Self

My Office Home

I have an office, a room in my house that I can arrange however I wish. Sometimes I tend the arrangement of my office space, making plans, moving things around, trying to balance the necessary things with the beautiful things and with the items which have drifted into my space because they don’t have anywhere else to belong yet. My office ends up being an eddy in the household. A place where random things come to rest. These things accumulate until the space is so cluttered as to be almost unusable. I sometimes tell myself that this is why I don’t use my office much. It is too cluttered.

I have a secondary office in the front room. It is a chair sitting next to a TV table piled with my laptop, my phone charging station, stacks of books I intend to read, notebooks I grab for writing thoughts down, and loose papers where I wrote notes when I couldn’t get to a notebook fast enough. This space is unlovely, but contained. I sit in it every day, seamlessly moving from household administration to creative work. All the other people in the household walk into this space and talk to me. They don’t intend to interrupt my work, but the space is public. It is where they come to eat and be social. On the third time I’m interrupted mid-written-sentence, I wonder why I don’t retreat to my office, to a space that is more private where they’ll think before intruding. But it feels dark down there in the basement, despite the cheerful yellow paint on the walls. Despite the art I selected and arranged. Despite the leaf trim I hand painted which adorns the top edge of the room. Lack of windows and natural light is another reason I give for not using my office.

I have a plan about my windowless office. I heard of a means to make a faux window. I bought the supplies from the light board to the curtains. All the pieces are sitting there among the other clutter. Waiting for me to move the dresser, so I can remove and re-space the shelves, which will let me reorganize the books, which will let me install the faux window, and create a cozy space that I will surely start using. I can put the cozy faux-fireplace space heater right under the window. That would be the same heater I bought to make the space feel cozy so that I would start using the space more. I keep trying to lure myself down there. It keeps not quite succeeding.

My desktop computer resides in my office. I sit at it to print postage, to do the weekly accounting, to work on layout and graphic design. I sit there several hours per week, sometimes as many as twenty or thirty hours per week depending on the shape and urgency of projects. I sit at the desk covered with stacks of paper intended to remind me of coming tasks, next to my arrangement of small artworks on the wall. Most of the art is small prints or originals purchased directly from artists at conventions. They make me happy when I remember to look at them instead of focusing on the work in front of me.

In the other corner is the rocking chair which used to live in my baby’s room. All four babies in turn were rocked in that chair, and then it was shuffled from corner to corner of the house after children no longer needed to be rocked. I supposed it makes sense that it ended up in my office when I wasn’t willing to let the chair go, even though all the babies had become adults. I sit in that chair every week for two hours while I attend an online writer’s date. My writer friends see this little corner with its library of books and the wooden carved mask which we bought on our trip to South Africa in 1999, another object that ended up in my office because it carried to much emotional freight for us to let it go, but for which we couldn’t find any other place in the house for it to belong.

So I guess I do use my office. I use it for specific tasks and to store specific things. Yet it feels like I don’t. It feels like I sit in the front room, in the sunshine, and in different clutter than my office clutter, trying to write where people will walk through and talk to me. And when they do, I wonder to myself why I don’t go sit in my office. I wonder, but I don’t get up and move.

I have a tertiary office. It is my bedroom, one corner of which I’ve turned into a Zoom space. I painted that corner of the room a different color from the rest and put up decorative shelves where they can be seen on camera. Carefully placed beautiful objects adorn the space. That little corner makes me happy to see when I look at it from my bed. It isn’t comfortable for working (hence sitting downstairs for my weekly writer dates), but it is perfect for attending Zoom meetings and virtual parties. I love my Zoom corner.

Sometimes I sit on my bed to write. I prop up all the pillows and open the blinds so that I can see out into my back garden with its trees. From that spot I can stare out the window, or look at my Zoom corner. It is a quiet space where people won’t interrupt me as easily. My use of this tertiary space lends credence to the theory that the problem with my office might actually be the lack of windows. I crave natural light, particularly in the winter months.

I imagine a hypothetical office someday. Perhaps when I can claim a bedroom back from one of my children after they leave home. I imagine an office which combines all the best parts of my current offices. With a designated shelf for books I intend to read, a desk specifically for letter writing and crafting, comfortable lounging spaces for writing, natural light streaming in the window, and art I selected for myself.

If I had this hypothetical office, would I use it all the time? Or is it something else that draws me to do so much work while sitting exactly where everyone can easily interrupt me? Perhaps I have a habit of always being available because I spent so many years being the on-call parent when my kids were small. Perhaps it is in response to the fact that Howard and I have a collaborative process made up of a dozen small creative meetings throughout the day where we round up the thoughts from the just-finished task and open up the thoughts for what comes next. Perhaps it is knowing that I have to catch my people in the moments when they are in between if I want to talk to them at all. So I lurk in the place they pass through.

I don’t actually have answers, I don’t need answers, but I find the behavioral observation of myself interesting. I have three office spaces, but all of them are some level of shared. I could retreat more often than I do, but I tend not to. I could claim spaces and set boundaries around them more firmly, but I don’t. Mostly it works. I’m able to create and think and administer. So my process may be scattered and strange, but It isn’t actually a problem. I guess I’ll keep flowing with it until the need for something else emerges.

Touchstones in My Parenting

Mother’s Day is drawing nearer and I’m watching it approach with some trepidation because I’m never quite sure what emotions will hit me on that day. As I was trying to figure out how to feel, I went spelunking for a twitter thread I wrote a few years back that I thought would be a good reminder to put in front of people. (This one) Yet during that dive, I found some things I did not expect, like this post on The Endgame of Motherhood, written by me eight years ago. In that post I was facing my oldest leaving for college and the grief I carried around that life shift. By itself, this post would have been a moment of nostalgia, but the next thing I found was Walking the Spiral, a post written two years later. Those years had been transformational and painful in ways that I hadn’t even imagined when I wrote Endgame of Motherhood. To quote from Walking the Spiral:

2012 was before. It was before all the transitions that our family made stepping all the kids up, one to college, one into high school, one into junior high. It was before my younger daughter had panic attacks. It was before my older son began his long slide into depression. It was before we recovered from that. It was before I discovered that our recovery was a limited one. It was before my younger son also had panic attacks. It was before all the appointments, therapists, doctors, medicine, and meetings. It was before something in me broke, or gave up, or grew too tired. The person who visited the spiral in 2012 could honestly look her depressed son in the eyes and promise him it would get better. The person I was when I returned wondered if that was true. I wondered if I had been lying to him. I knew I had to keep going, taking the right steps, but somehow I’d lost touch with the belief that we could pull out of the emotional mire which kept reclaiming us. We’d seem to be out, but then the troubles would come again. My feet stood at the opening to the spiral. The last time I’d been here was before. I didn’t know why I needed to come again, nor why I wanted to cry at being there. I stepped forward and began to walk…

…Finding and walking the spiral seemed such a silly thing. I still don’t understand how so much meaning got attached to it. Yet in that step out from the open end of the spiral I felt like I’d left some grief behind and took something hope-like with me in its place. The spiral helped me remember that there was a before, and the existence of a before heavily implies that somewhere ahead of me there is an after. I just need to keep wending my way along the path until I get there.

I realized that I have now, eight years after the first post and six years after the second, arrived at the after which I posited must exist if I could just keep moving forward. After took a lot longer to arrive than I would have hoped for, and if anyone had told that me who walked the spiral that she had six years of struggle ahead, it would not have felt like good or hopeful news. And it wouldn’t have been. Even with all I’d been through, the hardest bits were still ahead of that younger me who sought out a spiral without knowing why. Yet here I am, with all four kids still alive and beginning to thrive. And I can see all the ways that progress needed to be slow and steady. The ways that we had try and fail and try again. (and fail again and try again and…) Now I read these words from my eight years ago self who was facing one grief without knowing a multitude was coming for her.

I don’t miss the baby and toddler years, though I enjoyed them while I was in them. Right now is what I will miss. I’m going to miss four at home, two teens two kids, all of them running in different directions, squabbling over the cat, and the incessant sound of video games. This is my heart’s home and just now it feels like I will spend the rest of my life missing home.

I would not trade positions with her for anything. Yes that all-the-kids-at-home time is a treasured memory, but now I get to have all-my-kids-are-adults-and-their-lives-aren’t-my-job-anymore. I loved that stage and I love this stage. There were a lot of things between there and here which were heart wrenchingly difficult, but I wouldn’t trade those away either because most of the best things have happened as a direct result of the hardest things. I have a new heart’s home now, and it is a good place. More than that, I can feel that future heart’s homes exist out there for me. This one is good. The next will be too.

Right now my primary task in relation to motherhood is to make peace with myself about all the things I did and did not do, to find kindness in my heart for the choices made in difficult circumstances. I still have mothering work ahead of me, a role to play in the lives of my adult children. Depending on the long-term needs of my young adults, I may never be an empty nester. Also, they are not the only ones I will nurture, I’ve turned some of my (joyously surplus) mothering energy toward helping other creative people grow. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but it is far less intensive than what I’ve been through, for which I am glad.

I still don’t know how I’m going to feel on Sunday, but whatever feeling shows up, I’ll give it a space to exist for a time. Then I’ll move onward.

Easter Thoughts

I don’t have any personal traditions surrounding Easter. I probably ought to since it is part of my religious tradition, but somehow the ones I used to have were all focused on providing an experience for my children rather than me forming a personal connection with the holy day. So when the kids stopped caring about egg coloring and Easter egg hunts, we also stopped having lessons about Christ’s resurrection. The two probably shouldn’t have been intertwined, but somehow one triggered the other. The other thing that led to an ebb in household Easter traditions was that some of my kids have stepped away from my religious tradition. We’ve found a good family balance now where all the beliefs are given space without imposition, but it means that creating a family experience out of a religious symbolic holiday is not something we do anymore. Christmas still works because we can all engage with the more secular trappings equally, but Easter always had a lighter touch on our lives. (This is a cultural oddity since from a purely religious standpoint the importance and spiritual weight of Easter is far greater than that of Christmas. Christmas is the promise of a Savior to come, Easter is the culmination of the atoning work of a Savior.) All of which is to say that I’m in the middle of a holiday with no particular plans for marking the day.

I did listen to the General Conference for my church which is a semi-annual broadcast that happens the first weekend in April and October. Sometimes the spring conference coincides with Easter, which it did this year. So I got to hear multiple people speak about the holiday, its personal meaning to them, and its larger significance. I particularly appreciated that the church chose Easter Sunday as a day to lean into the multi-national aspects of my church. The vast majority of the speakers gave pre-recorded talks from their home countries. For most of them English was not their first language. I loved hearing different sounds given to familiar words, and I marveled at the courage necessary to give a speech to a global audience in a secondary language.

For me Easter is deeply connected with the Spring bulbs that are blooming. It is hope for things to grow and thrive even after they’ve died or gone dormant. It is a calmness of spirit that rings like a clear tone inside me when I pause to listen to it. It is knowing that when I reach out to the divine, I connect with a source of strength larger than what I can carry inside me. It is a thread of hope that I can someday hug my grandparents again even though they died years ago. And yes, it is also in specific stories about Jesus Christ, His life, His death, His resurrection. I’ve seen some of those stories scoffed or ridiculed on the internet today. Not in the gentle meme jokes that someone inside the community makes for fellow believers to laugh together (I’ve seen and laughed at some of these too,) but sharp jokes aimed at Christianity as a powerful giant to be speared and taken down. Christianity is indeed a large and clumsy giant with very large footprints. It is sometimes leveraged harmfully. Yet it is also a source of personal strength and guidance to many people, and careless attempts to spear the giant can wound people.

Today I am not wounded. In fact, I feel profoundly healed and whole. The other day I was having a conversation with one of my kids about how the pandemic quieted all the noise in their lives. It removed all the options for schooling, volunteering, expanding outward, and forced them to sit with themselves. In that quiet they gained identity that they had lacked before. In many ways pandemic did the same for me. Today as I sit with the feeling of Easter and try to connect with God, I feel grateful for the lessons of the past year, I feel hope for how far I can fly once I’m fully free of the pandemic cocoon. Easter is a story of suffering, betrayal, pain, death, entombment, transformation, and re-emergence. It feels very relevant and important to me this year.

Getting Vaccinated

The place was tucked away behind a gym, marked only by a sign that said “vaccine clinic” with an arrow. We had to park far out in the parking lot because the only available close spots were marked as being for the gym customers with signs atop those road construction barrels. A simple, practical way for the gym and the clinic to temporarily share. Six month from now the gym will still be there and the vaccine clinic will be gone. Mass vaccinations complete. The day was exceptionally windy, and tugged at the papers in my hand. Forms confirming my appointment and that I’m not likely to have an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

I did not expect the man at the clinic door to be wearing the fatigues of a national guardsman. Though as soon as I saw him, I realized that it made perfect sense to use personnel trained in discipline and service. He asked if we were there for our first or second shot, then waved us into the building to a table where a different guardsman looked at our papers. Then we walked down a hallway into the large warehouse space, aisles and lines defined by traffic cones topped with caution tape and tape markings on the floor. We moved from station to station, no chance to go astray. At each step a guardsman directed us to the next station. Nurse to read through the papers again and write some things down on the admin section. Guardsman to scan our IDs and print labels for us to carry forward. Guardsman to show us which table to sit at. Nurse to put a sticker on the form we brought with us and to schedule our second appointment. Guardsman to tell us which table to sit at next. Nurse to afix the second sticker onto vaccine cards which she hands to us and tell us about possible side effects from the Pfizer vaccine. Guardsman to send us to the next room and assign us a table. Two nurses, one for each of us, with alcohol swabs, needles, and bandaids. Then some nurses to send us into a forest of individual chairs, six feet apart, where we are to wait for fifteen minutes.

It is all very efficient, despite all the stops. Except for that last fifteen minutes, we never have to wait for more than a minute for any station. We never bunched up with other people. All of it tuned to get people through and back to their lives. I wonder if all the vaccine sites have developed a similar efficiency. Probably. Efficiency just sort of happens when people have to do the same thing hundreds of times in a day. For the guardsmen and medical personnel, this is their job. They’ll do the same thing tomorrow and the day after. I want to take pictures of it all. Record the extraordinary mundainity of it. All of the mass pushes for childhood vaccination happened before I was born. The only vaccinations I’ve known happen as part of regular doctor’s visits. This is something else. This is community mobilizing, collective effort, expense, and organization to save lives. My only participation being to pass through and get my shot without causing a disruption.

Today’s shots were for me and one of my adult children. Later this week I will return with the other two adult kids. Since I won’t be getting a shot, I’ll wait in the car. The clinic people don’t want or need an extra body in there, and my people will navigate the process just fine without me. They too will pass through and participate in this historical moment.

Six weeks from now, we’ll all be fully vaccinated. We’re already beginning to have conversations about what that means and doesn’t mean for our household. I really thought I would have more emotions about my vaccine day. Maybe I had them already. Maybe they’re out there waiting for me after my brain shifts out of dispassionate-analyse-this-moment mode. For today, the thing is done, and now I move onward to the next thing.

The Edges of Compassion

My friend was struggling with the fact that a person they trusted to tell about their depression told them “quit moping around and get proactive about their situation.” I found some words in response to my friend’s pain that I want to capture here, because I might need these words as a reminder when I am the one struggling:

It always hurts when you run up against the edges of another person’s ability to be compassionate. Leaves you cut and bleeding when you’re already limping around injured. The flaw lies in the other person’s limited capacity for compassion, not in the size of your need. When you are healed and strong again, you will be able to extend understanding for their lack. Right now, be self protective.

I’ve had times in my life when I was overflowing with pain, where I poured that pain into the ears of sympathetic people. Yet I also watched. Because as I was pouring, there would come a point where my listener would sit back and say something like “Wow. You’ve got a lot going on.” That was when I would stop pouring even if I still felt full. My listener was at capacity and if I continued to speak, they would behave in self protective ways that might hurt me.

I’ve also experienced this from the other side. I’ve been the person trying to help someone who is depressed, who can’t/won’t take simple steps to claw themselves toward less depression. That “can’t/won’t” is the hard bit. It isn’t easy to tell which is happening, not even from the inside. Sometimes we think we need sympathy, but the thing that gets us moving is being angry at someone for the lack of it. Other times we’re just sliced by the edges of another person’s capacity and the injury makes getting out of the pit that much harder.

It is all hard. And messy. With no clear map.

Yet, I was a person who had so much pain that it overflowed when I tried to keep it private, and I doled it out in swallowable portions to my friends willing to listen. Now I can have visits with friends instead of therapeutic outpourings of emotion. I can move through entire weeks without crying. Slowly, carefully, self-protectively I have pulled myself out of stress and depression. I am able to re-build relationships that faltered while I was struggling. I am in a place where I am able to work on expanding my capacity for compassion rather than needing to depend on capacity borrowed from others. I wonder if it would have been easier in the hard place if I’d known that there was an “after” that I was struggling and scratching my way toward.

Pandemiversary

Today is my Pandemiversary. One year ago today I knew that everything had changed and I was fairly certain there would be no going back. Even very early on, I was working through my emotions trying to set up a pandemic life I could be happy inside for a year or more. I cried for losses before many people knew there were losses. A year ago today WHO officially declared SARS-CoV-2 (Covid 19) to be a pandemic, Disneyland closed its doors, the NBA called off March Madness, and church meetings were canceled. Prior to this day last year I lived in a world where none of those things seemed possible, then suddenly I lived in a world where they were real. In the evening I made a quick run to the grocery store to pick up bread and felt the urgency and panic in my fellow shoppers. Did I even have a mask at that point? I can’t remember. We all stood in a long line, six feet apart, made anxious by the shelves picked bare. It would be months before supply chains adapted and the shelves were re-stocked again.

Yesterday Howard got his first dose of Covid-19 vaccine. The fact of that is a testament to scientists, lab workers, and manufacturers who, without taking any risky short cuts, pushed this vaccine into existence twice as fast as we believed possible. I scheduled the appointment the very day that he became eligible. Him being vaccinated reduces our load of fear because he was the most vulnerable of my household. We know that even after vaccination we need to be responsible for reducing risks to others. Our behavior probably won’t change much, but not having to carry that fear makes everything easier.

President Biden announced that he wants every American eligible to be vaccinated by May 1st. The state of Utah already announced that it will open up vaccinations to all adults on April 1st. These announcements sound like good news, they’re certainly good for my family, however I can’t help but feel that my country has elbowed its way to the front of the vaccination line. I have friends in Canada who will have to wait into August or September. For other areas of the world it will be even longer. This is not fair. Over and over the pandemic has shone a light onto all sorts of unfairness. So guilt will be mixed in with my gladness when I’m able to make appointments for my household to be vaccinated. We will be adding to herd immunity, but I hope that someone in some other place doesn’t have to pay the cost for our benefit. I have no say over how much vaccine gets shipped to which location in the world. I can only follow the directions of my local public health officials and show up to get my shot when they say it is my turn.

We still have a long road ahead. I think it will be 2022 before we can see what post-pandemic normal looks like. I know I will be careful in deciding which things get welcomed back into my life and when. I need to see what happens to case rates when vaccinations make people over-confident. I need to see what impact variants have. I need to see whether the vaccine effectiveness sticks around for longer than six months. We’ve entered a new phase, which is not the same as being cleared to go back to life as it was. That life is gone, whats next is something new. Vaccinations mean that I won’t feel a stab of guilt or fear each time I interact with someone in my pandemic bubble. It means I can again visit with a friend or two outdoors from several feet away. It means my 18yo can seek a job without being afraid he’s risking his dad’s life. It means we can begin to address the agoraphobia that some family members have developed without having to simultaneously face down pandemic panic. Maybe I can walk inside a church building at some point this year. I’m not ready for much more than this. Not until I see how the next months play out.

I wanted to mark today’s pandemiversary in some way, have some conscious recognition of the year just past. I’d half planned to have a fire in my firepit out on my pandemic patio. Then task followed task: car maintenance, shipping packages, listening to emotions, spending time watching a movie with Howard, laughing at cats, bringing in the mail, cooking shared food. It was all so normal, and the hours slipped away. Now it is cold and I don’t really want to venture outdoors to light a fire. But perhaps letting today be entirely ordinary is a better answer to pandemiversary than creating a ceremony. A year ago the world changed, today it just continued forward. I can’t think of any better evidence for our ability to overcome and survive whatever comes next.

Being Shiny

It was an interesting conjunction. I’d posted a tweet about the character Chrisjen Avasarala on The Expanse and statement necklaces. This one:

I’ve never been one for big necklaces, but the combination of using Zoom for more interactions and watching Chrisjen Avasarala on The Expanse has me browsing through statement necklaces that I don’t have the budget for and I’m not sure I’m brave enough to wear.

https://twitter.com/SandraTayler/status/1357005498059350016

It was getting some interaction with twitter friends. At the same time I was in a Zoom writer date and during one of the pauses a fellow writer asked me what I was working on. I started talking about the work I’ve been doing to prep for the next class I’m teaching online. She then said something like “Wow you’re so amazing” with a tone that also suggested that she felt out of place and insecure. I was immediately hit with a desire to shrink. I felt like I was being too shiny, too impressive and I needed to tone myself down so that I wouldn’t make my friend uncomfortable.

So here I am sitting and looking squarely at that desire to not outshine others, and my own words about not feeling brave enough to wear a statement necklace. I think both are things I need to get over. I’m consciously trying to claim my own competence and to not apologize for having it. Even when that competence is based in acquired experience and study rather than an official degree or certification. This is part of granting myself permission as I wrote about a few weeks ago. Shrinking myself to fit in doesn’t actually make anyone else feel more secure in themselves, while me stepping forward to own my abilities might show them a path where they claim theirs. If I’m standing tall, I’m in a better position to help others and make space for them to grow too.

I think again about the character of Chrisjen Avasarala. She owns the screen every time she is on it, dressed gorgeously, making hard choices, willing to apologize for mistakes, but never apologizing for being herself. I can try to be a bit more like that, with or without necklaces.

Reconfiguring for Health

One of the things I would like to prioritize in the next year is healthier eating and movement. I’m aware of the cliche of having new health habits at the beginning of the new year, but I want to be healthier more than I want to avoid cliche. The key is to approach health in a healthy way.

I have an online friend who is in recovery from several eating disorders. She is vocally opposed to any sort of restrictive dieting. She speaks often about health and weight being separate things. Also about the ways the modern society mistreats fatness both socially and medically. I like seeing her perspective, though occasionally she gets very deterministic about health saying that it is genetically pre-determined and that there is very little an individual can do to control it. I’m not sure I buy into pre-determined health, just as I don’t believe nature has full power over nurture. Our choices matter in health just as they do in parenting or any other aspect of our lives. But the array of choices we’re offered is definitely affected by genetics. A person with an autoimmune disorder has a different set of health choices than someone who has diabetes. A person with athletic gifts has different choices than someone whose body doesn’t easily form muscles or manage fine motor skills. On top of that we have different body options at 20 than we do when we’re 50. Learning to work with our individual set of ever-shifting health choices is the work of a lifetime.

The goal then isn’t to pick a desired body configuration and contort my life to achieve that. Instead I need to pick an emotionally and physically health configuration for my life and then accept the responsive shape my body adopts in reaction to that life. Bodies are incredibly adaptive both in ways we want and ways that aren’t what we pictured. I’m carrying more body fat than I would prefer because my body is responding to my current mode of living, my age, hormonal shifts, and seasonal cues. It is trying to help me survive and thrive by storing abundance against future need. It is doing this because my pandemic life has been too sedentary. It has also featured food choices made for emotional reasons rather than good life maintenance ones. I’d like to readjust the balance of those portions of my life.

(Note: when I say “emotional reasons” I am not scowling at the choice to eat chocolate in an emotionally low moment. That has happened and I intend to keep treat food in my arsenal of treatments for mental health lows. Food is valid medicine, and like any other medicine its use needs to be monitored and kept within healthy bounds. It can be a real help for a bad evening, it is not an effective treatment for ongoing daily depression. However I’ve also been eating when I was bored. I want to watch a show, but want something else to occupy me companionably while I watch. Instead of eating-to-be-occupied I want to find a non-food option, like crochet or some other craft.)

Having decided that I want to reconfigure my life to include exercise and healthier eating, I then have to make a plan for implementing that decision. I need to put small obstacles between me and the thoughtless habits I would like to eliminate. I also need to smooth the path so I can easily flow into the habits I’d like to have instead. Where do I place exercise into my day? Can I attach it to some other task so that I don’t have to make a separate decision to exercise? How do I remind myself to be mindful about food choices? I haven’t fully got answers to these questions yet, but by stating the questions and looking at how my days currently run, I’ve begin the problem solving process.

Analyzing Two Weeks of Depression

On Sunday the depression I’ve been under for the past two weeks lifted. Some of that was seeing the results of the Covid tests (negative) but the sense of lightness was more pervasive than that. I’m able to feel that life is good and I no longer feel like the slightest thing will puncture the barrier between me and an ocean of crying. I’m grateful to have depression back off, but I’m also doing some analysis to figure out why it hit me the way that it did and why it lingered for two weeks instead of resolving within a day or two per my usual pattern. Yes I know that I am very fortunate that my usual pattern has short stints with depression instead of dealing with it for months or years at a time. I worked my way out of that place and analyzing the pattern change is part of how I stay out. Also I have the emotional resources to do this analysis now and put preventative measures in place.

Contributing factors and possible countermeasures:

Weather: The days are shorter, the nights are longer, outside is cold, and all of the green has vanished from the outdoors. This happens every year, however I’d been using the green space behind my house as part of my pandemic coping strategy. It simply doesn’t have the same effect with the green gone. Countermeasures: I’ve planted my little hydroponic garden with flower seeds. They should be flourishing and blooming by the end of December. Hopefully that will help. Also I need to get outside and walk despite the lack of green.

Somatic crash post election: Once I realized that I would not have to deal with another four years of the same man being in office, there was a level of tension and emergency response in my body that was finally able to let go. Sometimes tension relief manifests as depression because there is finally time to process. Countermeasures: None needed. This won’t be repeated.

Covid fears: Watching the rising case rates and knowing that Thanksgiving was coming, created a sort of helpless panic. I could only make my own choices, not control anyone elses, but I felt compelled to try to push information out to encourage others to make good choices. Now the holiday is done, the fallout is yet to come, but the choices were made. Waiting is a different kind of stress, but somehow less anxiety inducing for me personally. Anticipating a crisis and contingency planning for all possible outcomes is always worse for me than crisis management. I can deal with what is in front of me, planning for what might one day be in front of me is how I drive myself crazy. Countermeasures: Sing Que Sera Sera a lot. Recognize I can only control my own choices. Practice dealing with what is in front of me and try not to contingency plan so much.

New holiday norms: When my daughter was away at college, part of how I supported her was to reach out and make sure she felt included in holiday preparations and celebrations. I found ways to extend my traditions and patterns to bring her in. This year she is married and has her own household of two. Unconsciously I was trying to do the same holiday-expansion to include both her and my son-in-law into our holiday. However I kept slamming into (necessary) pandemic restrictions that prevented inviting them inside my bubble. I was hugely grieved by my inability to include. Disappointing people is a huge anxiety trigger for me, and I often fail to recognize in the moment that the disappointment I’ve imagined that they are feeling exists only in my imagination. It ties into the extensive contingency planning that is one of my instinctive anxiety responses. Imagine possible disappointment –> make branching contingency plans to avoid that disappointment –> planning reveals additional ways for disappointment to happen –> repeat until I’m curled into a non-functional ball.

Once the holiday was over and the disappointments were aimed at covid restrictions rather than my failures, that alleviated some of the stress. However I could also feel the looming Christmas holiday and felt the beginning of the same contingency/disappointment loop for that holiday as well. But I had a conversation with my daughter talking about some of it. In the wake of that conversation I had an insight: the current situation is fundamentally different from when she was in college. I said it right up there at the beginning of the prior paragraph. She has formed a new household. I can’t, and shouldn’t, be trying to stretch my household traditions to cover hers as well. They need to be deciding who they are and how they want their own traditions to go, where they want to include us and where they want to be on their own. Some of our preferred methods of connecting will be harder to accomplish this year because of Pandemic, but we’ll figure it out. So in this I am strangely grateful to Pandemic. If it hadn’t enforced boundaries around my attempts to include, it would probably have taken me several more years of anxiety (or a confrontation with my married kids) for me to recognize how and why I needed to back off from assigning the task of “Multi-Household Holiday Coordinator” to myself. Countermeasures: Writing this post to solidify my realizations

Brain chemicals: I’m 47. Over the past several years I’ve noticed wider emotional fluctuations that hit me every month or three. I’ve also had more trouble with migraines and vivid dreaming. Since these were all things that plagued me during puberty, it makes sense to me that they would also be part of peri-menopause. Howard is helping me keep an eye on it and I have a doctor I can discuss things with. Honestly that was one of my concerns when the depression did not abate after the usual day or two, that I’d hit some chemical switch that would require medical intervention. However, as listed above, there were quite a few contributing factors of which brain chemicals were only a part. Countermeasures: Good diet, exercise, and sleep habits. Consult with doctor as needed.

Additional proactive steps: Find small personal projects to do which bring me joy and which I can share on social media to fuel a sense of connection with others while we all have to be isolated. Continue throwing the breadcrumbs forward through the dark winter, even when I don’t need them desperately. That way if a depressive moment hits, I’ll have a good breadcrumb habit to keep me moving. Make time for career-related projects that will move me closer to my goals. Continue to make efforts to connect and build community.

In hindsight the depressive period makes sense, and I think I have a good shot at not having it hit me again in December. At least not in the same way. That is good. For today, I need to wait on grocery delivery so I can do weekly resource management. Onward I go.

Depression, Breathing, and the Path Ahead

When something as significant as depression hits, it ought to be obvious, but frequently it isn’t. Instead I manage to deduce it from outside evidence days or weeks after the mire begins. The trickiest part of mental health is that a flare up actively interferes with my ability to identify and manage the flare up. So it is this morning when I realize it has been four days since I blogged when I blogged almost every day for the month prior. I suppose some of that pause could be the Pandemic settling in and therefore requiring less processing. Yet there are other signs, the day I spent mostly in bed for instance. I am tired. I feel silly for being tired and depressed when my current existence is so close to normal. I have my house. I eat food that is pretty close to what I ate before. I still mail packages when orders come in. The things I can’t do are things which I didn’t do often anyway. Yet the not doing of them seems to accumulate.

Howard’s breathing was bad yesterday. Since his illness in January he’s been on daily asthma medication and taking hits on his inhaler multiple times per day. Some days this regimen puts him in a place where he can do light exercise. Yesterday he got out of breath standing and doing a puzzle. Then sitting and doing a puzzle. We were scheduled for a pulmonary function test in mid March. It got rescheduled for last week. Last week it got rescheduled for June. I know the decision is smart, that we must act as if Howard has not had Covid 19. Because if we stack Covid-19 on top of whatever is going on with his lungs, it would kill him. So taking him to a hospital (which probably has Covid-19 patients in it) for a test is ill-advised. But it means we don’t know what is going on. We have no way to know if it is getting worse or better. We can’t be certain if our treatments are optimal. We can’t even consult with a pulmonologist until May 19. That was the earliest appointment they would give me when I called in early March. I’ve ordered a pulse oxymeter so we can see what his blood oxygen levels are, but that won’t arrive until April 17-29 because Amazon has slowed down deliveries of “non-essentials.” (Or possibly because demand for oxymeters has gone up.) So I stand next to Howard, working on a puzzle together, and I listen when he suddenly takes several extra deep breaths in a row because his body has suddenly realized it needs more air. I wait when he has to pause mid-sentence to breathe and try to remember what he meant to say.

I ran cross country in high school. I was never particularly good at it, but I learned a lot about perseverance from doing it. I learned how to keep going even when I wanted to stop. At the beginning of a race there was something of a rush as people tested their speed and tried to get at the front of the pack. (Or in my case drop to the back.) That first pace was always too fast to maintain over the long run. After the first burst of energy, all the runners would settle in to a slower pace, one that they could keep up for two or three miles. That’s where we are with the pandemic. We’ve had our first month’s sprint where everything is jostling around and shifting. We had to adapt and adapt again to changing circumstances around us. Now events have spread out and it is time to settle into a pace we can maintain over the long haul ahead. The finish line is not even in sight, all we can see is the path ahead. All we can do is take one step after another. I remember settling in at the front end of a long run, feeling my body already start to be tired, yet knowing how much longer I needed to move. It frequently discouraged me to the point where I stopped running and started walking instead. The thing which cross country taught me was how to run when I felt like walking, and how not to defeat myself by letting discouragement win. Time for me to dredge up those lessons again. The path is long and I need to keep moving.

Edited to add: Howard has good breathing days and bad ones. The problem comes and goes. There are still more good days than difficult ones, but we’re tracking it.