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…”
I don’t do resolutions but apparently a lot of people do because the gym was packed this morning.
If something needs to change, I change it. Relying on a number on a calender has never worked for me. Trust me. I’ve tried it. You can ask any alcoholic and they will tell you they have set deadlines and then either missed them or got sober for a few weeks and then they’re back at it.
It’s the same with dieting. If you can go ON a diet, you can go OFF a diet. You want to lose weight or quit smoking or drinking, you just do it – not because it’s a certain day of the year. Because it needs to be done and every cell in your body is convinced of that truth. In the words of the philosophers at Nike: Just do it.
Of course if you are as hard headed as I am, it may take some time to convince yourself that you really need to make a change. In fact, I brain has concocted truly ridiculous arguments to prove to myself that I didn’t need to quit drinking, take antidepressants or see a therapist.
And I shall go forth into another holiday season with this mantra: Expectations are premeditated disappointments.
I shall also turn the frickin’ channel when a jewelry commercial comes on the television or that chipper song Feliz Navidad plays on the radio. I will do my damndest to avoid sugar, especially M&Ms. I will avoid the mall and its DMV-ish lines and battles for parking spots.
I’m not doing this because I am a bah-humbug kind of girl. I’m doing this because I know that my depression is smack in the middle of the bullseye this time of year. After umpteen years of therapy and medications, I know that my expectations about Christmas – fueled by the American advertising industry – can push me over the edge.
So, I’m working on having a Charlie Brown kind of Christmas this year. I’m going to focus on putting a single bulb on a pathetic little tree – metaphorically speaking – and remember the nativity. I was raised Catholic, which likely explains a lot of other issues that we’re not going to go into right now, and taught that Christmas is about Christ’s birth.
Santa is supposed to be a side-dish, not the main course. I am going to focus instead on the lessons of the nativity, namely humility and giving.
And in that spirit, I give you this: a simple reminder of the simplicity of Christmas.
Pathetic Christmas tree image available from Shutterstock.
Fourteen years ago today I took my last drink. I’m not sure exactly what it was because much of that night remains a blur – in and out of a blackout. I remember going to a party where there were massive martini glasses on each table filled with goldfish. I was determined to SAVE THE GOLDFISH! when the clean-up crew started flushing them down the toilet. Ah, the joys of being the last one at the party.
I have a few other snippets of drunken debauchery from that night but I clearly remember waking up and my neighbor coming over and asking if I was okay because my front door was wide open when he went out to get his paper that morning and some of my clothes — the kind of clothing that neighbors usually aren’t privy to seeing — were strewn about my front yard.
I stumbled into a 12-Step meeting later that day, sat in the back and realized I was in the right place — even though I thought it was insane that these people could be laughing at stories like mine from the night before! How dare they take this so lightly! Can’t they see how much pain I am in? What is wrong with these people?
Today is the day the rubber hits the road. The pedal hits the metal. My alcoholism, depression, bipolar hit the proverbial fan. And a bunch of other stupid idioms that somehow seem appropriate right now.
My five-year relationship with a childhood sweetheart ended after he casually mentioned, while describing his “epic” vacation, that his ex-wife tagged along. He couldn’t believe I wasn’t more understanding because, really, it was in the kids’ best interest. Really?
The last time something like this happened I ended up in a major, major, major depression – a frog’s hair from a bottle or three of chardonnay – and on disability for two months. Depression is a bitch and relationship angst is my biggest trigger.
So, today I get to blow the dust off of all those tools I have acquired in countless therapy sessions, 12-step meetings, self-help books, feeble attempts at meditation and a stint in co-dependency treatment center. I am hoping they work. I am praying they work. I am counting on them working, along with my medications.
Both my parents died of cancer. Dad died first. The week after we buried him, Mom started her last round of chemo. Eighteen months later, she was dead, too. It was a really rough couple of years. I hadn’t wanted to think about this today but it seems I pressed the wrong buttons on the remote when I ordered a Pay Per View movie and instead of getting Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson I got a movie about a young guy with cancer who was a given a 50/50 chance of survival.
When I realized my mistake I changed the channel. A few minutes later I changed it back. No way was I going to waste $5.99 and I wanted to see whether I had made any progress with my cancer “issues.” It’s been 8 years since Mom died and I am terrified of cancer and don’t want to be around people with it.
I eat organic, use botanical skin care products and I take damn near every supplement they say will prevent cancer. I don’t smoke, drink, eat gluten, soy or dairy. I get a mammogram every year. I see the dermatologist twice a year since she found two squamous cell carcinomas and I use a chemo cream one night a week on my face. Mom died of colon cancer and I would have a colonoscopy every year if the insurance would pay for it.
Sometimes the power of a bad example is as powerful as a good example. I’m thinking of Kim Richards, one of the housewives on The Housewives of Beverly Hills.
My daughter got me hooked on that show when she came home from college on winter break. There was a time – not too long ago – when that little intellectual dilettante in me would have dismissed such a show as a complete waste of time only to be watched by the mindless, vapid masses. Thankfully, I shut that little dilettante up and now I’m watching all the re-runs – thank you very much.
Watching Kim’s slow, self-destruction over this last season is good for me. I am, like Kim, am a single, somewhat middle-aged, mother whose child has grown up. We are both trying to keep our hair blonde and minimize our wrinkles. I am not going to pronounce Kim an alcoholic, but let’s just say there was a day – before I got sober 13 years ago – that I would have partied with Kim in a heartbeat.
I don’t think about David Funchess much anymore. I watched him die on April 22, 1986 in Florida’s electric chair. He was the first Vietnam Veteran executed in the United States. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder had yet to be discovered when Funchess, a highly-decorated combat Marine, fatally stabbed a couple during a hold-up in Jacksonville in 1974.
I was a cub reporter and was morbidly thrilled to have the opportunity to cover an execution. The little motel where I stayed in Starke, Florida was excited to see me, too, and had posted “Welcome Christine” on its roadside marquee. This story would be the crown jewel in my growing collection of clips – mostly stories of last night’s school board meeting and car wrecks. That’s how I looked at it.
On a personal level, I was hoping the execution would finally settle my doubts about the death penalty. I was brought up Catholic but having covered a few murders, I was not convinced that the death penalty was unjust. I was on the fence. I had heard of reporters who had fainted or barfed covering executions. I did not know how I would react.
The great thing about being a journalist in south Florida is you get some really weird assignments. Couple of years ago I went alligator hunting with some wounded vets courtesy of the Wounded Warrior Project. I’ve been assigned to go scuba diving to cover damage to coral reefs. Chased oil in the bayous of Louisiana after the BP disaster. Been to more crime scenes than I can remember and lived to write about three hurricanes. I walked on death row a few times. Watched a man die in the electric chair. Even sat in the electric chair during one visit.
So, last Saturday night when I walked into the newsroom for my occasional, obligatory weekend shift and my editor said, “I’m going to rock your world, I knew it was going to be an interesting evening: “You’re going to Mar-a-Lago to interview the governor and his wife,” she said.
Mar-a-Lago is the palatial, oceanfront estate and swank club owned by Donald Trump on Palm Beach. I’ve been there a few times. Once I rode my bike to a fundraiser luncheon and waited in the valet line with the Bentley’s and Roll’s. Amused the hell out of the valets.
Anyway, I went home, put on the LBD (Little Black Dress), lipstick and my red, patent leather, pointy-toed stilettos and headed over to The Donald’s. The thing about these $500/plate galas is you realize, immediately, that rich people – the top one percent of the ten percent – really aren’t that different from you and me. They have money. Lots of money. But that’s it. They are still people – human beings. We may think they are insensitive, arrogant, self-righteous, clueless bigots but I am no longer willing to write them all off as insensitive, arrogant, self-righteous, clueless bigots. They’re people who just happen to have a lot of money. A whole lot of money.
My mother was not a particularly happy person. She worked very, very hard. She was a devoted mother, dutiful wife and she fulfilled her responsibilities in a state of resignation.
I am not a doctor but I believe she suffered from dysthymia – chronic, low-grade depression. Just before she died, during one of our many conversations in her room at hospice she said something that guides my life: “I just wanted for you kids to be happy.”
I thought about this yesterday after my conversation with a woman who has been verbally abused by her husband for years. She is not happy. She has been so unhappy for so long that she has come to believe that happiness is not important. Happiness is not a goal for her. She values discipline, commitment, hard work, responsibility and respect above happiness.
“I don’t believe in my heart that happiness is necessary,” she said.