My Depression: The Up and Down and Up of It

So this was my day today.

mydepression

My Depression: The Up and Down and Up of It by Elizabeth Swados

Thankfully, not the actual experience of depression, but the viewing of this documentary.  Or maybe the fact that watching a thirty-minute documentary is all I did hints that the black cloud of depression is looming, but we’ll call the sleeping and loafing I did the rest of the day self-care.  Waking from my two disjointed yet extended naps on our decaying couch, I grabbed a tall glassed concoction of green tea, seltzer, and pomegranate juice and a bag of tortilla chips.  Agog at the television viewing options sans kids, I scanned the documentaries’ list on HBOGo.  Politics?  I didn’t feel like crunching on the facts.  War-torn countries?  I didn’t want to feel the despair.  Alzheimers?  I didn’t want to cry the tears and face my fears.  Depression?  Why not?

Seems like an antithetical choice given my desire to relax and detach, but in the ever-present search for dissection and understanding of the insidious diseases of the mental health variety, I am drawn to all things depression – things done well, that is.  And My Depression: The Ups and Downs of It by Elizabeth Swados, is.

The cartoony quality and upbeat music initially threw me off.  The narration of an overview of living with depression, voiced by Sigourney Weaver, seemed too bubbly or glossy for me.  Then, I realized, it wasn’t necessarily for me, someone who lives with depression; it serves as a great introductory primer to those who don’t deal with depression, who have no clue what it’s like under that deep, dark cloud.

And deep and dark is certainly where things turn when, overcome by seemingly insurmountable odds, Elizabeth’s animated avatar is paid a visit by a ghoulish skeletal guy, voiced by Steve Buscemi, in an ice cream truck named the Suicide Mobile.

But Elizabeth prevails.  Somehow, the human spirit pushes that dark cloud away enough so she can get help – in the form of self-help and love, medication, and therapy.  A particularly striking image is when she doesn’t feel visible or worthy or at all at home in the world, her therapist literally brings her back to life by wrapping her in the warm embrace of a blanket.

My Depression was a little hard to watch.  Initially, because I’d already lived the story, knew the plot line – and ultimately, because it hit so close to home.  For a brief documentary, it covers a lot of psychic ground – and a topic that needs covering in the worst way; for, the dark cloud of depression covers a lot more people than we know.

* Click the image above to link to a trailer of the documentary

Free Time

Bathroom floor scrubbed

Suntan lotioned bathing suits stain-treated

Nap taken

Words, pages, chapters read

Iced tea enjoyed

Bare skin breeze bathed

Weeds pulled

Pressure points needled

Junk food lunch eaten

First two days of empty nest filled

You Can Tell a lot about a Man by the Car He Drives

“And there were very likely people who thought one could not interpret men’s feelings by the cars they drove.

But when they moved onto the street, Ove drove a Saab 96 and Rune a Volvo 244. After the accident Ove bought a Saab 95 so he’d have space for Sonja’s wheelchair. That same year Rune bought a Volvo 245 to have space for a stroller. Three years later Sonja got a more modern wheelchair and Ove bought a hatchback, a Saab 900. Rune bought a Volvo 265 because Anita had started talking about having another child.

Then Ove bought two more Saab 900s and after that his first Saab 9000. Rune bought a Volvo 265 and eventually a Volvo 745 station wagon. But no more children came. One evening, Sonja came home and told Ove that Anita had been to the doctor.

And a week later a Volvo 740 stood parked in Rune’s garage. The sedan model.

Ove saw it when he washed his Saab. In the evening Rune found a half bottle of whiskey outside his door. They never spoke about it.

Maybe their sorrow over children that never came should have brought the two men closer. But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead.

Maybe Ove never forgave Rune for having a son who he could not even get along with. Maybe Rune never forgave Ove for not being able to forgive him for it. Maybe neither of them forgave themselves for not being able to give the women they loved more than anything what they wanted more than anything. Rune and Anita’s lad grew up and cleared out of home as soon as he got the chance. And Rune went and bought a sporty BMW, one of those cars that only has space for two people and a handbag. Because now it was only him and Anita, as he told Sonja when they met in the parking area. ‘And one can’t drive a Volvo all of one’s life,’ he said with an attempt at a halfhearted smile. She could hear that he was trying to swallow his tears. And that was the moment when Ove realized that a part of Rune had given up forever. And for that maybe neither Ove nor Rune forgave him.

So there were certainly people who thought that feelings could not be judged by looking at cars. But they were wrong.”

– from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I could’ve danced talked all night

wpid-wp-1440692157183.jpgThe universe works in mysterious ways.

There’s a reason for cliches such as this.  In ways unexplained, people and circumstances are drawn together.  In an affinity, a warm, glowing feeling that spreads with seemingly no foundation, conversations click, relationships made, journeys continued before we’d even realized they’d begun.

One such journey began in 2012, though I was not yet aware.  As I typed the first tentative strokes birthing my blog in January of that year, Charlotte of Momaste went about her business a few mere miles down the road.  One day seven months later, in a burst of breastfeeding genius, her blog was born.  About a year later, I discovered the light and love and unabashed truth of her blog when its SPOT-ON post, Touched Out, was Freshly Pressed.  She gave voice to the heretofore dysfunctional and guilt-inducing tendencies I’d been seeing in myself as a mother.  I’d found a kindred spirit.

Depression – postpartum and otherwise.  Anxiety.  Mindfulness.  Breastfeeding.  Trying to balance selfhood with motherhood.  Yoga.  Puns.  Writing.  So many connections.

And then she posted a picture of the view from the end of her street.  And I saw the same bay I could see out the window of the house I’d started my family in and just recently vacated; the same one, admittedly, I had an imperfect view of, too, but still reveled in mentioning.  Not only were we from the same state, we been living in nearly the same zip code.

I felt even more of a kinship.  I had a scaffold in which to place her ruminations and observations; a visual schema her scenes unfolded against, even if I wasn’t on the exact street.

We bandied about the idea of meeting for quite some time.  Fellow bloggers can attest to the feelings of friendship engendered by genuine, heartfelt comments and the uncanny ability to pin pieces of your own gray matter on their own sites.  Still, with our young families, no concrete sense of who each other was, and both suffering from anxiety and possible cases of social awkwardness, the time never presented itself, nor was never found, to meet.

Then I registered for a conference in Boston for survivors of postpartum depression.  The excitement leading up to the real-time introductions at the conference led to whole lots of conferring online beforehand.  If strangers were becoming friends for that, why not my other ppmad peeps?  I reached out to Charlotte and floated the idea of traveling to Boston for the conference.  That plan didn’t hash out either, but it created a real impetus for our meeting irl, as they say, which finally happened yesterday.

The thoughts going through my head as I drove to meet her were akin to what I’d imagine if I were in an episode of Catfish.  My ten year-old daughter, in an annoying yet pride-provoking manner, had pointed out that there are dangerous people on the internet, you know.  My mother relayed the message that my grandmother was very nervous and didn’t want me to go.  I said I highly doubted this woman would turn out to be a 47 year-old male axe-murderer – not for the sake of a blog meet-up.  Charlotte and I did do the awkward blind date eye-contact, avoidance, cut through the coffee house, then back out onto the deck greeting.  She affirmed that yes, she was not a man and no, she did not think a 47 year-old axe-murdered would go to so much trouble writing blog posts to lure in a victim – particularly ones about breastfeeding.

That was the first of many laughs on this my first blind date with my first online friend meeting in the flesh.

We swapped stories about our kids, our spouses, our writing, our work, our struggles, disappointments, triumphs, and joys.  Most rewardingly, we shared the same space – psychically and emotionally.  The whole simpatico thing worked in person as well as it did online.  While our stories differed in their twists and turns, we got it.  There are as many differences as similarities, but we respect the journey each of us is on and support each other.

When Charlotte checked whether it was time to pick up her daughter, I realized I’d lost all track of it.  While nearly two hours had spooled away, it felt as if we’d just started our conversation.  I experienced almost the same feelings I’ve had when I realize I haven’t caught a friend up on the crush of things that’ve happened since our last visit – even though we face the stretch of time before our next one.  And we had to get caught up from the beginning!

But there’s always the next cup of tea – or chai in this case (to which I will have to add copious amounts of milk if we visit the same place as it was mighty strong).  There’s time for friendships to grow – online and in real time.  And there’s the universe – that has already proven it’s got our backs in bringing us together.

Momaste, Charlotte: the mom in me so bows to the mom – and lovely human – in you.

We are Pilgrims on a Journey

As I sat there listening to music being created right before my eyes, manufactured by human hands up on the stage two tent lengths away, it struck me how amazing the moment was. How lucky I was to be alive and experiencing it. A resounding hum roiling behind my breast bone – the hum of music another om of humanity.

And it is no coincidence that the space music swells is the same place that aches with longing for life, the unnamed.

For where there is a lack, there is also largess.

A void with the ability to be filled.

An ebb and flow

A sacred space that the filling and emptying of reminds us of the balance of life.

For every pain, there will be achingly beautiful joy.

For every time we feel bereft, there will be the overwhelming beauty of belonging, of certainty.

Seeing such music flow from the source brings the magic to life even more. It is the shared experience, the affinity between and among all humankind: a common ache for the sublime, a beatific high when we attain it, and the lonely muddling through when we don’t.

We all are passengers on the same journey, all trying to find our way.

On nights like this, our souls travel together.

"Servant Song" by Richard Gilliard & David Haas

“Servant Song” by Richard Gilliard & David Haas

For the Love of Saab

“In the parking area outside the office stood an extremely old and worse-for-wear Saab 92. It was the first motorcar Saab had ever manufactured, although it had not been in production since the significantly updated Saab 93 had come onto the market. Ove’s dad recognized it very well. Front-wheel-driven and a side-mounted engine that sounded like a coffee percolator. It had been in an accident, the director explained, sticking his thumbs into his suspenders under his jacket. The bottle-green body was badly dented and the condition of what lay under the hood was certainly not pretty. But Ove’s father produced a little screwdriver from the pocket of his dirty overalls and after lengthily inspecting the car, he gave the verdict that with a bit of time and care and the proper tools he’d be able to put it back into working order.

‘Whose is it?’ he wondered aloud as he straightened up and wiped the oil from his fingers with a rag.

‘It belonged to a relative of mine,’ said the director, digging out a key from his suit trousers and pressing it into his palm. ‘And now it’s yours.’

With a pat on his shoulder, the director returned to the office. Ove’s father stayed where he was in the courtyard, trying to catch his breath. That evening he had to explain everything over and over again to his goggle-eyed son and show all there was to know about this magical monster now parked in their garden. He sat in the driver’s seat half the night, with the boy on his lap, explaining how all the mechanical parts were connected. He could account for every screw, every little tube. Ove had never seen a man as proud as his father was that night. He was eight years old and decided that night he would never drive any car but a Saab.”

— from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backmansaab92

First Day of School

These last few weeks of summer, my own personal atmosphere is experiencing an unsettled weather pattern.

I still don’t feel like I’ve reclaimed my house after my dear friend’s family vacated it. The hole they left is yet unplugged. As are some of the items misplaced by little hands (from both families) and those shoved into disused corners by my and my husband’s as we prepped for their arrival.

The grains of beach sand are quickly slipping through my fingers as time marches on toward the first day of school.

Anxious as a student, who then stupidly served as a teacher for several years, this time of year always winds me up. There are the residual effects of that: feeling as if I need to fit.every.last.experience.in. before the all-consuming task of education took over. (I used to punish myself on one-week school vacations as well; attacking a back-log of to-do lists from the previous semester/s/years) This year, however, there is the added ennui of two big first days of school in the life of my children and in mine as a parent.

My youngest starts kindergarten; my oldest starts middle school.

In perhaps my subconscious’ grandest scheme of self-preservation (um, denial), I hadn’t thought it was a big deal until my mother pointed out that my babies are growing up. Seriously, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I should be freaked out until she mentioned that. Now, as I think about the combination lock I haven’t bought my oldest, the seemingly huge backpack on the little frame of my youngest, my insides are positively vibrating. When I think of the two new student orientations I need to attend next week, I want to vomit.

If I was anxious as a student, now I’ll be hit three-fold. Three little pieces of my heart will be tromping onto the school bus this time two weeks from now.

And what was once met with jubilation – the thought of a six-hour unencumbered stretch – now is also part of this quivering mass of anxiety.

What now?

There will be no one on whom to blame countless hours of Caillou-watching. There will be no warm body that needs snuggling on the couch. There will no one keeping me from doing the things I’ve always dreamed of doing.

Into this void, will rush all my hopes and dreams. All the plans paused in various states of being. Mixed with the lonely ache of missing my now three school-aged children, will be the uncomfortable mania of not knowing where to start, what to do, how to function.

I told my husband I wanted to take some time when they started school to get back to center; that it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the land of the living. He said, you never really left, Jen.

It feels like it’s been a long, twisted, disconnected dream – that I can’t even say started with my first days of motherhood. The more I traverse what seem to be ‘normal’ days, the more I realize that the upside down, inside out period I keep waiting to come out of – is actually life.

So the fact that I’ll now be the boss of six unassigned, unencumbered hours of each of my days is a little frightening. Overwhelming, at least.

It’s time to choose what really matters; accountable to no one and for every one of my actions; to work for what I want even when it scares the hell out of me.

It’s an auspicious day for momma, too.

from An Overdue Adventure

from An Overdue Adventure

Night on the Town

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When you slow down enough to look: there are Singer-Sargent clouds at sunset; a regal nature in rust; a delicate peel of paint. It’s all in the details.
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Make Room for Ove

“It was the first time since the accident that he heard Sonja laughing. As if it was pouring out of her, without the slightest possiblity of stopping it, like she was being wrestled to the ground by her own giggling. She laughed and laughed and laughed until the vowels were rolling across the walls and floors, as if they meant to do away with the laws of time and space. It made Ove feel as if his chest was slowly rising out of the ruins of a collapsed house after an earthquake. It gave his heart space to beat again.”

                – from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I Am Proud

I see how you drag gray gunk out from under the drain plug with a q-tip
I see how you scrape dark purple nail polish from the bathroom tile
I see the smile you give,

the squeeze of a hand,

the rub of a knee.

How you tackle the monotonous and never-ending mountain of laundry

How you give and give and give
to the point of an extinguished flame

I see how tired you are
yet you keep getting up,
keep going.

I see how you love your children.
You think I don’t notice, but I do.
I see how you bear your pain for them.

Let me bear your pain for you.

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