Conquering the day. (On chronic depression.)

My next shrink appointment is in August, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long two months.

There’s no cure for clinical depression. Coping mechanisms are the currency we need to survive. We look within and gather what we can, learning from ourselves. We learn from others, too… mental health professionals, counselors, clergy, friends, family. We look to individuals we admire, gaining inspiration from them. And, of course, there’s the internet, always ready with advice and “life hacks.”

Certainly, coping mechanisms and strategies and inspiration can be found online. That stuff abounds in books and videos, too. We have popular culture contributors, historians, philosophers, teachers, poets and writers, celebrities of all sorts, and spiritual sages and practitioners and self-help gurus whose words of wisdom are posted as adages meant to uplift or even save us.

I’ve written about a few adages I find to be helpful. I haven’t mentioned those that I find to be detrimental, though. There are a few out there that I think are really just not good. Some adages or tidbits of “wisdom” (often displayed as memes) only serve to show you that you are to blame for your own depression. I saw one on Instagram recently – the one that spawned this post:

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” (attributed to Lao Tzu)

We’re constantly looking for those coping mechanisms, for ways to survive depression. When we see these kinds of adages, we think, well… maybe that person isn’t aware that they’re trivializing the struggle by placing pithy quotes before our eyes, suggesting that if we wanted to, we could change our outlook or perspective and just “get over it.”

We’re happy for those who are well, and we know that many of them mean well, but those who are well aren’t helping when they (inadvertently or otherwise) wellsplain our lives to us. The last thing we need to be told is that we’re doing life wrong.

Unfortunately, there’s no “how to” when it comes to being happy. There’s only a how to cope. How to get by. Clinical depression presents like any other chronic illness: we go through spans of time that feel “normal” and fine. We can feel good and at peace. Then there are the dark spells. The dark spells are tough to work through. I lean on gratitude and love, purpose and intent, anticipation and music, working out, reading and writing, “little things” and those adages that do help. But general happiness is a unicorn in the forest of the depressed.

Each trial through mental illness is individual, because the people living with those illnesses are individuals. There is no panacea for mental illness, and if there is, it’s just not going to arrive in a meme. I know it’s easy to misunderstand depression and think that the depressed can just “get over it.” I wish that it worked that way. It just doesn’t.

Depression can be managed, though. I’m doing a pretty good job at managing it, a fact that I can recognize even though I’m in a dark spell.

 

Conquering the day.

 

Speaking of life hack memes, is there one for how to not eat a whole box of Medjool dates in one sitting?

 

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What do you get when you cross a flamingo and a ukulele? My office.

I had a hard mental health day on Friday, and all of the late-afternoon popcorn and Perrier couldn’t fix it. Neither did it help that that was the day I decided to watch Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. Excellent song and video. Bad timing.

But then things got better, because when I woke up the next day, it was a gym morning and it was Mother’s Day weekend. I got cards from Nenette, Geronimo, and Callaghan, and for my main gift, Callaghan took me to Home Depot and said I could go crazy and choose any plant I wanted, emphasis on “any”! I chose this tall guy and named him “Flamingo”:

 

Flamingo! (He’s a Dracaena ‘Massangeana’)

 

My desk now, as seen from the doorway:

 

Four of my nine office companions, from left: Holder, Flamingo, Icarus, Thoreau

 

At some point, I’ll do an updated office tour and take you around to see all of my companions of the chlorophyllous persuasion. Two of them have joined me since my last such update, and some of the older ones have migrated to different spots.

Also, you may be noticing that there’s a ukulele sitting next to my desk. Yes, I’ve brought the ukulele back into the light! I haven’t dusted it off yet, but it’s out. That white binder on the shelf above it is a lesson book. Mom gave these to me, as some of you may recall, and I proceeded to capitalize on the opportunity to share some of my favorite ukulele jokes.

i.e. (from my previous blog post about the ukulele):

What’s the difference between a ukulele and a trampoline? You take off your shoes to jump up and down on a trampoline.

What’s “perfect pitch”? When you throw the ukulele into the garbage can without hitting the rim.

What do you call a beautiful woman on a ukulele player’s arm? A tattoo.

And my personal favorite:

A ukulele player suddenly realizes he left his vintage ukulele out in his car overnight. He rushes outside and his heart drops when he sees that his car window is broken. Fearing the worst, he peeks through the window and finds that there are now five ukuleles in his car.

I still love to laugh at the ukulele, but I do respect it, and I’ve decided to learn to play it. Going through my old rhythm and timing workbooks, composer collections, and sheet music made me realize how much I miss doing music. Self, I said one day recently – yesterday, in fact – why don’t you learn to play that beautiful, new ukulele Mom gave you? Why not.

I’m sure I’ll be back with ukulele-learning updates for any of you who may be interested; I can’t wait to laugh at myself as much as I laugh at the ukulele.

Oh, and my second Mother’s Day gift was a new tool box! Callaghan knew that I wasn’t thrilled with the one I’d been using. My new one (which I chose) is shiny and black and spacious and lovely. I should’ve taken a pic of it, too.

I hope you’re all having a great start to your week!

On minimizing “decision-fatigue.” (Mental wellness post!)

One day, in the third week of April 2017, I figured out what I’d wear to the gym each workout day of the following week. I wrote it all down. It was life-changing. I’ve since kept up the practice: once a week, I plan and list my gym outfits in a notebook (to keep track), gather the clothing, put them together in neat little bundles, and place them in the drawer in the order of the workouts. This completely eliminates having to think about what to wear to the gym as I’m getting ready to go.

This might make it sound like I have gym-clothing fashion concerns, but I do not. What I have is limited time and a limited mental/creative energy capacity each day.

No matter how little I care about my gym attire, I still have to decide what to put on. It’s a small, inconsequential decision, but it’s still a decision. Toward the end of the day, small and inconsequential decisions have added up, and then I start to make poor decisions, or I struggle to make decisions at all anymore. It could be that when it’s late-afternoon and I find myself stressed and unable to pinpoint a cause, I’m actually looking at decision-fatigue.

Why do couples sometimes bicker (stereotypically) over what to have for dinner? Maybe because they’re both at the end of a long day of making hundreds of little decisions, and they’re decision-exhausted and hangry. Decision-fatigue is a documented phenomenon; I’ve found web pages devoted to it.

As I said, my habit of putting gym clothes together a week in advance has been life-changing. It helps immensely that getting dressed for the gym involves only opening a drawer and pulling out the bundle on top. Zero decisions, minimal time. Even if I know what I’m going to wear, I’d still have to search for the pieces (t-shirts and pants – told you I didn’t care about gym fashion!) if they weren’t already bundled together.

 

Minimizing decision-fatigue: gym outfit prep, week-in-advance

 

This week-in-advance planning and prep – as opposed to multiple night-befores – allows me to devote my mental/creative energy and time to writing. Early mornings are especially precious to me; my primary focus each day starts with my “morning pages,” which consist of whatever part of my project I have in front of me. (Usually, it’s a single chapter.)

Gym-clothing planning is just an example. I’ve made it a point to try to be aware of other little decisions that feed on my energy levels throughout the day, and to get ahead of these decisions by strategizing accordingly. Because of my new awareness, I’ve returned to the habit of making daily lists of things to do. I might know what I have to do, but having the list in front of me saves me time and mental energy.

This leads me to a tangent: I don’t consider decisions to be distractions. There’s always a time and reason for distractions. Callaghan’s the same way! Perhaps we who work in creative realms need distractions because we’re easily over-saturated with our creations. Distractions carry me into a different head-space… they wipe the slate clean, so to speak. When the text is no longer at the forefront of my mind, I can start the next writing session and see what I couldn’t see before.

With that, I’m going to slam the door shut on this topic, because I can sense other tangents rising up!

Happy Friday Eve, everyone.

The silver lining of a bad day is the day after.

This has been a week. I’m sure you can all relate to this: there is no day as good as the day after a really bad day. The great thing about today is that yesterday was a day of epic fuckery such that today can only be better. For one thing, I was able to get to the gym this morning. I couldn’t go on Tuesday or yesterday, so you can bet that today’s workout made an immense difference.

For me, everything about working out makes everything better, even an aspect as simple as setting up whatever area I use. I took this pic weeks ago when a friend pointed out how I always organize my area, with my backpack and water bottle to the left:

 

Organized crime.

 

I took this picture jokingly, but it’s soothing to see it because I see habit, and habit can be a balm. It’s a way of feeling in control; in this case, it’s a healthy way.

This post comes from a place of gratitude. Yesterday is over. Today is a new day. I have yet another doctor’s appointment this afternoon (my third this week) – one of my medical specialists – but this is a good thing. Today’s doctor will be different, and I’m very optimistic that whatever he does, the experience will be the opposite of the one I had on Tuesday. I’m talking about ophthalmology, the only medical specialty not available at our V.A., by the way.

Yesterday, man. There was just something about it. Callaghan had a Very Bad Day yesterday, too, for reasons different than mine. It was awesome that we didn’t get into it despite our equally bad moods!

I’ll try to remember to repeat this mantra on future bad days: tomorrow is a new day. Some sayings make profound sense, and there’s nothing like experience to appreciate a tired old adage as something more than a tired old adage. Everyone is different. It’s good to hone in on adages that help get us through. For me, “things can always be worse” is a good reminder, but it isn’t as reassuring as “tomorrow is a new day.”

 

Cancel your resolutions! (Staying motivated in the new year.)

We’re early enough in the new year that we’re still thinking and talking about our resolutions, or about our decision to not make them, as the case may be.

More than once, I’ve been asked how I keep my resolutions, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on that, for whatever they’re worth.

I’m not a life coach or a psychologist. I don’t have it all figured out. There seems to be no end in sight when it comes to my manner of inadvertently f*cking shit up or making a fool of myself or both, and the last thing I am is the walking picture of contentment, regardless of the (considerable) depth of my gratitude.

But I’m strong-willed when I have the passion to fuel my drive, and I do have a lot of that. In my opinion, that’s most of what we need. It’s hard to stick with resolutions in the absence of passion.

My main advice would be to cancel the resolution if you lose your passion for it. Focus your energy elsewhere! If the resolution is of critical importance, you will come back to it – or it will come back to you – once you’ve given yourself a break from the pressure of it. Sometimes that’s all we need to kick-start our second wind (or third, or fourth, or tenth): a break. Put that resolution down and back slowly away. Don’t hang onto it and worry over it and lament your struggle and your apathy and your “failure.” Just put it aside.

Yes, reverse psychology on your own self works.

If the resolution is not of critical importance, then you didn’t really need it, anyway. Sometimes, the mood you’re in when you make non-critical resolutions isn’t the mood you stay in for the next 365 days. That’s okay. That’s not a failure; that’s a realization.

Some other thoughts regarding staying motivated and not sabotaging yourself in sticking with your resolutions as the new year gets underway:

1). Deadlines hold no power. They really don’t. If you’re the kind of person who gets overwhelmed by the notion of a deadline, then try to relax where that’s concerned. Any progress is still progress. If all you can do today is get out of bed and get dressed, then you’ve accomplished something!

2). Don’t say too much – not to be secretive, but to keep something sacred within. There’s something weirdly empowering about hoarding a goal or an aspiration. Maybe it’s just that if no one knows you’re aiming for it, then no one can ruin it… no one can judge your progress or lack thereof. Having a resolution that only you know about turns that effort into something magical, a secret quest, a journey that you take alone. Share a resolution or two with others, but keep one for yourself. It’s amazing how progress toward your secret goal can help to build your confidence.

3). Helplessness is a mere state of mind. If you feel helpless, tell yourself that you’re not, because needing help and being helpless are two different things. Thinking “I am helpless” is self-sabotage. Thinking “I need help” is not. If you’re capable of asking for what you need, then you’re not helpless… if you need help and you have the wherewithal to ask for it, you’re not helpless. You’re more resourceful than you know, and you have more courage than you know.

4). Your journey is directed by you. You can make your own decisions, own them, learn from your mistakes, and move forward accordingly. When it’s all said and done, you have executive power over your own life.

5). Suffering is a fact of life; it’s a motivator, not an impediment.

 

January 2018 – Here’s to a bright and beautiful new year.

 

Another thing to remember: every week has a Friday, whatever day that may actually be! Again, you can decide what day that is. Revel in it.

 

Birthday post! (On aging.)

Not to sound like a disgruntled middle-aged person, but somehow, I’ve been dropped from AARP’s mailing list since they began their early-harassment campaign a few years ago. They were all over me when I turned – what was it, 46? – and now I’m on the eve of 49, and nothing from them. It’s FOMO more than wanting to actually sign up, I suppose.

Tomorrow is my birthday; I’ll begin my last year in my 40’s. I’ve felt sort of obligated to come up with a birthday reflection post, so I’ve been, well, reflecting.

I’m fine with aging, in general. Having to look at a downside, though, I came up with this: aging’s not fun in a typical way that aging’s not fun.

Common aging-related laments would include health complaints associated with age, “looking old” and gaining weight, failure to achieve life goals, becoming more forgetful, being broke later in life.

My only aging-related lament so far: loss.

We’re not as prepared for aging-related loss. We’re bombarded with advertisements for anti-aging products, money management firms, weight-loss programs, adult re-education programs, retirement homes. There’s a sizable market of services and shit to sell to oldsters. But there are no advertisements to help with the fact that the older we get, the more people we lose, the more beloved furbabies we bury. Maybe we get crankier and more melancholic with age because of this accumulation of loss, the general sadness that comes with watching our loved ones pass away.

Oldsters’ loneliness comes, in part, from death. It’s good to keep this in mind, to be mindful of treating the elderly with respect and compassion. They’ve seen a lot, and they’ve suffered a lot of loss along the way. Aging-related loneliness is a profound loneliness. Give oldsters a break when they’re in a bad mood or just generally negative. They may act like they don’t want us or need us, but they do, in some way or another. Love and compassion are the most invaluable commodities.

All of that being said, I’ve also found definite upsides to aging, and many of these are typical: learning from mistakes, caring less about what others think, getting closer to age-qualification for senior discounts at various places. (I needed a bit of levity there.)

Most of all, the older I get, the more gratitude I feel. I’m thankful to be alive; every birthday is a victory. I’m thankful for the people I do have in my life. I’m grateful to feel good health-wise, despite chronic illness; grateful that my body works. I feel enormous gratitude that I’m able to do what I love, and gratitude that I live in the sunniest place possible – yes, lots of sunshine matters tremendously to me and my mental well-being.

On that note, I took some selfies outside on Friday (December 22). Here’s one:

 

The Friday before my birthday – wearing red for the troops (2017)

 

I have goosebumps because there was a chill in the air, but that sun!!

Honestly, I feel like I can’t begin to stop counting my blessings. I have that many.

Clearing my mind. (Minimalism, post 6.)

In a warm comment the other day, a new subscriber (hello!)  wisely noted that “everybody’s version of minimalism is going to be different.” I loved that she wrote that. Her words inspired me and got me thinking about minimalism in a broader sense, leading me to ask myself:

What am I hanging onto in my mind that might be creating clutter? My answers:

  • The past… those negative parts of my past with nothing left to teach or offer me.
  • People… those who do not share my belief – sometimes long-held – that we’re connected in some meaningful way.

Getting at the heart of it, I’m becoming aware of the difference between decaying memories vs. thriving ones, and true, lasting personal connections vs. insincere or transient ones. Am I hanging onto rotten memories? Am I holding onto the belief that there’s a relationship where there isn’t one, or where there was never one?

Sour memories… I’ve been working to put them at rest.

Relationships that have been chimeras all along… I’ve been realizing and processing the illusory nature of them. It’s painful, somewhat, but it’s time to minimalize.

I write this without bitterness, in the spirit of realism.

 

through the water glass

 

Decluttering my mind has become a part of my minimalism journey. Just as I need to let go of things without personal value, meaning, and purpose, I need to let go of memories without without value, meaning, and purpose. I need to learn to let go of people, too. I need to work on clearing my emotional cache.

To me, minimalism is really about that… letting go. We’ve been hanging onto things, and now we’re striving to free ourselves from those attachments. Making this endeavor in a realm beyond the physical feels just as cleansing. To clear the mind of clutter is to make more space for treasured memories and real connections.