a good drama film. The tears just fell down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed. In spite of my best efforts, my life was getting the better of me again.

She poked me up good and then told me she left me on the table an extra long time. Kind of made me laugh. Ya think? I laid there and was unable to sleep, but the stress did start to lessen. I started thinking a bunch of different things. In her cute and simplistic way, the doc said I just have too much to do. She also said I need a vacation. I reminded her that I was ready for the cruise that she and I have been talking about anytime she was ready. She said I need more days to myself. Yep.

I started thinking about a simple but wise statement a friend made to me recently after I had described my grand plan to reschedule my life over the weekend. I wanted to pop him in the nose, but I knew he was right. He said ever-so-gently that no matter how you slice up a hundred things to do, you are still left with a hundred things to do.

I also started thinking about some of the gifts that had come my way over the week. I hadn’t ignored them. I was deeply grateful for them when they happened, but I need to post them in my eyelids.

1- a client brought me in a beautiful framed Wizard of Oz picture for my office wall. The occasion? She said there was none, but she was thinking about how special I am and she thought she should do something special for me. AWESOME.

2- a student emailed me after our three hour class and said it was the best supervision she had ever had and that I had a gift. MELTED ME.

3- after a conversation about my struggles with diet and weight (which have been lifelong, by the way), a friend texted me and said I was beautiful, inside and out. HIT A RAW NERVE.

When the timer went off and the needles were removed, I still had the same 100 things to do. But I had stopped crying. I was breathing easier. I still am overwhelmed. But I’m trying to remember the gifts I have. And I’m trying to remember that when I can’t possibly waste a second with all I have to do, that it might be time to invest a minute or two to close my eyes and relax. I just don’t have to poke a bunch of needles in my head. (The doc didn’t have to say, “Don’t try this at home.” I actually know better without being told!)

Keep hanging in there. I will if you will. There will always be circumstances and people who will want more from you than you can give. There will always be those who look at you and not realize that one small thing they want from you is the straw that might break your strong camel back. But it’s okay. There are also people who love and encourage you. And it helps to focus on those moments.

Here’s to plodding along. Forward, backward, and hopefully forward a few more. Blessings!


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A River of Goodness

Remember when I told you that Summer gave me a pack of gratitude cards to use for blog day? Well, I’m using one today and it was labeled “A River of Goodness.”

It talks about how when you are feeling lonely and overwhelmed, you should remember there is a loving universe. You can listen for any sort of sign that soothes your soul, which then allows you to act wisely.

Hmmmm… I didn’t thumb through the cards, I just took the next one in the pack, trusting it would contain the message I needed. And in turn, I trust that there will be a reader or two that need the message as well. Last week’s blog garnered several comments and texts. Many of you tried the quieting exercises and sent me your results. The “winner” was a brilliant young lady I know who said she had 52 thoughts in two minutes!

Anyhow, back to the card. I am very, very happy to say that I have NOT been feeling lonely lately. I think that is a miraculous statement coming from me, and I think it’s based on a number of factors. First, my acupuncture doc actually said she thinks I’m ready to go down to one treatment a week. She reminded me of the first appointment I had with her and said I couldn’t even smile. Not only am I less depressed, I have actually been off the depression medicine for almost three weeks. HOLY COW!

When I am less depressed, I think I am able to appreciate the people in my life on an emotional level. I always maintain an intellectual gratitude for all the amazing folks in my life, but often times it just doesn’t affect the level of sadness I feel. When I am less depressed, I can appreciate it emotionally as well. I have all my family and friends who have always been there through some of the darkest things I’ve ever had to face in my life. Then there are friends I have discovered in the last four years since Tim’s passing. And now there are new faces in my life just in the last month or two who I am very grateful for. Isn’t that a lovely thing?

Back to the card. So yeah for not feeling so lonely. But the overwhelmed part still stings. My color-coded schedule has been out of control. The responsibilities have been relentless and I have been exhausted as a result. I am working very hard (no surprise there!) to figure out how to shift that. It’s hard because all the things I do are worthwhile and mostly necessary. But going from 7 am to 10 pm every day is a bit ridiculous. One sign from the universe was the announcement that I could go down to once a week with the acupuncturist. I don’t know what the answers are just yet, but I am going to keep chipping away at making my life more manageable. Last night I went to bed by 10:30 pm. My kitchen was a mess, but I valued not feeling like a zombie today more than a clean kitchen. The great thing is, I woke up refreshed and it was no problem to get the kitchen back in order. Priorities!

Overall, I’d say that is good news. I still have my share of critics out there who have voiced how negative my blogs have been. Well, HA! This one is positive 🙂


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Why Do People Read Blogs?

One of my students gave me a homework assignment. She asked me to check out PostSecret. I was fascinated by it. She brought in two books and I read them in no time flat. It’s a great concept. People send in a postcard that tells their secret. The author then posts them in an art display, in a book, or online. The only rule is that it must be a secret you have never told anyone about. It reminds me of an old AA slogan: “You are only as sick as your secrets.”

Some of them make you laugh. Some of them gross you out. Most of them make you very sad. I’m sure the idea is that releasing them is cathartic and helps you move on from them. It’s a great concept.

I started thinking about what I would send if I chose to. There are plenty of things I’m not particularly proud of in my life. There are plenty of things I wouldn’t want to advertise. But I get stuck on the part where you can’t have told another person about it.

I’m not a very private person. I suppose that’s obvious when I’ve written two books that are extremely intimate, honest, and raw. I blog every week about things that happen. That is not always to my advantage as being “not private” opens you up to a lot of judgment.

In therapy, we talk about the difference between secrecy and privacy. Privacy is considered healthy, secrecy carries the possibility of not-so-healthy. It’s related to the difference between guilt and shame. Sometimes secrets are linked to shame.

Anyhow, I’m getting off topic.

I recognize that most people are much more private than I am. I try to respect that. When I started writing the book, we hired a publishing lawyer. I was advised to change all the names in the book except for mine, Tim’s and our pets. Even though most of the people in the books are portrayed positively, it doesn’t matter. The wisest thing was to change names across the board. She told me to do the same with the blogs, and to keep them consistent.

You learn little tricks along the way. Sometimes you just say generic things like “my friend’s husband” so no names are necessary. I have quite a spreadsheet of name changes now from over the years. I have to keep track because I can’t possibly remember and keep them all straight. Some people really enjoy following their “character” as I write. Once I even changed the gender of my friend and he never lets me forget that.

Then there was that time period when a former guy from my life started following my blog and commenting. He changed his name and gender so I didn’t figure out it was him for a while. That felt different. It didn’t feel like fun, it felt dishonest and cowardly. He wouldn’t talk to me in “real life” and actually blocked me from contact. But he could contact me as much as he wanted under his false identity.

I’ve had other issues come up as well. Friends of friends of friends read the blog. They read it and forget the names have been changed. They assume they know who I am talking about and it causes problems. “Was that you? What were you doing that for?” and things like that. I’ve actually had conflict over things like this and it infuriates me.

I don’t even know what to do about it. I’ve said several times in my blogs (and the books) that names are changed. How tedious would it be if I started every single entry with a reminder to the reader that the names are not necessarily the names of actual people? I would get sick of writing it for sure.

But the more important issue, is why is this even an issue?

That got me thinking about why some of the people who are reading the blog are even reading it. I know a handful of them that read it, and am fairly certain they don’t like me. They don’t respect me or the way I live my life. And I suspect if that’s the case, they aren’t too thrilled about the idea that someone they do like is involved in my life. So why are they reading it?

Some people read because they do love me. Or they loved Tim. They care and want to support me and my family. Lots of people read who have never met me/us. I would like to think some of those people actually like my writing. And my deepest hope, is that some people read because they find hope and inspiration. The whole point is to be brave enough to speak the truth, then still find a way to move on. Every time someone is helped by a lecture, a blog, or a book, that means something good has come from something tragic. And that makes it a tiny bit easier to move on, one small step at a time

I’m truly not afraid of people disagreeing with me. But when you aren’t a very private person, people tend to forget that it still requires a certain amount of courage and bravery to put yourself out there. I am still extremely vulnerable when I choose to write.

Unfortunately, there are people who read so they can keep an eye on my life. They want to continue to judge me. They feel compelled to be my personal critic. And the people who are in my life. Sometimes, I lose patience with it.

Bottom line, no one has to read it. And as much as I want followers and readers to get the messages out there, I would rather have you not read it if your purpose is make trouble for me or the people in my life. Life could be much, much, much worse. But still, I think I’ve been through plenty. I’ve had enough heartache for one middle-aged woman. I don’t write so I can invite more.

I write so I can keep my head up. So other people can be inspired. So I can keep processing my life. So I can still have a voice in a world where I often feel so invisible.

Thanks to acupuncture and the lessening of the lead-like depression I have been under, I have weathered the critics. But I’m asking the critics to stop anyways. If you’ve read my books or my blogs for very long, you can take comfort in knowing there isn’t a human being out there who could be more critical of me than I am of myself. So rest easy, I’ve got that part covered.

And yet the other side of that? I think I’ve done a pretty good job with some pretty tough shit tossed my way. So there!


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Icicles

I was talking to my graphic artist and asked him what I should blog about. He said icicles because he hates them. The snow and cold is kicking his butt like it is for everyone in this area. He knocks the icicles down and they just come back. But it made me think about things in our life that we have to do over and over again. Here is Frankie and one of the pictures from the Snow-vember storm:
Dave

You might remember the pictures on my blog from that storm. I had water leaks in four rooms. I had the contractor AND the roofer come out and check things out. I thought I was being smart. I knew not to spend the money fixing the interior of the house until the problem was fixed on the outside. BOTH guys told me it was a fluke. There was nothing wrong with the roof and unless there was seven feet of snow again, I was safe to fix the inside.
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That is a photo of the new leaks across my kitchen ceiling. Talk about doing things over and over. Thirteen hundred bucks thrown away from fixing it the first time. I could have screamed. Or fainted. Or both.

I know you have seen pictures of the kittens we got for Christmas. I wanted to add joy and life to our dead house. Well, they have certainly added to our lives. Ringworm, that is. Long-haired Herbie had to go back to the shelter for treatment for three to four weeks. We are treating Matilda here at home and hoping Taffy, the dog doesn’t get it. Did I mention that Frankie, myself, and our dear friend, Karen got it? We are all in treatment too. I won’t send you pictures of that. I called in the reinforcements and several of my friends came and helped me sterilize the house. Vacuumed all three floors. Shampooed all three floors. Washed over 20 loads of laundry- literally. And cloroxed every surface, all three floors. Let’s just hope we don’t repeat that one again. And did I mention that I have the best friends ever?

Just a little side note to add to the Match stories. I was emailing a guy back and forth on Saturday for quite a while. Then he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was sterilizing my house because of ringworm. He never wrote back again. HA! Coward.

But you know what? I swear that acupuncture must be working. It was one hell of a stressful week with truckloads of drama to boot. But I didn’t crawl under my bed once. Not once. I didn’t get admitted to a hospital. I didn’t cry and fear I wouldn’t stop. I just dealt with all of it. All of it.

Poking yourself with needles over and over again seems like a pretty insane thing to do. But I tell you what. I plan to repeat that cycle as many as times as necessary ‘cuz the proof is in the pudding!


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Courage and Willingness

My friend Summer gave me a pack of gratitude cards for Christmas. She thought they would be helpful for me on Thursdays when I didn’t have a blog idea. They are written by Julia Cameron. I broke it open today and read about “synchronicity,” which describes looking for the card being just what you need for that day, being aware of how it dovetails with other messages and thoughts you are receiving.

The first card said, “I have the courage to desire my good…” I had just returned from my spiritual direction session, where we talked about praying things like, “Make me willing to be willing.” Very similar idea. And that conversation was sparked by a thought that hit me hard over the weekend.

I recently started acupuncture treatments. I know little about it theory wise, but I know that I haven’t tried it before. And I know I’ve read and heard about some great successes with long-term depression. The critic in me thinks I am just grasping at another straw to get me out of my life-long funk. The optimist in me thinks what is the alternative? The alternative is to accept that life is as good as it gets. For me, life has been waking up every morning feeling like I have a large quantity of lead on my chest, literally weighing me down. It makes getting up each day a very tall order. Well, I refuse to accept that is my life and how it is going to be. So in spite of the expense and my skepticism, I “signed on” for acupuncture.

It hit me over the weekend that I needed to start praying something new. For those of you that haven’t struggled with depression, it may sound a bit nutty to you. Those of you that have, will probably completely get this. I started to pray that if the depression truly begins to leave, that I would be in a place where I am genuinely ready to accept a life without it.

That might sound crazy, but I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had that dark cloud hanging over my head. My identity has been “the depressed one” for so long, that I can’t imagine who I would be without it. The doc didn’t need to hear my long, sad story. She just wanted the summary. That is this: I’ve struggled with depression since about age 21. I’ve managed it with medication quite well for over 20 years. But the last four years have kicked my ass and I find I’m no longer able to manage it.

She seems confident that treatment is going to help. She even thinks I won’t need medication at all when she is done. Really? I’ve used it for over 25 years. I don’t even have a vision for that.

That’s why I’m praying my new prayer. If a life without depression is on its way, I want to recognize it when it comes. I don’t want to sabotage it. I want to embrace it.

Synchronicity? Yep. I came up with my prayer/task all on my own. Then my spiritual director confirmed it with, “being willing to be willing.” Then my gratitude card confirmed it with, “having the courage to desire my good.”

BRING IT ON!!