And so I enter this Holiday season with a window in my 12-year-old car that doesn’t roll down (important when you live in Florida), a broken sprinkler system (also important when you live in Florida), a pool that has a serious leak, a roof that needs to be replaced and a credit card that is bumping up against its limit.
Am I going to let these first-world problems ruin my holidays? Heck yea. And therein lies the problem: I’m going to LET my little list of, seriously, not to serious problems ruin my holidays. They won’t ruin the entire holiday season, just as much as I allow. I often forget that I control the problems, not the other way around.
I learned after coming out of my last depression that there is a physiological explanation for why people with depression cop to the negative. It’s how are brains are wired. It’s a form of selective memory that feeds our depression. It’s why I tend to focus on the bad aspects of my childhood and have totally forgotten many of the good. Thank God I have my sister and a childhood friend who remind me of the good times.
I have found that the key to managing my depression is as much about taking my meds, getting enough sleep and exercise as it is about controlling my thoughts. I must be mindful of when my thoughts stray to the negative. If I don’t reign them in, they trigger an avalanche of negativity. My pants are tight. My dog smells. I should have a nicer car. I should have a bigger, better house. I should be making more money. I should save more. I’m such a loser. I should returned that phone call. I’m not a very good friend and I’m a lousy sister and aunt.
Next thing I know I’m singing “Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Think I’ll go eat worms.”
After studying this phenomenon, I have come to the conclusion that when my thoughts begin spinning out of control it’s because I’m either dwelling on the past or …
I have lived through three hurricanes: Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. Two cat 3′s and a 2. Frances and Jeanne were just a few weeks apart in the fall of 2004. Wilma was October 2005.
I have also lived through some unpleasant life stuff, like getting sober, getting divorced (twice) and losing my parents and dog to cancer during a really awful two years. But nothing – NOTHING – quite compares to the mind “f-bomb” of a hurricane. Millions of people in the northeast know what I’m talking about. Unless you have been a through a catastrophic hurricane it’s hard to describe.
First, there is anxiety as you obsessively watch the Weather Channel in the days before the storm.
All those colored lines showing the different paths the hurricane could take…it starts looking like the meterologists just threw a bunch of spaghetti against a map. The shelves of the soup aisle at the grocery store are bare. Bottled water – Gone. Batteries – gone. Candles – gone. Coolers – gone.
If you’ve never seen your grocery store shelves empty, it’s freaky in a very stressful kind of way. You can’t buy plywood and you won’t find tapcons for miles. I almost got into a fight with a guy at Sears who was pondering the last 18v cordless drill on the shelf when I walked up and grabbed it. Sorry buddy, you snooze, you lose.
Then there is the actual storm. Your windows are boarded up so you can’t see what’s going on out there but you can hear it. Stuff smashing against your house. The walls of your house literally vibrate. You lose the Weather Channel when the electricity goes out so have no idea how much longer the storm will go on. Frances lasted 18 hours. Relentless.
No cell phone reception. The dog – totally freaked out – poops in the house. During one of the hurricanes – I forget which one – I held my front door closed for two hours as the wind pushed it open and water poured underneath. “Mom, are we going to be okay?” “Sure, honey, go back to bed,” said me, the single mom lying through my teeth.
As with many of life’s most important lessons, I learned humility and compassion the hard way. I was dropped to the ground by my depression and alcoholism and held there until I cried “Uncle!” Only then was I willing – begrudgingly – to take a look at myself, my beliefs and behavior.
I did not like what I saw. Arrogance. Self-righteousness. Judge and jury. I was a pull-your-damn-self-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of snob, holding myself and others to impossibly high standards. If you people worked as hard as me, if you would get off your lazy ass and stop holding your hand out, if you stopped acting like a victim, the world would be a better place.
Problem was, not all people are capable of working as hard as me. They literally can’t get off their proverbial “lazy ass.” And some of them are not acting like victims – they really are. How do I know this?
Because my depression and alcoholism took me to a place where I could no longer work hard. I could not get off my “lazy ass.” I really was held hostage by my mental illnesses. I had to hold out my hand and admit I needed help. Once I got help – therapy, medications, 12-step meetings – I was able to look at myself and others from a completely different perspective. It was as though the clouds had parted and I could see what an asshole I had been.
As my years in recovery and remission passed, I began to wonder why. Why was I suddenly cut down? Why was I suddenly unable to do the things that had come so naturally before? What had “right-sized” me?