Christmas Saves Us

The entire genre of Christmas stories with the formula “Protagonist Saves Christmas” is doing us a disservice this pandemic year by teaching that the holiday is “saved” by massive efforts to restore the status quo: Santa-Delivers-Presents and accompanying traditions. These stories say that Christmas can’t be Christmas without a specific set of events and trappings, that it will be ruined if there is any disruption to those events and trappings. This primes people to panic and feel huge loss if they can’t celebrate in the ways they are accustomed to.

This year, more than ever, we need the story of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas where all the trappings are stripped away and Christmas saves the Grinch. This “Christmas Saves Protagonist” formulation is far more in tune with the holiday. So much so that it is a frequent sub-plot of “saves Christmas” stories. Yes, the Grinch story does end with the restoration of the traditions and trappings, but it didn’t have to. Christmas would have been fine even if the sled had gone off Mount Crumpit. That was the point. That’s WHY it saved the Grinch.

Pandemic restrictions may steal away portions of your holiday traditions that you value greatly. I’m pretty sure the Whos found great joy in all those trimmings and trappings. Yet on the Christmas morning when the Whos woke and found bare walls, the Whos gathered with a space in the middle for Christmas. And they sang. And Christmas came.

All of our traditions, gatherings, decorations, etc are merely a frame for something larger than ourselves to arrive into. We can change the frame without harming the holiday. If Christmas is holy to you (as it is to me,) that holiness exists with or without the tinsel and trappings. Trust that no matter what form your holiday must take this year, the holiness will show up to fill the space you create.

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.

Weirdsgiving

I saw a friend say “Happy Weirdsgiving!” on twitter, and I have now adopted the word to describe the holiday just past. Hopefully it will be a singular celebration and next year we can be back to Thanksgiving. I’m pretty burned out today. I had piles of anxiety and depression on the days leading up to the holiday. Most of it tied to grief over the holiday that couldn’t be. For example, I really, really missed being able to be unreservedly happy about other people’s plans without having to worry that their plans would contribute to pandemic spread. I missed being able to make my own plans without worrying I would also add to that spread. I felt reasonably settled about not seeing extended family, but I still haven’t uncoupled my brain from 24 years of being in charge of making sure my now-married daughter felt loved, included, taken care of during the holiday, and I kept crashing into the conflicting need to provide those while simultaneously not mixing households. Logically, we’re all adults and it should be fine. My anxiety brain was sure relationships were destined to be permanently damaged. Social anxiety is vicious. It prevents me from having exactly the conversations which would alleviate the concern, and then prevents me from believing the information I’m given by other people which logically should make everything fine. I ended up needing a rescue dose of anti-anxiety medicine on Wednesday night.

So Weirdsgiving part 1 was me repressing feelings of anxiety and depression by focusing on cooking ridiculously decorative foods. I didn’t even need the foods to turn out well. It was the making of them and then sharing results, good or bad. In fact failures would almost be better because I could invite everyone to laugh with me at how badly things went wrong. Part 1 lasted Monday through Wednesday

Weirdsgiving part 2 was day-of preparations. The elaborate Kitchen Timing Dance where Howard starts mashed potatoes while I start on roll dough. Then I work on finalizing pies and making rolls while Howard mashes potatos. Then I have my son smashing gram crackers while I twist roll dough into fancier-than-necessary knots. Then another kids shows up and becomes my secondary hands for gram cracker crusts, washing decorative serving dishes, putting out the turkey shaped butter, and dozens of rapid-fire, getting-ready tasks while I smash filling into croissants for chicken rolls, and start pasta for an alfredo bake. (We’re not turkey people.) I loved that chaotic stepping-around-each-other while everyone is focused on preparing food for everyone to share. It had a happy all-in-this-together energy. It culminated it the un-molding of the fancy jellos. They worked! I have photos!

Weirdsgving part 3 was dropping off a food box for my daughter and son-in-law. Sneaking a masked hug I probably shouldn’t have, even though I held my breath, but I haven’t seen her in two months. She lived in my house this time last year the proximity of the holiday makes her being moved out more real for a time. Everything is weird and hard, and hugs are how we make things better for each other, only this time they’re exactly what we shouldn’t. Telling them the Zoom meeting was already open and I’d see them on the computer, then driving away ten minutes to my own house. So close and yet not.

Weirdsgiving part 4 was supposed to be everyone at the table with the computer at the end, and talking and visiting and eating. And it was all of that. Three households connected via internet (Daughter’s former roommate gets to come to Thanksgiving as an adoptive family member.) The best bit being when I told them to examine the pie I put in the delivered food box, which told them clearly in pie crust letters “No Spiders in Here.” Daughter immediately scowled at us through the camera and said “Dad!” having correctly identified the party guilty of coming up with that idea.

However Weirdsgiving part 4 also included the moment when I called my son to come to the table and he said “why is the house so cold?” while shivering. So suddenly we had to quarantine a family member away from the table to be alone in his basement room where he had a panic attack that his fever and body aches were Covid. Which maybe they were? We couldn’t know, only quarantine. I bounced between taking care of suddenly-sick-quarrantined-and-scared, and trying to participate in the family joyful visiting of Zoomsgiving. I got to hear about a third of the exchanged stories. He calmed and got food. I got to participate in some of the laughing. Mostly it was joyful and good.

Weirdsgiving part 5 had fewer group games than anticipated. Leftovers were monched through, but quarantine tamped down the merriment once the Zoomsgiving call ended. Helpings of leftovers and mission-accomplished lassitude alternated with maybe-we-now-have-Covid-in-our-house anxiety. The major group activity was talking each other through anxiety attacks and contingency plans, which I guess is still family togetherness. Oh, and a brief Zoom call with extended family. It was nice to see faces.

Weirdsgiving was not supposed to have a part 6, but I’m including today’s outing for Covid tests into the whole bundle. The fever and body aches went away within a couple of hours. Sniffles, fatigue, and gastro symptoms lingered. So we’re solidly living with Schrodingers Covid for two days while we wait on results. It probably isn’t. We’re probably over reacting. But we’re still keeping quarantine just in case. Meanwhile we’re eating leftovers and I’m somewhat schlumped with all of my organizational circuits burned out. But all the positive responses to my food photo posts are making me happy. I love having added happy energy to social media and I’m really clinging to the energy that comes back to me. Without further ado: Photos from my Weirdsgiving

Gratitude and Grieving

Tis the season for gratitude, or so I am informed by over forty years of personal tradition, a bazillion internet memes, and the leaders of my church. In many ways, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it sidesteps so much commercialism and focuses our attention on being thankful for what we have and on connecting with those we love. And food, lots of delicious food. Yes, sometimes the food part gets complicated and can feel like a burden. Traditions do that because they are constructs. Someone has to put in the work to make the holiday happen. In a good year that person is working from a place of abundance, glad to share it. Other years, not so much. This year…. This year is weird. It has been weird since March. Pandemic required a seismic shift in the way my life is lived. Like an earthquake it changed everything and nothing at all. My house, people, and things are all here, but now I know that the ground under my feet, which always felt completely solid, can move and knock me down. If the ground can move, what else that feels certain isn’t as certain as I thought? So here I am in November after months of shifted life patterns, after canceled events, after unexpected gifts, after things I gave up and things I gained. I’m in the middle of the season for gratitude and I don’t know how to feel about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is supposed to be joy and gathering, instead it may cause sorrow and permanent parting because people gathered when they shouldn’t have.  I both desperately want it and wish it would go away.

Not knowing how to feel about a thing is a familiar state for me. Though it is less about not knowing my feelings and more about having so many tangled up and contradictory feelings that I can’t see all of them at once or even tell what they all are. I have untangled one. It is the memory of me huddled in a church bathroom sobbing because they were handing out graduation certificates to teenagers and my teenager’s mental health issues had prevented them from getting one. Crying for my own pain, hiding because I did not want my pain to subtract from someone else’s moment of celebration. I see people posting about gratitude on social media and I am so happy for my friends and the thing they are grateful for, but sometimes the thing they are grateful for is something I will never get to have. That is hard. On a year when I’m operating from abundance, being happy for others is easy. This year I have both abundance and depletion depending on which angle I’m sitting.

Gratitude is not a single action, it is a practice. All those parental admonitions to “say Thank You” weren’t just about teaching social politeness. They were intended to teach us a way of being, to recognize and acknowledge the good in our lives out loud. It is the simplest beginner-level of leading a grateful life. Naming the things we are grateful for is a valuable and important personal practice. We can note it for ourselves in short-hand because we know when we say “I’m grateful for sunshine” we are encompassing the feeling of radiant warmth of a patch of sunlight through a window despite the winter cold outside, or the way that the sunlight catches a loved one’s hair making them seem to glow. The poetry and emotional depth of the feeling is often missing in simply phrased gratitude posts because the post is a reminder, not the gratitude itself.

I think about this when I see posts that on their surface seem like humble-brags. There is depth beneath that surface which I’m not always privy to. Which is why I am glad when a post gives me a story. With a story I get a glimpse into the inner world of my friend. I get to learn about a piece of their life and how the thing they are grateful for shaped that life. The posts I treasure are the ones which show me how grief can be transformed into gratitude. The story shows the darkness and how they found their way out. That is the road map we all need. We all need to see how a pain, like the ones we carry, can be a force for good in our lives and how we can become glad to have experienced the pain. Pain and grief redeemed. I have so many odd-angled sadnesses sticking out of me this month, I’m collecting posts that help me see how to craft those sadnesses into something beautiful. Upcycling grief via online DIY instructions.

My social media feeds are filled with gratitude posts because my entire church community has been challenged to speak their gratitude via social media for the week leading to Thanksgiving. Hundreds of posts, and I have to approach them with caution. Because some will be a delightful window into the life & heart of a person I know, but others will remind me of a personal pain. Some will help me think of the joyous things I have in my life. Others will remind me of the ongoing slow-motion train wreck that is the increasing case rate and death toll of the pandemic. I’m raw and sensitive in ways that ambush me. A funny video of cosplayers in Halo costumes doing a dance at a convention leaves me sobbing because I don’t know when that form of spontaneous joy will get to exist again. This year gratitude and grief are inextricably entwined. I’m grateful for the things that have caused me grief and I’m grieving things for which I am grateful.

I am engaging in my own deliberate gratitude practice this year. I’m staying tightly focused on what is possible withing the confines of pandemic restrictions, finding joy where I am at, with what I can have right now. I’m focusing intently on small joyful actions and service. I am sieving gently through the social media posts to find those which add to my joy without disturbing my griefs. I am constantly aware that I’m like a scooter bug on water that has dark depths. I skate over the surface, held up by surface tension, creating resting places for myself as I go. This is not the year for me to search my soul. Instead I will try to breathe and live gratitude. I will make ridiculously decorative food for the Thanksgiving dinner I’m not sure how to feel about. I will put stickers on my journal entries where I write the shorthand notes about what I’m grateful for. I will keep myself moving forward on creative projects. I hope that will be enough to get me through the dark cold months. Somewhere beyond the cold and dark, things will come alive again. Perhaps then I’ll be able to figure out all the things I am feeling during this holiday season.

Thanksgiving Preparations

I am preparing to create some ridiculously fancy foods. Just because the idea of making shaped truffles and flower shaped jello sounds fun.

Pushing Back at the Darkness

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.

Tossing Breadcrumbs Forward Through the Woods

I’ve been feeling gray lately. Most years I don’t start feeling winter blah until after the holidays, but it came early this year. A friend says we’re all like squirrels starting the winter with empty trees, winter reserves already depleted. That feels true of me this year. This same friend has been combating the mood by undertaking a completely non-productive project which spends resources but makes her happy. I was glad to see it working for her, but no project I contemplated sparked any sort of joy in me. Holidays seemed a set of looming obligations instead of something to look forward to. On top of the gray mood, I seem to have hit a migraine cycle.

This morning I started the day with caffeine to stave off the impending migraine. The caffeine unlocked that portion of my brain which allows me to be happy about projects. I’ll pay for it with insomnia tonight, but this morning I purchased elaborate shaped silicone molds for making ridiculous desserts for Thanksgiving. (Molded jello, truffles, shaped butter, etc.) I have a plan which involves delivering food to my married daughter we’ll have to wave to from afar this year. I’m going to have my two in-house assistants help me create the ridiculous food. I also have fragmentary ideas for a blog post on how holidays are always a construct that we create for each other, and the shake ups of this year are an opportunity to create anew.

I hope I get to keep some of my creative anticipation once the caffeine wears off. My molds are arriving on Monday, so now I have a small thing to look forward to. After that I can look forward to making the foods. After that, delivering the foods. By the time I get there, I will hopefully have found some other small thing I can look forward to just a couple of days out. I think that is how I’ll make it through this winter. Not with anticipating large things that are weeks or months away, but by tossing small markers only a couple of days into the future, and making sure I toss the next one just before I reach the current one. It’s like a reverse Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail to lead me out the other side instead of back where I started.

November Gray

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.

The Judgement of 17 Year Old Me

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.

Fixing the Floor in Howard’s Office

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.