Tag Archives: Depression

I Get It, I Understand

You know who’s the best? You guys. After my last post I had so many people reach out to me, by email, text, comment, phone, Facebook message, husband, currier pigeon, pony express, smoke signal, morse code, and, dangnabbit, even in person. And just about everyone was saying, “Yes, I hear you, I’m in this place too.” or “I was in this place.” or “I think I’m headed for this place.” I’m humbled and honored by those of you who opened up to me about your own struggles and I’m buoyed by the love and kindness sent my way. And of course it has gotten me thinking a lot.

Why, if so many of us are burdened and struggling with one thing or another, is it so hard for us to talk about it? If there is a wealth of understanding and support out there, why can’t we just be honest with where we are at from day to day? Are we really going to be social lepers if we quit pretending that we aren’t a wreck when we actually are? Maybe. I don’t know. But I suspect not. I think we all crave intimate connection but most of us are well trained to keep our less pretty emotions tucked away. My Norwegian ancestors keep a close eye on me and they don’t mind shaming me from the grave for crossing the line of what’s appropriate. “Stop making a scene,” they say tersely, “and don’t embarrass anyone.”

I’m actually terrified of embarrassment, mine and other people’s. Once I was at the dentist and the hygienist thought I was pregnant when I wasn’t. It was like being thrown into a humiliation casserole. I was embarrassed, of course, over my size and shape, but also embarrassed for her for making such an ostentatious social gaff. I was full of guilt that my own body could cause such awkwardness between people and ashamed that I had no snappy comeback, just hot, red cheeks and sweaty armpits in an office full of other embarrassed people. While that experience had nothing to do with emotional openness, it had the result of everyone feeling mortified and I never want to be the cause of that. Still though, I know that the subjects that sometimes make people uncomfortable are the ones we need to share the most. I want to be bold and open and real, but I’m a wuss when it comes right down to it. I find it easier to share my inner workings in writing, here and in less public settings, because I can avoid seeing the reaction on someone’s face and if people disapprove or find me immodest, chances are they won’t tell me about it.

A friend recommended a podcast called ‘Terrible, Thanks For Asking‘. I’ve only listened to the first few installments, but I really like the concept. The idea is that every episode is an interview with someone who has experienced something hard (or awful in some cases) and the difficult emotional recovery that comes with it. It’s people who are unapologetically honest with their pain and shortcomings, even if it causes some discomfort. Some of the stories are hard to listen to, but it’s a refreshing look at how the dark sides of life make us who we are. Obviously, it’s right up my alley.

That podcast, combined with the feedback I’ve gotten on my last post has made me wish we had a different way to communicate with each other about how we really are from day to day. Of course it’s going to be hard to be totally honest when you see an acquaintance at the kid’s swimming lessons or while meeting a potential client or waiting in line to buy tampons, but what if there was another way? Humor me for a minute and just imagine:

Every morning after we get up and start the day we put on a name tag. But instead of writing our name, we write how we are really feeling. Write it in green and it means you are open to talking about it. Write it in red and it means you aren’t. Then you go to work or school or the grocery store and everyone is walking around with a tag. I’m lonely. My husband is cheating on me. I’m so excited for my trip tomorrow. I think I’m pregnant. I’m sick of people giving me advice. Abandonment issues. I got a great job that I’m completely unqualified for. This sunny day makes me feel like frolicking. I ate an entire bag of Cheetos. In laws. I screamed at my kid and I feel horrible about it. I’m falling in love. My wife has cancer. Bankrupt. I want someone to take care of me. I’m jealous of everyone who is better looking than I am. I had a hard time leaving the house because of my anxiety. I’m happy for no reason.

Of course this alternate universe relies on us always knowing what we are feeling and why, being aware of our issues and able to articulate them. As far fetched as that is, when we have a glimmer of insight I think it’s worth trying to be brave and vulnerable and generous with our truth. Most of us are floundering through life looking for the people with whom we are simpatico. It’s hard to keep in mind, when wallowing around in our own emotional shit, that people long to say “I get it, I understand.” as much as they want to be understood themselves.

Authenticity might be my favorite quality in a person. My own moments of faker-ness come more often than I would like but I’m striving to be more candid in the way I present myself to the world. When someone shares their real self with me, it brings richness to my life, another complex layer of flavor. Being open with our truth is a gift to those hearts that are in harmony with our own. It makes us softer and more trusting. It feeds the compassionate parts of human nature instead of the judgmental ones. It’s an awkward stumble into grace.

“Engrave this upon my heart: there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” – Mary Lou Kownacki

(Except that I’m too realistic to be completely sold on this. There are plenty of people that I will continue to dislike even if I hear their story, because some people are just plain obnoxious. But I like the quote anyway.)

 

No More Leave It To Beaver

I’ve been struggling. The kind of struggling that sometimes leads to Prozac or psychotherapy or big life changes. It’s not really an easy thing to talk about. When someone asks, “How’ve you been?” I don’t say “I’ve been unhappy with my life and not sure what to do about it.” But that is the truth of the matter. It is part of the reason I haven’t been writing. I’m not gloomy all the time by any means, but often enough that I don’t feel like myself. There is a nagging feeling of being unfulfilled, stuck, lost, joyless. I have so very many things to be grateful for, but I’m having a hard time really feeling the gratitude. I can look around and see the gratitude, I can know intellectually how lucky I am but my heart is not swelling with it.

This has been such a busy couple of years for my family with very little down time in which to regroup. Most days, the urgency of the children, our business, the food that must be bought and prepared, is enough to mask what’s not quite right under the surface. But the subconscious starts to yell louder when you aren’t listening. I have found myself in the midst of bright green envy for the lives of my friends (who I know damn well have their own sets of problems) when usually I wouldn’t trade my situation in a million years. I have been leaky-eyed and overwhelmed at odd moments and without resilience. I’m getting a C- in mothering when I usually can pull off a solid B. Something is in need of adjustment.

I had a dream about my dad, who I haven’t dreamt about in years. We were seeing each other after a long time apart, supposedly having a visit and catching up, but he was spending the time making small talk with strangers and ignoring me. I finally cornered him and demanded to know why he wasn’t talking to me or interested in my life. I wanted to know what he had been doing with his time that was so much more important than our relationship. He told me that there had been an all day Leave It To Beaver marathon on TV “and, well, you know…”  I was so upset by the fact that he wasn’t even watching something new, but reruns of a show that was stupid the first time around, that I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, screaming “You are wasting your life!!! You aren’t paying attention!!! You aren’t asking me questions!!!”

I woke from the dream knowing that it was an important one. I started off thinking that my inner little girl was coming out to deal with some old issues from the past and wondering ‘why now?’ But as I ruminated on it a bit more I had an epiphany. The dream was not about hurts in my childhood, it was about me, right now, not paying attention. I’m afraid one day I will look around and feel that I have wasted my life. That instead of asking myself questions, I’m ignoring something important and distracting myself with metaphorical reruns. My dad came to visit me in the night to tell me I need to get my act together.

Okay, so, that’s great, but now what? I understand that I need to start asking questions, and I am. I’m asking over and over. What is it that I want? What am I going to do with the life I have left? What is missing here? How do I find inspiration again? But each of these questions comes with a subtext that points out that the answer must fit in with our real life, and our real life is kind of a pain in the ass right now.

My day to day at this point feels monotonous. My children will never stop testing me, my husband will work seven days a week for the rest of his life, and traveling is a thing of the past. Now, intellectually I know that is not true, but it’s such the reality of our situation at this time that I can’t fathom how we move out of this phase. Hence the feeling stuck.

After a number of talks with Robert, who is a tremendous, if distracted, support to me, we still haven’t figured out how we make owning a business less crazy and more sustainable. We both agree that it’s not working very well right now. Yes, we can potentially (knock on wood) make a living doing this, but at what cost? Living in a state of panic, always running to put out whatever fire is burning the hottest is no way to have a life. Short term and long term, changes need to be made.

One thing that has become clear is that for everyone’s sanity I need to take over some more of the business responsibilities. It does nothing good for anyone in this house when Robert has to spend his weekends shut away doing paper work. He feels fully burned out, the kids miss him and resent me, and I feel like a caged animal, about to scream or cry all the freakin’ time. I’m trying to figure out my place in this work we have taken on as well as what I need to do to feel personally fulfilled. Building houses is not my passion, but it’s not terrible either, and it is what we are doing right now. There is enjoyable, creative work in there, but I have to find my niche. There is also mindless data entry work, a lot of it, and that needs to be done too. I want to truly be a partner for my husband, not just the one who takes care of the rest of our life so he can work all the time. We both are in need of some balance.

I’m hardly unique in these feelings. Most people at some point, or at many points, feel unsure of their path or afraid of wasting their lives. We are all finding our way and sometimes, and for some people, it’s just really hard. I guess this could be called a mid-life crisis. I’m not in any danger of running off with my personal trainer or getting a boob job or dancing on tables at the local bar. But I am in danger of not being the kind of mom, wife, daughter and friend that I want to be. I’m in danger of not being the kind of ME that I want to be.

So this is life right now. It’s messy. It is also very mundane and privileged to have these kinds of problems. I know there are many, many people who work harder and more stoically than we do. It’s so embarrassingly prosaic that I’m rolling my eyes at my own self, but shameful or not, it’s where I’m at.

There is a lesson here, and I want it to stop hitting me over the head with a two by four, so I’m trying to learn it. So far I’ve got this much: Pay attention. No more Leave It To Beaver reruns. Your time is limited, don’t waste it.

I’m asking my questions and hoping the answers will come.

Good Riddance January, You’re A Bitch.

Whew. That last month was a killer. I felt like I was drowning in the chirpy kind of new years optimism that makes me hate people. There was way too much talk about how 2016 was going to somehow make up for the fact that last year sucked ass for a lot of us or instantly transform us into healthier, happier versions of ourselves. I don’t know how many times over the month I heard (or read on Facebook) “2016 is going to be amazing! This is MY YEAR!” or “I’ve been to the gym every day this month and I feel so great!” or “I’ve given up sugar and I’m never going back!” I want to punch these people in the mouth. Because here’s the thing. January. It’s the worst. If you want to be part of the club then it’s all diet and exercise and fiscal responsibility. I’m sorry, but that is stuff to be endured, not stuff to be celebrated.

The first half of the month I felt too crappy to be in the club. I was in a “screw it, who cares, I’m going to eat this whole bag of candy and this block of cheese, and wash it down with a couple glasses of wine while I mope around feeling sorry for myself” frame of mind. It just so happens that two of my favorite people have birthdays early in the month which ensured that there was enough cake and party atmosphere to keep me from going down the tubes completely. Even when your birthday is in January you get cake. And when there is cake around, I eat it. It was a dismal, yet delicious couple of weeks.

Legion of cupcakes.

Legion of cupcakes.

 

It was very important to Fe that his cake say 'Happy Birthday DEAR Felix' and have balloons on it. Not one of my prettier cakes but it was for a three year old so I let myself off the hook.

It was very important to Fe that his cake say ‘Happy Birthday DEAR Felix’ and have balloons on it. Not one of my prettier cakes but he’s three years old so I let myself off the hook.

Then, half way through the month I miraculously felt better. Better enough in fact to decide I was going to pull myself together and join the January club. For the last three weeks I’ve been “eating light” and “working out” and “cutting back on all the foods that make life worth living”. I’m drinking enough water to cause a minor drought and force feeding my family quinoa. Our meals suddenly look like this:

Beet and quinoa salad with chicken breast, goat cheese and balsamic dressing.

Beet and quinoa salad with chicken breast, goat cheese and balsamic dressing.

It’s not fun, but it hasn’t been so bad. I go between feeling virtuous, deprived, and discouraged. I think that if everyone else in your house is eating potato chips and you are choosing not to, you should instantly lose three pounds. Ditto if you have raw oatmeal (which, crazy as it sounds, I actually kind of like) or sugar snap peas for breakfast. Honestly, I’m glad to be cleaning up my act a bit because I know it’s essential to detox from time to time, but my physical self doesn’t feel that different. A little stronger, maybe, from all the squats I’ve been doing, in a better frame of mind, perhaps, but there is no amazing transformation for me because of eliminating sugar or quadrupling my intake of leafy greens.

My poor husband is anxiously awaiting my fall back into culinary hedonism (don’t worry Honey, it’s coming). He has been working physically hard, outside, in the nastiest Pacific Northwest weather and all he wants to eat is meat. Or meat on bread. Or meat on pasta. And what counts as meat? Not chicken breast, I can tell you that. He tries to be supportive, since I am cooking dinner every night after all, but when he hears the words ‘squash tacos’ or ‘lentils’ or ‘kale salad’ in the same sentence as ‘dinner’ it’s hard for him to hide his disappointment. So there have been compromises all around.

I was ever so glad to turn the page on the calendar and leave January behind. There will be no more ‘Happy New Year!’ wishes, no more humble brags about resolutions, no more pinning hopes on 2016 to solve our problems. Now we are all just here, healthy or not, happy or not, having an easy time or a difficult one. The pressure is off and that feels just right.

I’m going to leave you with my un-recipe for French Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale. It’s very much a compromise meal, healthy, but still satisfying for those who aren’t putting limits on their diet. As you may have gathered by now, I don’t cook from or write recipes very often so these are rough guidelines. Feel free to make it your own, but don’t skip the mustard seeds, they take the soup from blah to gourmet-ish.

French Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale

1 pound sweet Italian Sausage (bulk, or removed from the casings)

1 large onion, diced

6 stalks of celery, diced

6 carrots, peeled and diced

2 cups French lentils

2 quarts chicken stock, vegetable broth or water

1 bunch Lacinato kale (this is the flatter, dark green kale sometimes called black or dinosaur kale, my favorite by far)

1 Tablespoon brown mustard seeds

Fresh or dried thyme

1-3 Tablespoons sherry vinegar, or red wine vinegar if you don’t have sherry

Salt and pepper

Brown the sausage in a large soup pot, breaking it up as it cooks. When it is most of the way cooked, add the onion and celery. Cook until the veggies are tender. Add the lentils, carrots, stock and mustard seeds, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are soft, at least an hour, adding more stock or water as needed and stirring occasionally. Add the thyme and kale and cook for another 20 minutes or so (it’s soup, the timing is not critical). If your sausage was particularly fatty, there may be oil that collects on the top as it cooks. Skim it off or leave it in as you see fit. The soup will taste a little one dimensional at this point but a couple tablespoons of sherry vinegar and some salt will transform it. Just make sure to add the vinegar a little at a time and taste as you go, too much will not be yummy.

This soup freezes well. You could be super organized and freeze it in individual portions for future lunches.

Serve with bread and cheese or salad or nothing at all.

Not the best picture as I was eating this soup and then decided to photograph it. You get the idea though.

Not the best picture as I was eating this soup and then decided to photograph it. You get the idea though.

How’s this for honesty?

Where have I been? I said I’d be back after Christmas, and here it is, almost a month later and I have written nothing. What the hell?

So let’s address that. I wanted to write a New Year’s post, with my wishes and hopes and inspirations for 2016, but I couldn’t make it happen. Inspiration was not on the list of things I was feeling. The things I was feeling were depression, exhaustion, lack of knowing where my life is headed, a serious dose of martyrdom over the fact that I am the support staff to so many people, and the thought that this little writing experiment is a total waste of time. The more I snoop around the internet, the more it feels like everyone has a blog. And seventy five percent of everyone is writing about food or parenting. There is so much to read out there and a lot of it is very good. It’s daunting and had me feeling like I should just give up on this and go be useful in some way. I was hemming and hawing and moping and crying about it. I didn’t want to write another post about struggling with my dark side because, come on, no one wants to read that. But I also didn’t want to try and write some chipper thing about the food I’ve been cooking and the funny things the kids say when I wasn’t feeling the least bit chipper. It didn’t seem honest. And, lo and behold, a piece of the puzzle came together for me. That is what I want this blog to be at its core. Honest. I still don’t know what exactly Baby Loves Butter is about and I feel some pressure to get that figured out, but I do know that I don’t want to write anything that isn’t coming from a really truthful place in myself. I don’t want to give this up, I want to learn how to be better at it, and I want to turn it into something besides a hobby someday. (Whew, that last sentence was kind of tough. All the alarms are going off in my head, “DON’T SAY THAT! DON’T ADMIT IT! YOU’RE DOOMED TO FAIL AND NOW EVERYONE WILL KNOW!”) There is so much of life when we have to fake it, just to be part of polite society, and I think we all long for a safe place to admit what is really going on inside ourselves even when it’s scary or ugly or insecure. When one person has the guts to be real it makes it easier for the rest of us to do the same. So I’m going to work on being real.

I’m feeling much better this week. I have some perspective and don’t feel as though I’m doomed to the role of pit crew for eternity. Maybe for a while, but not forever. And I want to get back to this blog. Part of me thinks I should lay down some rules for myself like that I need to post every two weeks, or I need to spend x number of hours a week working on it but I don’t think that is really going to serve me, it will just make me feel bad if I can’t stick to it. So my goal is to write regularly, and to write from my heart, and to not be too hard on myself when life gets in the way.

More coming soon.

 

A Little Dark And A Little Spark

 

I feel the darkness creeping in. The days are uncomfortably short since the time change and I keep the lights on in the house all day. I can also feel the familiar pull of depression on the vulnerable corners of my mind, making things pretty dreary in there. The two are connected to an extent, but for the most part they just happen to be colliding right now.

I find myself going down the path with the gargoyles, those voices that remind me of all the things I dislike about myself and the bad that will come from them. I torment over my weight, my stomach flab, my ass dimples. It’s disgusting and shameful to admit, but I beat myself up for not having the willpower to diet and exercise in an obsessive way. I feel guilt, that’s a big one for me, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is I feel guilty for. I’m sure I must have said something wrong, made a bad joke, hurt someone’s feelings but I can’t think of what it is. It’s a nagging feeling that I am in the wrong and should be ashamed.

These things are just so sick and stupid. I mean, really? I’m ashamed that I don’t have an eating disorder? I’m feeling guilty for something I haven’t done? It’s nuts, I know it’s nuts. If a friend said these things to me I’d tell her she belonged in the loony bin. I also know that these are small manifestations of the bigger issues I have to work on in my life. Issues around my self worth, my lovability, my desire to do something bigger with my life and my need to make everyone happy with me. This stuff is here, again, asking to be worked on, again.

I’ve been muddling through, and it’s not nearly as drastic or dramatic as I’ve made it sound. I have days of running and apple eating and days of inertia and Twix bars. I know that the way to peace contains all those things. Finding fulfillment is a challenge right now and it contributes to my cloudy state of mind. I’m at a point in my life where the needs of my family trump my own desires. I’ve chosen that, and I would choose it again, no question, but it has not been an easy time. I’ve been foggy headed, mentally exhausted, and having a hard time finding my joy. I want to eat all the things in the house and then go to bed and cry but I don’t because I know that this is temporary. My kids, and my husband too, they deserve more than my muddling through. Hell, even I deserve it. My sane self talks to me and tells me this, it just doesn’t yell as loudly as the crazy self sometimes.

My struggles are, of course, very first world and banal. There are probably a million other women struggling with these same issues at this very moment. The thing I find fascinating is that I can have these gloomy moods, and these dark feelings, and at the same time KNOW that it’s crazy. I wouldn’t choose any life other than the one I have. It feels self indulgent to struggle with depression when I am fully aware of what’s happening, why, and how my own cycle works. But here I am anyway.

So I’m trying something new today, hoping that if I bring some of this nastiness out in the open I can light the spark of anger I need to fight it, and shorten the cycle. You people reading are my poor, unknowing audience. You are witnesses to my profanity laden personal pep-talk. These are the things I know to be true, in my sanest moments. This is me being a brutally honest and supportive friend to myself:

Gargoyles, I’m calling you out. This is bullshit what you put me through. I’m almost 40 years old and I’m still listening to you tell me about all the reasons I don’t deserve to relax and feel good enough? Fuck that. I know you’re doing your job, trying to keep me safe, but it’s not working. Shut the fuck up.

I love food and wine too much to ever be skinny. I will never give up the things that bring such great pleasure and happiness to my life in order to lose a few pounds. My body works well. It’s healthy and strong and has done amazing things. So, I have a belly, yes. I also have these potatoes cooked in duck fat and guess what, they win. I will buy myself some bigger pants.

Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes I say dumb shit and hurt people’s feelings. But I never do it on purpose, and I do my best to make amends when they are called for. Feeling guilty for being imperfect is a fucking waste of time. If what is true and right for me makes other people uncomfortable that is their business and not mine.

My job in this life is not to be what everyone else wants me to be. My job is not to be good. My job is to be whole.