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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Medical Favorites: The Mammogram

It’s that time of year for me. The yearly ob/gyn appointment, which leads to the yearly mammogram. It’s a favorite day for women everywhere. A few years ago there was all this hype because they were recommending only getting them every two years. The biggest reason is that they just cause so much damn stress for women.

I went Monday and it started off the usual way. Pink top, open in front. Arms up. Smooshed breasts, etc. Nothing attractive. When you get a good tech it is not terribly painful. Very uncomfortable, but not actually painful. Then you go in the special waiting room with the other women in the pink tops. They bring you a carnation when they clear you to leave.

“Do you want the new 3D mammogram? It is $60 if your insurance won’t cover it.”

“No thanks. My insurance won’t cover it. I already know that.” That was my first mistake.

I watch several women get their flowers and leave. I always take a long time. I start the usual mental gymnastics of talking in my head. Don’t get nervous, that’s bad for you. You always wait and worry and you are always ok. It actually got explained to me this time, partly by the poster on the wall and partly by the tech. There are four levels of breast density, A through D. I am a level C. Dense breasts make for difficult readings.

That’s what the tech tells me when she pulls me out of the room to talk to me without bringing me a flower.

“Because you are a level C, your doctor now has a standing order for you for a follow-up ultrasound after your mammogram.”

“Ok. I know I’ve had them before.”

“You should know it costs $200 if your insurance won’t cover it.” Crap, they should’ve told me I was getting a bargain earlier with the 60 bucks.

“Ok. So will you call insurance before?”

“No. You have to call them. You can use this room.”

This is when I start to get infuriated. I go through this with my orthotics too. Since when is it the patient’s job to make medical calls? I happen to lecture in the medical field and know how to be a patient advocate, but the average person does not have that experience. And even with that under my belt, I still am lost with this one. My niece works in a medical office and she explained that there are thousands of insurance companies that all have different rules. I get it, but isn’t that why docs hire office staff?

So you know how this goes. On hold. On hold. Verify who you are a thousand times.

“I’m sorry, what is the technical term for the procedure?”

I ask the tech.

“Breast ultrasound.” She seems a little shocked by the question because it wasn’t a tricky answer.

On hold. On hold.

“I’m sorry, but we need to speak to a medical professional about this.”

“Gee, that’s what I suggested.”

I walk over to the tech and have to practically force her to take the phone. She gives the woman the medical code and hands me back the phone.

I feel like pickle in the middle and I think this entire scenario is ridiculous. I’m now on hold again and this time there are two confused techs standing in the doorway because they can’t believe I can’t get a straight answer from my insurance company. I can’t believe I’m the one trying to get the straight answer.

“Good news. Your insurance will cover the ultrasound, but only if your doctor has pre-authorized it.”

I repeat it to the two techs in the doorway like a parrot who look at each other and shrug their shoulders. They have never heard of such a thing. Is that the same thing as a standing order? Back and forth, back and forth.

Finally I have enough.

“I WANT TO GO HOME. CAN I PLEASE JUST GO HOME? I’VE HAD ENOUGH.” I am now crying at this point. The techs feel terrible and say of course I can go home. I hang up the phone and I go take off the hated pink shirt.

On my way out, the techs try to nicely tell me the test can be done anytime. I just need to straighten out the insurance thing and reschedule. I ask her if anything in the regular mammogram came back questionable. She said no. I told her I wasn’t straightening anything out through my tears. I tell her I’m not coming back. And because my depression level has been super bad for 24 hours before I ever walked in the door, I tell her I don’t even care if I have cancer.

(Now right now, I apologize deeply to my dear, dear brave friends who have survived breast cancer. Several of you amazing powerhouses read my blog, so please know I mean no disrespect. All I can say is that depression makes you think terrible thoughts. That day I was sure that a mistake had been made and I was the one who was supposed to have cancer and die instead of Tim. Frankie desperately needs his father. At the time, I meant it, but I know it’s depressed thinking. Forgive me?)

Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder what has happened to the world. When did it get all mixed up? Why the hell was I even on the phone trying to get medical codes? Aren’t I the patient? I got the flower because they didn’t find cancer, but I admit I came home and threw it out. I was just angry. And I spent almost two hours in that office.

The next day my doctor’s office called. I assumed they were going to talk to me about the debacle of the day before. Nope. Just wanted me to know my pap came back positive for HPV virus. She explained it’s something you can get the first time you ever have sex, it just doesn’t show up. Nothing to worry much about though, just make sure you come every year to your check ups so we can keep on eye on you.

I always go to my appointments but I ask her what they are keeping an eye on? Oh. Higher risk of cervical cancer.

Perfect. I figured that’s just the universe being pissed off at me for saying the day before that I didn’t care if I got cancer.

I love being a woman.


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Ally McBeal

I absolutely love Netflix. Since the summer, I have really been working at being more comfortable being alone. Truth be told, the magic answer was in putting Netflix on my phone. I can lay in my bed for hours and hours and watch stuff on my phone. I watch series that start with the very first season and watch until I’ve completed it.

First, I watched Breaking Bad. I loved and hated it. I was so disturbed by it, I can’t even watch that actor in another movie now. No amount of reality talking in my head about how he was a real human just playing a fictional character will do it. I hate that Walter dude, no matter where I see him.

I decided in order to avoid a psychotic break, I needed to switch gears. I watched Friends. Ten freaking sessions. And you remember the old days. A season was actually 26 episodes, not seven like they do now.

Currently, I am switching back and forth between two series – Criminal Minds and Ally McBeal. I am convinced now that I am in season eight of Criminal Minds, that I am an excellent profiler. Put me on a serial killer case and I could figure it out. Of course, I’m no Spencer Reid, but he is one of a kind.

Then there is Ally McBeal. I used to watch her after I was divorced and had moved back to the Buffalo area. I loved her. Now that I am re-watching her, I know why. I swear, I AM Ally McBeal. The description of her show describes her as “unlucky in love.” I can certainly wear that label proudly.

She is incredibly quirky, which makes me giggle out loud when I watch. She is also terribly klutzy, which I unfortunately am also quite good at.  I asked a friend today what I should blog about, and he said thankfulness. It reminded me of an episode that I watched recently.

It was Thanksgiving, and Ally’s roommate walked into the living room to find her kicking their expensive couch cushions across the room. Ally was on a roll, being “thankful” for all the blessings in her life. It is hard to explain, but she was clearly being sarcastic. And yet she wasn’t. Overall, she is grateful and positive, but when you are “supposed” to be thankful, and then thankfulness is supposed to be the secret key to finding happiness, you can get pretty sarcastic.

So she went on with her list of items she was grateful for, and concluded with how especially grateful she was that Christmas was around the corner. She said the word Christmas with such disdain, it sounded like a curse word.

Only people who have experienced loneliness – I mean true, gut-wrenching loneliness – will understand that disdain. Holidays completely suck when you are lonely. Christmas is one of the worst.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in being thankful. I believe thankfulness is a powerful, powerful force in our lives. But I also know that there should never been an assumption that if you are sad, lonely, or in a depression, that the anecdote is necessarily learning to be grateful for your blessings. I believe with all my heart that I have recognized many, many blessings and amazing human beings that I am heartily grateful for (pun intended) and yet still experience profound sadness, loneliness, or depression. In fact, when you know all these things, you just add guilt to your list of negative affects because you know there are plenty of people out there who have less than you do. What right do I have to feel depressed?

Anyhow, even though it’s not Thanksgiving, try to revisit Ally McBeal. You will laugh your buns off, and you will probably also understand me on a different level. By the way, I’m currently NOT experiencing a lot of loneliness or depression, which I am VERY grateful for! 🙂


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Day Late, Dollar Short

I know, I’m a day late blogging. Sorry. I was trying to get camping for a night, but really the reason was that my mind was blank. I promised those of you that called me out that I would blog today. Only problem is, my mind is still blank. When I have things to write about, I am usually writing about them in my head for a while. When I sit down, it is just a matter of how fast I can type. When I don’t have something on my heart, I stare at the screen.

It’s all about broken records. Every time someone asks me (sincerely) how I am doing, I never know what to say. I’m the same. It’s always the same. I guess I’m fine. I mean, I am healthy. I get up every day and function. My family is healthy. There is rarely anything new. The same topics are there with a slight update, but overall, nothing is new. I’m fine.

Except if you know me, you know I’m anything but fine.

I guess the only slightly new paragraph to add to a very old chapter, is that I’m taking a break from dating. I had session with Scott last week and talked about it. He said it’s a big paradox for me. I have everything to offer a relationship, and I am clearly wired to interact and be with others. But he had to agree, that dating- or attempting to- has brought far more misery than it has brought happiness. So why even bother?

The latest disaster never even got to a first date. It was a match guy I spoke with in February. We never met but couldn’t remember why. He reached out to me again and asked if I would like to meet. He was kind of gruff on the phone, but my friend always tells me you have to have at least one face to face encounter. Some people are just different in person than they come across by text or phone. To be fair, you have to meet at least once.

Far be it from me to not give someone a chance. What I had was a week of aggravating phone calls and text messages that went something like this.

“Yeah, I’m off match. It was a waste. All the women on there want is attention. They don’t want relationships. And the women with kids don’t have time to date. If you don’t have time to date, then you should just get off match.” I give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he met some real winners and is trying not to be too jaded. He immediately though, demands to know my schedule. I have plenty of time to date, but I need a little notice. When you juggle five jobs and are a full-time single parent, you have to schedule things in advance. I will be more than happy to make time for someone special, but in my mind you have to earn that kind of importance. I thought it incredulous that he expected to call me on Tuesday and be able to meet me within three days.

I offer to meet for breakfast on Sunday. “Well, what about Friday and Saturday?” I swallow the lump in my throat and explain sadly that one of my dear friends lost her son last week. The funeral arrangements were for Friday and Saturday. I committed my time to the family. I wasn’t sure if they would need me, but if they did, I would be there. If they didn’t need me, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be in the mood to go out and socialize after such a heart breaking service.

His response? “Oh, ok.” Hmmm. I know not all guys are sensitive and know what to say, but not even an I’m sorry to hear that? Or that’s too bad? Or anything at all that indicates you aren’t a total dick?

It only got better. As the day approached, it became clear that he didn’t have a vehicle. I refrained from saying what I was thinking: “Well, if a guy doesn’t even have a car to meet a woman on a date, then maybe he just shouldn’t be on match.” So he expected me to drive near his house to accommodate him. So the single guy with grown kids that live out-of-state, is being catered to by the busy single mom. Lovely.

It only got better.

He expected me to just come to his house. I politely and extremely firmly explained that as a woman, there was no way in hell I would ever ever ever meet a man for the first time anywhere but in a public place.

“That’s ok. We will sit in my backyard.”

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Then he insisted I at least pick him up at his house and drive him to the public restaurant.

Forget it. Sorry my friend. I don’t care what your advice is. I’m not meeting this guy face to face. I text him and tell him I don’t want to meet. I got back a nasty text saying it was obvious I didn’t have time to date anyway.

Sigh. Confirmation. It’s time for a break.

I had a special someone for quite a while. We both knew we didn’t want a serious or permanent relationship. We were both very clear about that. And it worked for quite a while. Even though it was less than ideal, I have to admit that it made the dating scene much more tolerable. While I was regularly meeting guys like the winner I just described, at least he and I would enjoy some companionship once in a while. Now that has stopped too. It was inevitable. But it is still sad. It stopped working because he just couldn’t believe that I didn’t want more. He knew he didn’t, but he just couldn’t wrap around that I didn’t either. I love him to death, but he has a tremendously huge ego that cost us our friendship. It’s a shame because I miss him.

At any rate, like I said, it’s a broken record. This song has been playing for over four years now. I’m fine. I really am. And I’m anything but fine.


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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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Don’t Just Do Something… Sit There!

I went to see Bill (my spiritual director) today. We were discussing the lifting of my depression, but the trade-off being more angst-filled. Stuff like, what the heck is this all for anyway? Keeping it together so that you can keep it together for another day so you can keep it together for another day kind of thing. We talked about how I have never avoided pain in my life, always dealt with it head-on. Without realizing it, I think I assumed there would be some sort of pay-off eventually. So far, it’s just been another helping of tough stuff to deal with. At 48, I’m ready to move on to something new.

Anyhow, we didn’t solve the problems of the world, but we decided to start doing some meditation/prayer type stuff in session. I don’t do so well with it on my own, so if we do it together, I can probably practice it more easily at home. It was simple, interesting stuff, so I thought I would pass it along to you. Each of them were only one to two minutes long.

Exercise One:
Just sit there. Sit there quietly and just see what happens. Not for a long period, but just see what happens. I close my eyes when I do these kinds of things because it’s just easier for me. So I sat there and I was surprised that I was actually blank for a few minutes before the train left the station. Then it was, “Oh, I have to blog today. Maybe I should blog about sitting here.” And then my mind just goes from there.

Exercise Two:
Similar to the first exercise, you sit quietly but this time you actually count how many thoughts you have. I had six. I thought that was a lot, but Bill had six too. I don’t remember all of his, but his were:
1- Here. I’m just here.
2- Darcy. She’s here too.
6- Here. Here I am.

Mine were:
1- Nothing to start.
2- Have to call my friend as soon as I leave to confirm plans.
3- It’s blog day and I don’t know what to blog about.
4- I’m really hungry.
5- I wonder if that new guy I’ve been texting will contact me or not.
6- Nothing again. Can I count that twice?

Exercise Three:
Counting breaths. I had eight. Bill had three.

Does it all sound kinda goofy and pointless to you? It sounds funny to me as I write it. But when I was there, it was really cool. The object is to diminish your numbers. The goal is to be able to sit with blankness. For cripe’s sake, it was only a minute but it seemed like forever. The goal is to get your thoughts down to one or zero and be able to be empty. And the goal is to get your breaths down to three or less. Bill says the practiced monks can get down to one. That’s crazy.

Anyhow, I’m actually gonna try this the next few days. I asked him if the goal was also to increase the time you do it and he kind of chuckled. Typical question from someone like me. He said the goal is for time to be meaningless.

He doesn’t know a whole lot about acupuncture, and neither do I for that matter. But I told him it’s interesting that the big goal of those treatments is to relax. She puts a thousand needles in my body, then turns the lights off and tells me to take a nap. The more nothing I feel, the better. Hmmm… do you ever have the universe send you consistent messages?

So another paradox. Finding meaning in my life apparently requires me to conquer being empty. And yet the ultimate goal is to feel less empty. Weird. Maybe I’m just a quack that is hanging out with a bunch of quacks. But I’m liking it.

If you attempt any of these exercises, please feel free to share your stories. I’m fascinated! Really folks, it’s safe to try it at home. Just sit and try to be empty.

Crazy.


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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!!


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Halloween

I got out our Halloween decorations this week. I think it’s probably my second favorite holiday to prepare for besides Christmas. (Not that I don’t complain about the overwhelming task of decorating for Christmas, but you know what I mean.) My daughter Emily hails Halloween as her favorite holiday and she has rubbed off on me over the years.

It ends up being a time for reminiscing. When Frankie was just a couple of months old, he donned his first Halloween outfit that read “Treat or Trick” on his baby butt.

David- Trick or Treat!

The first award Frankie ever got was a trophy for the cutest costume in the town parade. He was only a year old and he was a bumblebee. He was the cutest kid in the world, so that title was well-earned. Out comes the trophy at Halloween time. I had to include his other costume for that year in the pictures- the pumpkin. That would have won an award also if he were allowed to enter twice :).

David-  Halloween costume

David's Halloween costume

He was Darth Vador three years in a row and it rocked. The helmet was a voice changer and he sounded like Darth when he said “Trick or Treat” and then he would activate the heavy Darth breathing. Superman a year or two. A werewolf once. Then there was the year he was Cinderella. He was gorgeous! His classmates went crazy. He was fine with it until we went trick or treating that night and everyone though he really was a woman (because he was so pretty). We cut the night short and he came home and took off his costume… lol.

Last year he was Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers’ movies. He can do a great imitation of him as well. He looked and sounded great, but was disappointed at the Halloween dance when only two of his classmates had ever even seen an Austin Powers movie. Ah, that’s what happens when you spend most of your time with a brother two and a half times your age. Anyhow, I tried to download the video for you on this, but it’s the wrong format :(.

Makes me smile to remember, then I do what parents usually do. I have a moment of sad, realizing how quickly he is growing up. I wonder what he will choose this year? I dread the day when he tells me Halloween is babyish and there won’t be a costume. Will this be the year? Yep, this is the year. He is saying he doesn’t want to do anything at all for Halloween. I’m hoping he is like his brother, Matthew. Matthew gave it up too until he was a little older. Then one year it hit him that it was very little work for an awful lot of candy.

I guess it’s a time when you get to be someone you’re not. Usually, it’s someone you wish you could be. I wonder who I would be if I were clever enough. No one comes to mind. When you are depressed, you just spend time wishing you weren’t you. It’s not so much you wish you were someone else in particular. You just don’t want to be in your own skin. Anywhere but there would be fine. And have you ever wished that other people in your life were something they were not? I’ve done that, too. I guess that’s called having expectations. Not usually a good thing. Or maybe you don’t really expect anything different from them, but sometimes you hope anyways. Sometimes, you are just that desperately in need.

Anyhow, Happy Halloween a week early. I hope you enjoy the pictures!


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The Winter Season

I saw Bob, my spiritual director, today. He helped me sort through another rough week and added yet another layer to my ever-growing understanding of grief.

This week was the fourth anniversary of Tim’s death. Many times, the anticipation of difficult days ends up being far worse than the actual event. Not this time. The day was tough from the moment I woke up until well after midnight.

If you know me, or if you have followed my blogs for any amount of time, you know I have been blessed with an exceptional quality and quantity of support people. Sometimes I have conversations and experiences with them that challenge my thoughts and beliefs, and sometimes I just plain end up disagreeing with them. And that is okay.

I went into Bob’s office today with a specific question in mind, based on some of the conversations I have had this week. If a person is truly grateful- i.e. really, honestly understands on a deep level- for the blessings in their life, is it possible to remain sad or depressed?

I knew my answer was yes, because that is what I am experiencing. I know enough, however, about human nature, that sometimes we are blinded to truths that are painful for us to accept. I wanted Bob’s unbiased opinion. He was quiet for a moment or two, so I knew I had asked a difficult question, one that was more complicated than it appeared on the surface. When he gathered his thoughts, he very confidently answered that yes, most definitely you can experience both at the same time.

He is a man who has experienced plenty of grief in his life. He sometimes shares some of his stories with me. Today we talked about the frustrations of complicated grief. He said that we do the “work” of grief, whether or not we are even conscious of the fact that we are doing it. He mentioned how there are times when he feels sad or angry (or both) and doesn’t know why. Then he puts two and two together and remembers it’s an anniversary date or a particular time of year that is historically related to his grief.

I kind of jumped at that. I have had that happen, too. But I pointed out how when you ARE conscious of why you are sad or angry (or both), then sometimes the criticisms come out. (At least it feels like criticism.) If you KNOW you are at a difficult time of the year (or whatever), then suddenly you are dubbed as having a negative self-image. You are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are not “letting it go.” You are holding on to your pain. I swear, you just can’t win.

I go out and preach all the time about being willing to hold opposing truths in your heart and soul, even though it’s difficult. It didn’t click with me though, until this session that this is another one of those deep paradoxes of life. Yes, I can absolutely be grateful for my home, my healthy children, my amazing friends and family. I can be completely aware of how lucky I am in regards to those things compared to other people. But that doesn’t mean for one second, that the test of that gratitude is how happy or depression free I am. I can be grateful, and yet still be knee-deep in grief and depression.

I have no idea where grief ends and depression starts or vice-versa. I don’t even know if there is a difference. And I don’t even think it really matters.

I received some gifts on the 14th, which were intended to help lift my spirits. Was I grateful? Yes. But truthfully, I had a long talk with the gift-giver about how I was a little uncomfortable with it. It was a day to grieve. Opening gifts was in opposition to that. And me being me, it created a sense of guilt. I felt pressure to be happy and grateful, when I was anything but that. After my session, I felt more secure in the fact that it might actually be just fine to feel that way.

Bob says I am in a very, very long season of winter. It is what it is. It does not seem to be going away any time soon. But he also stressed that I AM NOT STUCK. I am alive and moving. He also said not everyone will be able to wade through the journey with me.

I was hurt by a guy who wasn’t able to be there for me on the 14th. I know there was an element there of him not wanting to be bothered, which is just plain disappointing. But Bob pointed out that for most men (sorry, guys!) there is also an element of fear. Men don’t connect with their emotions as readily as women do. To sit on a couch with me while I was so in touch with my sadness, would be a place that some people (men or women) just couldn’t go to. I had to admit that is most likely true. And while genuine caring is still there, sometimes people try so hard to help, because they can’t stand their own pain of watching someone else suffer.

It’s two days after the 14th. I’m feeling a little better than I was on that day. I’m glad for that, but I am very aware that I am still deep in winter. Just know, that when people like me are there, we are not “choosing” to be. There isn’t a formula to follow that will change it. No amount of saying “positive” phrases or focusing on blessings is going to erase it. That doesn’t mean I still won’t try, because I will. But I have made a promise to myself to try not to add guilt and judgment to my sorrow, and perhaps it’s a good reminder for you support people out there, too when you are watching me (or whoever).

It is what it is. And it is winter.


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Happiness or Hope?

I read a most intriguing article this week. It is from the magazine The Psychotherapy Networker, and was written by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The title is “The Downside of Happiness.” Here is the link if you want to check it out: http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/magazine/currentissue/item/2551-the-downside-of-happiness

As a person that struggles with depression, I have certainly spent a lot of time pursuing being happy. As a single person, one of the most repetitive things I hear is, “You have to be happy with yourself before you can meet someone else.” The next logical step in that thinking, is that if you are alone, you must not have achieved being happy alone. (The next step is, “It’s my own fault if I’m alone.”)

The article doesn’t debate the obvious benefits of happiness, it just points out the balance of the other side. I won’t go into details, but let me say that the research seemed well founded and ethical. Here are some of their interesting conclusions.

“Researchers have found that when you enter into a situation with the goal of becoming happier, you actually make that less likely to occur.” “…adults with the greatest desire to be happy felt lonelier, more depressed…” Well, that explains a lot.

The upside of being less than happy? Also pretty intriguing. “…if your goal is to gain assistance, this is the wrong time to feel happy, express happiness, and minimize the unpleasantness of sadness.” When you need to be a highly effective advocate for yourself or someone else, it is good to “own your feelings of frustration and effectively communicate them.” In the workplace and other environments, it is better to let everyone know that it’s safe to feel a full range of feelings, rather than being sure that positivity “reigns supreme.”

The article also warns us to distinguish between wanting and liking. It is human tendency to want something far more than we actually like them for the long-term once we actually get them. Hmmm…

Summary statements: “…under certain predictable circumstances, being mildly unhappy seems to be better than being happy.” And “…if you want to be surrounded by productive, creative, satisfied people, create an environment where diverse feelings and behaviors are honored.”

Don’t get me wrong. I still want to feel more happy than I am. I most certainly do. But I admit I felt a little better after reading this article. I especially love it when I have figured something out on my own and then read “evidence” to back it up later. What I mean specifically, is that I developed a tagline when my first book came out and I still stick to it today. EMBRACE IT ALL. Own all of it, be honest with all of it. The happy. The sad. The hard. The easy. The ugly. The connection. The loneliness. The positive. The negative. I will hope for happiness, but I won’t be afraid to admit my sadness. And apparently, that’s not such a bad thing.

Then I got an email from my friend I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. She sent me this song about hope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KIhYZQ_ovw&app=desktop It’s worth cutting and pasting the link!

The words describe the darkness without holding back. Then it refers to hope in God and love. I think that can also apply to any person here on earth that loves and cares for us, even if it’s not a “significant other.” It was great timing for me. Instead of “pursuing” happiness, I think I will concentrate more on hope. Sounds like a good plan, even according to “research!”