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 …
I went back to work last week. I had been off several weeks after a tough, two-week, out-of-town assignment that brought me to my knees on the edge of my black hole.
In all, I was gone five weeks – some pre-planned vacation and some comp time. Still, when you’re out of the office for that long, for any reason, people are going to wonder why you have been gone so long.
If you don’t have a mental illness – whether it’s depression or alcoholism or an anxiety disorder – you’ve probably never been confronted with these questions: How do you call in sick when your mental illness prevents you from work? What do you say when you go back to work after an extended absence because of your mental illness?
When you have to answer these questions, you realize how much stigma there is about mental illness.
If you had to take off a couple of weeks because you had pneumonia, you would simply tell your boss that you could not work because you had pneumonia. But what do you say when your depression prevents you from working? How do you call in sick with depression?
Every now and then I get a glimpse of what my mental illnesses look like.
It’s been a long time. I have taken my medications without fail for years. I exercise, eat healthy foods, get as much sleep as I can, visit my psych-nurse practitioner every three months and I get on my knees every night and thank God for my sobriety. In other word, I do what I am told – an unnatural act for me.
As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I am accustomed to stress. For nearly 30 years I have lived with a deadline hanging over my head. I took six weeks off to have a baby, 8 weeks for my last major depression but other than the one- or two-week vacations, I have had a deadline over my head.
Recently, I accepted an assignment which today I realize I should not have done. I agreed to leave my home and my dog, suspend my exercise routine and healthy eating habits and forego nights of 8-hours of sleep to cover the Florida legislature’s last two-weeks in session.
I did this once before, nearly 30 years ago when reporters were only expected to write a story for the newspaper. Now, we must also Tweet, blog and make videos. Despite my degree in political science, after 30+ years in journalism, I’m kinda disallusioned with politics.
I was stunned.
My mother had rarely spoken about her childhood. She grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin. They did not have hot water and she and her three sisters and two brothers took baths one-by-one in a tub in water that had been warmed on a stove. You wanted to be the first in line to get the cleanest, warmest water, she used to tell me. They didn’t have much money. They worked hard. They churned their own butter.
I could not recall her ever speaking about her father – my grandfather, who died when I was very young. About all I knew was that he drank a lot. So I asked. She rattled off stories – none of them happy or funny. He took all six kids to school in the morning and then started drinking. She had seen him drunk, sitting on a curb. She was so embarrassed that if she needed to go past his watering hole she would take a different route to avoid seeing him.
He took the money she had saved to buy herself a car. When she announced she was going to college – the only one of the four girls in the family who did – he kicked her out. Women didn’t need a college education, she recalled him saying. She went on to get a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree.
I am totally into preventive health care – especially mental health care.
I practice preventive mental health care. It’s a program I came up with on my own based on a bunch of stuff I’ve read and been told by people I trust. It’s based on this simple premise: my brain is constantly producing or not producing chemicals and hormones. If there is too much of one chemical and not enough of another, I can sink into a black hole or leap tall buildings in a single bound.
The single, most powerful preventive tool in my little toolbox is exercise. Exercise prevents both depression and mania. It releases endorphins, hormones that activate my opiate receptors. As for my mania, exercise is like a fire extinguisher, snuffing out that burning desire to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
There was a time when I wanted a really big house. A two-story house with big bedrooms and bathrooms with his and her’s sinks – even though there is no “his.”
My siblings have huge houses on big chunks of land. BIG – as in having an intercom so the kids can ask mom to bring some snacks down to the basement, where they have gym, pool table, bar and movie room. You can put a 20-foot Christmas tree in their living rooms and it won’t hit the ceiling.
My house is 1,332 square feet on .17 acres. No basement. No upstairs. Right now, I absolutely love it. I have the windows open and it is raining. When you live in a very small house and you open the windows during a rain, it sounds like you are actually outside, in the rain. Surround-sound rain but you are cozy and dry.
In the words of the philosopher Crow: It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.
This is gratitude and it is an entirely impossible state of mind when you have depression. If you want to get a taste of what depression feels like, it is the complete absence of gratitude. It is compounded by friends and family trying to cram gratitude down your throat…”You have so much to live for…”
For those of you with depression who live in areas that are expecting life-threatening cold weather this week, I am not going to say “I feel your pain.” I don’t and I won’t insult you by saying it.
Although I have felt your pain in my lifetime, I do not feel your pain now because I live in Florida. I also won’t insult you by telling you what the weather is like in West Palm Beach right now.
I was born and raised in northwest Wisconsin and southwest Michigan. Phrases like “wind chill,” “lake effect,” “black ice” and “sub-zero” were part of my daily vocabulary for about five months of the year.
The only thing worse than the temperature was the sky – so uniformally gray that it looked like someone had painted it one solid color. There were no clouds per se – just one massive, flat gray cloud that covered the entire sky for as far as you could see. Nine hours separated sunrise and sunset but it would be months before you would ever see the sun again so it didn’t really matter if it was day or night.