It’s 10:15 a.m. on Sunday morning, January 30, 2011. It’s sunny, about 68-degrees with a high of 75 degrees. I just rode my bike to the park with my dog – whom I have rained to run in front of me on my bike. I’m going to putz in the garden today.
I am happy.
I am telling you this not to rub it in. West Palm Beach in January is lovely. I am telling you this because I have felt your pain and, unlike the pain of childbirth, I have not forgotten it or those of you who suffer with it. Seasonal-affective disorder is one of the most crippling, insidious types of depression there is. It is like running that last two-tenths of a 26.2 mile marathon for about 4-6 months – depending on your latitude.
I know. I have done it. I was born in northwestern Wisconsin. It’s 17 degrees right now but it feels like 6 degrees. The high today will be 19. It’s cloudy – of course – and there will be only 9 hours and 45 minutes of daylight today, which means there will be 14 hours and 15 minutes of darkness. To say it is cloudy is a stretch. It’s more like someone painted the sky an opaque, flat industrial gray.
Jack LaLanne is dead. Ninety-six amazing years old.
I always liked Jack. When I was a kid my sister and I would watch Jack on our black-and-white TV and try to keep up with his jumping jacks. The exercises he did in the chair seemed kind of lame, but we were little kids and had no problem lifting our legs. Besides, sitting in a chair wasn’t easy for a 5-year-old budding hypomanic like me.
Jack was always – ALWAYS – happy. Not Richard Simmons’ freaky happy, but genuinely happy in his stretch pants and tight shirt with the collar. Jack was the first personal trainer for the masses who understood the connection between the mind and body. It took decades for “endorphins” to become a household word. But Jack was on to it in the 1950’s.
“The only way you can hurt the body is not use it,” Jack once said. “Inactivity is the killer and remember, it’s never too late.”
Exercise has played a huge role in my life. I realized at a very young age that moving around a lot, playing so hard that I would collapse in a pile of leaves, made me feel good. Sitting around made me feel bad – unless I was watching the Saturday afternoon Creature Feature with the curtains drawn.
Until I picked up my first drink, endorphins were my drug of choice. Of course I didn’t realize it at the time, but I loved that high. I threw myself into as many competitive sports as possible and excelled. Swimming was my favorite. There is something about being prone, weightless and stoned that really appealed to me.
I have a friend who loves malted-milk balls.
The girl can eat a half-gallon carton of Whoppers and not gain a pound. Me, I eat Whoppers and you can literally see my butt expand: Whopper size fat dimples all over my hind quarters.
She tells me she has always been this way – able to eat anything she wants without gaining weight. A perpetual size 2. She says she has a fast metabolism. I don’t know what it is but she doesn’t have to work at it. Me, I gotta work at it and work at it and work at it.
I realized yesterday – while staring at the muffin top puffing over the waist of my jeans – that some of us have to work just as hard at our mental health as we do our physical health. Other folks are lucky. They don’t have to work at it – just like my friend who can eat Whoppers with muffin-top impunity. Stress, anger, sadness, jealousy don’t trigger a chemical reaction in their brains that makes them curl up into a fetal position or rage against the machine. They deal with it and get over it.
I learned a lot of things from my mom but how to be happy was not one of them.
I had to figure that one out on my own and it was not easy. You would think that happiness is instinctual and that it would come naturally. Not for me.
My mother was not a happy woman. At least that is how I saw it. She was the daughter of an alcoholic who embarrassed her as a child. Just before she died she told me this story: When she was a child, her father piled the kids into car and drove them to school. Then he went to the local tavern and got drunk. When school let out he would be drunk, sometimes sitting on the curb. Instead of walking with her classmates, she took the alley.
She woke up one morning and her pony, which was actually a work horse on the farm, was gone. No one said a word about it. But her father had been out drinking the night before and she suspected he may have lost it gambling. He kicked her out of the house when she announced she wanted to go to college. Women didn’t need college, he said. She earned her teaching degree and taught in a one-room schoolhouse. She later earned her master’s degree in education.