I am preparing to create some ridiculously fancy foods. Just because the idea of making shaped truffles and flower shaped jello sounds fun.
Pandemic feels heavy and omnipresent today. I fear how bad things might get over the next two months. I’m pre-grieving because I won’t get to see people in person over the holidays. I wonder who among my loved ones I’ll lose permanently.
But tomorrow I’ve got molds coming so that I can make food in ridiculously elaborate shapes. I expect to have a terrible time getting the food out of the molds, but it is something joyful to do. Deliberate joy is how I’ll push back against the dark. Right now that looks like silly-shaped food and stickers for my journal.
I can feel depression nibbling at the edges of me. It shows itself in such small ways. The friend I think of calling, but don’t because conversation sounds exhausting, even though connection is the point. The emails stacking up while I seek the energy to answer them. The small household tasks I was handling fine three weeks ago, but which feel overwhelming today. Persistent thoughts wondering why bother. Feeling hopeless and powerless, even when I logically know I am neither. I was doing so well, but then the leaves vanished and the grass turned brown. Even when the weather is warm, all the plants are dormant, waiting. Part of me wants to go dormant too. Sleep until spring.
I can’t of course. That’s not how humans function. Instead I have to see the nibbles and choose to do the proactive, self-care things even though they feel pointless. I have to plant seeds in the hydroponic garden so I can have flowers in January. I have to make myself go for a walk because exercise makes me more resilient to the nibbles. I have to carry on doing all the life-maintenance tasks because that is how I sandbag against the creeping tide of blah. And yes I have now described depression as both seeping and nibbling. Is it water that sneakily causes structural damage or is it mice that chew holes? It is neither and both. If I don’t take action against it, life can fall apart in ways that require large renovation.
Depression rarely goes that far for me. I usually have a couple of down days then I bounce back. But its been a couple of days, and I keep being aware of how much winter is ahead of me, and how many winter coping strategies are disallowed by pandemic. I keep thinking ahead to the holidays and knowing that if I want to connect with friends and loved ones, I’m going to have to figure out new ways to do that. Because I have experience with online connection and parties, I’ll have to lead the way in making the connections actually happen. It is how I serve my communities. It is important. And today the thought just makes me tired. I so much prefer the social mode of showing up and supporting someone else’s event to stepping up and hosting.
November is more than half gone, hopefully I can shake off depression and leave it behind along with the remainder of November.
A question is circulating on Twitter this morning: “Would 17 year old you be proud of the person you are today?” I saw the question and instantly thought “probably not.” Then I had to unpack why. This imaginary younger me is lacking thirty years of experience and context to understand the triumphs, joys, and compromises behind the person I’ve become. She didn’t understand disability. She didn’t understand systemic racism. She didn’t understand love, sex, parenting, religion, gender, power, or anything else in the complex and nuanced ways that I have come to understand. Because of all this, her opinion of me would necessarily be ill-informed and possibly negative.
The more critical question is: “Am I pleased with the person I am today?” The answer to that is a clear “Yes.” I like who I am becoming. I like the life I have built. I am comfortable with my regrets and griefs as I learn to incorporate them into who I am. I like the dreams I’m currently reaching for and the plans I have for living inside pandemic restrictions. I’m excited to see what else comes my way once pandemic restrictions are lifted. I am happy to be thirty years past the opinions of 17 year old me.
Last summer we had flooding and I had to replace flooring in Howard’s office and our family room. Because of deductibles and various other expense, the vinyl plank flooring we chose was on the cheap end. In the family room space this has been fine, but in Howard’s office, where he was rolling over the flooring with an office chair, a problem developed. The planks started to slide and gaps opened up.
Some of the gaps were large, more than half an inch wide.
I took an afternoon and tore up the problem section. These flooring pieces are flexible enough to allow this where more rigid pieces would have required tearing apart all the way to the wall. Of course their flexibility is also why we had a problem in the first place. So there is that.
In order to prevent this problem from happening again, I took two preventative steps. The first was to push some blocking pieces underneath the dry wall and up against the wall stud. this meant that there wasn’t a space for pieces to slide into anymore.
The second was that I used flooring glue to attache the pieces to each other. It would provide just enough additional friction that the pieces stick instead of sliding. Or so I hope. This sort of flooring isn’t supposed to need glue, but I used it anyway in the interests of prevention.
The job was fiddly and at times annoying, but I got it done. Now Howard has a functional floor again.
As an added protection, we purchased an office mat designed for hard floors. It’ll be just one more layer of defense. If the problem happens again, then the only real fix is to tear out this less expensive flooring and install something that is higher quality. Not really what we want to spend time or money on right now. It feels good to have an annoying house problem solved. I like that.
I am distracted today and for no easily discernable reason. Yes politics, Covid, and social media tug at my attention, but most of the time I’m able to step away, reset, and get work done. Today I keep frittering from thing to thing. Perhaps that means my mind needs to NOT focus for a while. That’s okay too. I just need to step away from trawling through my internet places which give me the illusion of focus without actually allowing me to really rest.
This happened today
It is a political development which makes everyone in my house glad. I’ve skewed liberal for decades and I never felt as appalled by a republican president as I have for the past four years. He did so much social damage. His existence combined with the pandemic brought so many simmering problems to the surface. Possibly that is a good thing for us in the long run, because now we see the work we have to do. There is a lot of work. This election means being able to settle in and do that work without having to negotiate with a leader who denies the work needs to be done. I am happy to work with people who disagree on how to solve the problems, but I can’t work with someone who denies the problem. Racism is a problem. Income inequality is a problem. The level of poverty in our country is a problem. How to handle immigration is a problem. The pandemic is a huge and urgent problem. The current state of policing and incarceration is problem. The cost of healthcare is a problem. We have lots of social discussion to do in order to figure out how to address these problems. We have a much better chance at actually having those discussions when we’re not constantly fighting a landslide of denial and misinformation from the very top.
This also happened today:
I do not like the way that this week’s spike isn’t a lone day reaching high. It is solid and sustained across three days. This means the low is probably not going to dip down much, and next week we’ll have another set of new records. Particularly since the state guidelines haven’t changed and the weather is going cold. We still have kids going to school in person. Church meetings every week with up to 100 people in attendance. I got an invitation to a wedding reception (which I won’t attend) that had no information about quantities of people invited or safety measures. Sports events are happening. Youth activities are happening. People are planning to gather for Thanksgiving. Restaurants are open for dining inside. Gyms and fitness centers are open. None of that will shut down unless someone in government states clearly that they must. Until some of those things shut down we will continue to see increasing cases. The deaths have begun to roll in as well. I have friends and family who have tested positive.
So today I feel relief tempered with caution and an awareness that the work has only just begun.
I just went back and re-read blog posts from election week in 2016. The sinking-despairing feeling which permeated that week in 2016 is alluded to lightly by the words I wrote, but not fully expressed. I remember it so clearly, but I didn’t write it publicly because I was focusing my public face on finding ways to move forward. I reserved the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of anxieties for my private journals where I was free to say all the thoughts without hurting anyone else. That is always my instinct in the face of difficult things. I would rather say nothing than say a thing which would cause more harm. Yet much growth has come from those depths of emotion I felt four years ago. I learned that sometimes saying nothing can also harm. That I have to be willing to speak up for those who don’t have as much power as I do. The discovery of my own power was a revelation in itself, particularly when contrasted with how powerless I felt. We can never control everything. We’re always at the mercy of forces larger than ourselves. Yet that is not the same thing as being powerless. The situation is very rare where we can’t make choices to steer ourselves, our lives, our families, our communities. The river may be large with a strong current, but we still have a rudder on our boat. And of course, my mind immediately supplies “but what if the rudder is broken?” which is definitely a thing that can happen via disability, mental health challenges, abuse, etc. Every metaphor is broken by special cases, we sometimes have a tiny rudder, or no paddles, or maybe we have a giant rudder and gorgeous large sails. The key thing is that we almost always have some sort of choice about how to respond to our circumstances, even when we have no control over the circumstances.
The thing that strikes me most about 2016 and all the events that came after both personal and public, is that I am here in 2020, made stronger, surer, and more ready to face whatever is next. I’m also feeling a dawning hope that, when all the votes are counted, my country will have a president who will listen to advisers, who will make a coherent plan and stick to it. I may not always like the plan he makes, but he’ll behave as an adult leader who considers his words and actions rather than as a reactive, self-absorbed, person. My country still has to contend with deep divisions between people, many of those divisions were created in part by that selfish man in power who benefited from people being angry and scared. So part of my hopeful feeling is that his social power will wane along with his visibility. Yes there are plenty of other politicians who attempt to hold power in the same ways, tackling them is what all that learning in how to be strong and speak up is good for. I feel hope, not because now I get to relax, but because my country has some additional traction and less head wind for the further work that needs to be done.
In the past week I’ve watched a couple of episodes of Stay Here on Netflix. It is a show that hits several aspirational living sweet spots. It shows before and after renovation, it has education about how to run a good vacation rental, and it teases with interesting travel destinations. It really succeeds at making me want to go stay in the places that are featured on the show, which I can’t do mid-pandemic with my current tight finances. However I can watch the show and dream about getting to visit, so the show falls into a comfort watch category.
The part of the show that keeps lingering in my mind is the section where the home owner is taught about how to create a setting that is welcoming and intriguing to guests. It had me thinking about my own home and how I might make it more welcoming. Of course we aren’t having any guests right now, probably not for a year. But I’ve always found it sad when someone fixes up their home so that they can sell it instead of fixing it up so they can enjoy it. I find myself thinking the same thoughts about these guest-welcoming amenities. How much lovelier my life would be if I treat myself as my own guest. If the me of today takes time to make the surroundings pleasant so that the me of tomorrow can be happy to walk into them.
It is a form of self care, this planning ahead to make my life pleasant. It is a form that previously puzzled me. On shows I see women setting up candles and an elaborate bath in order to relax, and it all looked like so much work. If I wanted to rest, that meant I wanted to stop, not plan ahead and organize a big display for myself. I misunderstood something in that process. If I wait until I’m in need of a break to set up one for myself, then I don’t always make the optimal choices for how to rest my mind and heart. Just like if I wait until I’m hungry to plan food, I’ll choose the things that are easiest rather than the things which are healthiest for me. Instead self care is planning ahead when I am at a high-energy part of day. It is me taking some of my focused time to plan ahead for when I am tired. This is the true form of self care. So that tired me can reside in a place of welcoming rest that is already prepared for her.
Setting up to make a guest of myself is going to take some time and planning. Some of it is clearing space by getting rid of superfluous possessions. Some is the remodeling we’re doing to make all our spaces more beautiful and functional. Some is re-imagining our rooms with “being welcoming” in mind. I’ll progress toward it a little at a time. It was what I was doing with our back patio without being conscious of it, because I was deliberately creating it as a space to welcome guests and in the process made a space that welcomes me. Now I just need to do the same for the inside of the house where the only guests will be people who live here.
This next week is an anxious one for members of my household and my online communities. The election looms large and everyone is trying to brace for the fall out without being able to predict what that fall out will be. It could be anything from relief to doom. Not surprisingly messages about mental health and seeking help have been common. This is good. It is impossible to know which message will be the right tool for a person in their moment of crisis. All we can do is scatter tools in the hope that people will have one handy when they desperately need it. I’m worried about November on multiple fronts, (election, Covid, mental health, darkening days, cold weather) but I’m trying to focus my attention and energy on accomplishing things rather than sitting in the waiting place. It is a worthy effort even when I don’t always succeed.
This has been a year full of unexpected life shifts and grief for everyone. The result has been an upsurge in the need for mental health services. I’ve spent my share of hours laying still unable to do anything but cry. Yet I don’t think I’ve had it as hard as those for whom this level of emotional wrangle isn’t familiar. Depression and grief have been residents in our house since 2013, prior to that they were frequent visitors. I know how to live around them, contain them, process them, and move forward despite them. I’ve felt a lot of peace and happiness in the past months. I even made the decision to wean off of my anti-depressant because it was contributing to insomnia which led to fatigue-induced depression and anxiety. Sometimes the meds are essentially helpful. Other times they are counter productive. Mental health is a complex social, emotional, intellectual, and chemical system. Changes in one of the axes can require balancing shifts in another.
My battles with depression are almost always situationally driven. I become depressed when I expect myself to carry an over-sized emotional load, when my loved ones are depressed and I can’t help, when the finances are strained and I feel powerless to change it, when grief rips through my life and I have to process it. If these situations persist long enough, then it unbalances the chemicals in my body, which might require medication to get things right side up again. I’ve been various levels of depressed since 2013 because of situational elements in my life. In contrast, anxiety seems to be chemically endemic in my body or psyche. I can find balances that make depression a non-issue, anxiety is always with me. I have family members for whom depression seems to originate in the brain chemicals and persist long enough to seriously disrupt the social and emotional components. They may always need some sort of medication so that they aren’t constantly pulled off-kilter. Or so that they don’t have to constantly spend energy adapting for the weight of chemical depression.
Just because I have been depressed doesn’t mean I fully comprehend the internal emotional landscape of someone else’s depression. One of my loved ones lives with a constant existential nihilism which I can intellectually understand as they explain it, but I don’t viscerally get. This is why the best support I can be for a loved one with mental health issues is to sit with them and make space for them to express the thoughts that come to them. It can be a delicate balance to accept all their feelings as valid, but then to gently challenge the distorted thinking that mental health issues can produce. That’s the hardest bit. Depression is a lying liar who lies. And the longer someone lives with it, the more plausible those lies seem, the more ingrained into our habits of being.
Some people are having their first encounters with depression or other mental health issues this year. Some have been living with those issues, but have been forced to confront them in new ways because their old coping strategies were stripped away. Some people will need more medication and help. Others will discover new balance and need less. Some, like me, cycle through both. I’ve been both better and worse in 2020. My family members retreated hard for months, but now seem to be emerging and finding ways to inch forward. November may be a mental health setback. Yet one thing I’m slowly learning is that sometimes the best thing that can happen to a person is to have a setback, to be forced to stop and re-calibrate. In so many ways this year is a year of setbacks and re-calibrations.
Today I’m feeling hopeful that all the reverses and changes of this year are teaching us how to be stronger and more proactive moving forward. If enough people learn that lesson, then the world gets to have a shift for the better over the long haul. I can choose to be that person no matter what the outcome of the election and the mental health fallout may be.