I once heard a guy say that he tries to wear his life like a comfortable old t-shirt. I like that and I’ve been trying to do it lately but I think I must have shrunk that t-shirt in the dryer because it’s tight as hell right now.
From the outside you might not notice that my comfy t-shirt has morphed into a corset. But from the inside, it feels like it has. I’m carrying around this intensity right now – for work, for working-out and even for finishing the entire seven-season series Sons of Anarchy.
I am driven. I can’t seem to slow down my thoughts. One thought leads to another and another and another. It makes me good at what I do – newspaper reporting – but it’s not good for my mental health. It’s a constant tugging – intellectually I want to slow down – instinctually I want to speed up.
The nuns taught us about the different kinds of sins – venial sins, a sort of lesser gateway sin that wouldn’t send us directly to hell, unlike mortal sins – like killing someone – which would send us directly to hell. You would burn in hell for eternity no matter how many Hail Mary’s you said. Of course, as second- and third-graders, we hadn’t committed any mortal sins but they were out there.
And there were those poor little babies who died before they were baptized. They ended up in limbo – heaven’s waiting room. They didn’t get into heaven because there original sin hadn’t been washed away by pouring some water over their little heads. So, your parents better get your little brother baptized or he could END UP IN LIMBO!!!
I got so scared of being bad and had convinced myself that I WAS bad that as soon as I was able,, I went to confession. In fact, I went to confession so much that they told me I didn’t have to go so much – which was a huge relief because as a little kid I had better things to do than keep a running tally of my venial sins.
I haven’t gone to confession in years. I like to think I dial direct. When I feel guilty, which is still a lot, I deal directly with God.
Grief intrigues me. I’ve been there and despite counselling, self-help books and prayer, I don’t understand it.
A few years after my divorce, my father died. Sixteen months after my father died, my mother died. Eight months later, my dog died. Several years passed and a long-term relationship ended. Then I crashed, slipped into a deep depression.
Compound grief – that’s what I call it. At some point, all that grief piled up and morphed into depression. There was a tipping point. Despite the time I’ve spent rubbernecking my own grief, I don’t know when or where I reached that tipping point but I sure as hell did.
Even with all the self-awareness and knowledge I have today, I doubt I would be able to identify that moment should I experience another loss and slide into – God forbid – a deep depression. So, how do doctors distinguish between grief and depression?
Apparently, it’s not easy. According to a study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, there is grief, complicated grief and depression. This was the first randomized trial to explore the treatment of complicated grief in an elderly population and it emphasized the importance for doctors to distinguish the differences between grief, complicated grief and depression.
I normally don’t understand articles in JAMA. The articles look and sound like English but they are beyond my comprehension. Even the headlines baffle me. But I found this article on Medscape – essentially an email discussion about the JAMA article – that even I could understand.
Two down, one to go.
We made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s just New Year’s left. I can see the finish line but I’m close to bonking. Yes, I am taking my medications. I am exercising and getting plenty of sleep. I am eating well – except for the gluten-free Pop Tarts.
I thought I had done a pretty good job of fending off my depression this year. I didn’t buy a tree or put out any decorations until about 2 hours before my daughter came home to visit. I cancelled my satellite television service and got Roku – so I wasn’t bombarded by holiday commercials.
I didn’t turn on the radio and made it through my first holiday season without hearing that insanely annoying Feliz Navidad song – although I did hear Paul McCartney’s “Sim-ply Hav-ing a Wonderful Christmas Time,” which is equally annoying.
I don’t like talking on the phone. For awhile, I disabled the voicemail on my phone to avoid having to return phone calls. People would say to me, “Hey, I tried to call you but I couldn’t leave a message,” or “Do you know your voicemail doesn’t work?” or “You should set up your voicemail,” to which I would simply respond, “I know,” – a response that seemed to baffle them. I don’t know why I dislike talking on the phone or how the whole thing started. I wonder if maybe it doesn’t have to do with not being the girl that was not included in the high-school phone call daisy-hain about who was “going with” whom or whose parents would be out of town for the weekend. Or, maybe it’s because I like to see a person when I speak with them so I can read their body language. I interrupt a lot when I speak with someone on the phone. I don’t mean to but I just can’t tell when they have verbally completed a thought. And I don’t know when the conversation is over. It’s very awkward for me and I devote so much time to thinking about what I’m saying and whether I’m doing the conversation “right” that I often don’t hear what the person said. My dislike of talking on the phone is so extreme that my phone hardly ever rings, which is fine by me. You should see all the minutes I’ve stacked up on my phone bill. I don’t mind talking on the phone for my work but my aversion to personal phone calls has been the topic of more than a few sessions with my therapist. Obviously, the outcome of my phone hate has resulted in what my therapist calls “isolating.” I don’t think of it as isolating. I think of it as being left alone and not being forced to interact with someone when I don’t want to. Is that so wrong? Apparently, it is. Isolating is not good for people with depression – to which I say, “neither is …
Somewhere, probably over some freakin’ rainbow, is the Christmas of my dreams. You know the one with little kids making snow angels in the front yard, a new Lexus in the driveway with a ginormous bow on it and gingerbread houses that don’t collapse.
However, I live in south Florida so the snow angel thing is out. I would rather have a Prius than a Lexus and unless you make a gingerbread house with gorilla glue, it’s going to collapse. Get over it.
Problem is, I can’t get over it. Actually, the problem is the sentence before this one. I think “I can’t get over it,” when in fact, I don’t allow myself to “get over it.” Every year it’s the same thing: I invite a mythical family, with mythical snow in the front yard and mythical gingerbread houses into my head.
I sit on my pity pot and watch them have their mythical Christmas. I get jealous, mad, jealous, sad, jealous, angry, jealous, depressed. I do this to myself. I allow this brain chemistry to happen because I allow myself to have stupid, unrealistic expectations.
And what are expectations?
I have made it 55 years without cooking a turkey. I used to be ashamed of that fact. How could a one-time wife and mother get this far in life without ever having made a turkey?
It’s a sad story with a happy ending. I don’t have much family and the family I have don’t invite me to holiday dinners. They’re either too far away, or they don’t know me because we haven’t kept in contact over the decades or they don’t invite me to their dinner table.
When I was married we managed to get invited to my in-laws for holiday meals. My ex-husband is in the restaurant business so he was usually working. When we divorced, it was just my daughter and me. A few times I made a turkey breast and we got dressed up, took out the good china and some candles and had a nice little holiday meal – just the two of us and the dog.
We are holiday orphans. No cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, siblings. Just me, my daughter and the dog. When my daughter was much younger and still a believer (in Santa) we had fun – baking cookies, decorating the tree and building a runway in the yard with blue and red lights for Santa to land.
For a few years I had other orphans to my house on Christmas Eve. Fun, but a lot of work and money for a single mom with a full-time job. Then my daughter grew up and spent holidays with friends who have real families. Of course the two of us still eat dinner together on Christmas Eve but we no longer build the runway in the front yard or bake cookies together.
A good headline, like a lot of good things in life, will suck you in. This one got me: “How business leaders can use fatigue and depression to their advantage.”
Do tell, I thought, because I’ve been in the working world for more than 30 years and I’ve yet to meet a boss, supervisor or leader who has used fatigue and depression to their advantage. On the planet where I live, depression and fatigue are weaknesses.
Come to think of it, I have never encountered a boss supervisor or leader who ever had to take time off from work because depression or fatigue. That’s only something us worker bees do. So, I had to read this article by Andrew Cave, published on the Forbes web site on Wednesday.
Sometimes, it is the juxtaposition of the acutely mundane and profoundly sad that makes “it” all the more painful. The folding of the laundry, inserting the key into the ignition or even eating seems so ridiculous when it is stacked against immense sadness and grief.
It is going from one absolute extreme to another at the speed of light that takes the wind out of you, mentally and physically. Frankly, I don’t know to get rid of this. I only know what it feels like, that dream-like state of this-can’t-be-happening and the-car-needs-gas.
When I look back at my life and my depression, I realize that I had lived in that state for about two years before I fell into my last – and worst – major depression. It was the 16-months of illness between my parents’ deaths and the aftermath that did me in. It was living in that confusing juxtaposition every single day that took me down.
I know that juxtaposition will be a part of my life any time I am confronted with profound delayed grief or a sudden traumatic loss. I know – from countless hours of therapy and self-help books – that acceptance is the key to my mental health in these times.
I pray for acceptance because I know that if I can accept a situation, I can handle it. I can even be helpful to others. I also know that acceptance can be fleeting. This morning I may think I have accepted a situation but this afternoon I may find myself fighting it. That’s okay as long as I recognize it and pray and meditate on acceptance: “God, please help me to accept this, please, please, please, please, please.”
Then I say the Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s that …
Last week I celebrated 16 years of sobriety. Let me say that again because I can’t believe it: Last week I celebrated 16 years of sobriety.
The first 8 years of my sobriety were filled with mayhem: divorce, single-working motherhood, death of my parents, death of my dog and a deep-dark depression that led to a diagnosis that – along with my higher power – has kept me sober.
For me, the obsession to drink was gone by the time I put down the bottle. I was blessed. I have watched many, many alcoholics and addicts struggle with that agonizing obsession in early sobriety. Their desperation and self-loathing is visceral. My heart breaks for them.
I gave little thought to picking up a drink until I fell down into my black hole. My depression – and my seeming inability to fix myself – was so exasperating that I thought about picking up a drink. Nothing else seemed to work. Why not turn to the go-to remedy I used for decades: a bottle of chardonnay, a Corona with lime or a half-dozen glasses of Long Island iced tea?
Why not self-medicate my depression with alcohol? I asked myself that question and then got my ass to a meeting.
The answer to that question is simple: Alcohol is a depressant. The very thing I had been using for years to make me feel better had made me feel worse. I was blind to that fact until the brain chemistry was explained to me.
I can’t recall the details but simply put, alcohol would briefly alter the chemistry in my brain and make me feel better. But when the euphoria wore off, the hormones and receptors in my brain would not function as they should and I would plunge even deeper into my depression.
I had one of those cloud-parting epiphanies and my life made sense to me. I had been self-medicating with drugs alcohol since I was a teenager and I progressively got sicker and sicker. I accepted my diagnosis for depression and decided to get on with treating …