I have felt very much in need of some good news and hopeful reading, so here on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, please enjoy this article about a mother-daughter duo who have written a book to preserve the history of the foods of German Jews from ca. WW II and before.
One of the nice things about being a grown-up is that if no one is looking, you can have chocolate cake and soda for breakfast, or, you know, whatever. It’s up to you to screw up your nutrition, or something like that.
I didn’t know that one of the things I’d miss the most about being married would be having someone with whom to split a bottle of wine over supper. Still, though, I do.
Dad’s a sober alcoholic and unable to resist projecting his experience over everyone else as the Universal Truth(tm) so the minute I have more than one drink at a time, or one drink more than one time a week, he gets shit-headedly (it’s a word, shut up) condescending and hysterical about whether I need to tune-up my meds or see my shrink or somesuch. I ignore it, since, erm, I’m the one taking meds and routinely engaging in mental health care, Mr. Self-Medicating, but it’s annoying. (And also, all the drunks on both sides of our family drink G&T’s, so I think I am smart enough about my own drinking to 1) avoid gin, and 2) not drink when I really, really want a drink.)
There is also the fact that I’m a food snot. It’s not enough for the wine to be “red” or “white” and therefore it goes with supper– it’s got to be a restrained Pinot Noir or an off-dry Riesling or some other first world problem of food and wine pairings. When the ex and I were still together, we could keep a middling red and a middling white both open over a week without either getting sloshed at dinner every night, or letting the good wine go off before we could finish it up. The in-laws were likewise pretty sensible– no one looked at you askance if you had a second Prosecco while you were waiting for the gas grill to preheat.
Every so often, though, my niece runs my dad ragged and he’s too tired to eat– which means I don’t have to make something low-salt, light in fat, and vegetable centric for the 73 year old diabetic heart patient with COPD. And then… then, I can slice up some good hard Italian salami, a few chunks of provolone, and load up a bowl of cherries to eat with the perfect $15.00 Nero d’Avola, and eat that while reading at the table– and then pour myself that second glass while I polish off the rest of the cherries.
It’s not cake for breakfast. It’s better.
I am late to the game of podcasts, and so have missed that they are the way more and more people are sharing stories. Whoops. Internet 3.0 apparently is on our phones and not on the internet at all.
Regardless, however, I wanted to share that I have become a devotee of “The Hilarious World of Depression,” which is a series of discussions with comics, writers, and other professionally funny people who also suffer from depression, bipolar, and depression/substance abuse/other comorbid conditions.
Just like blogs are important places to hear it, it’s also great to be driving along in the car and listen to two funny people talk about how their brains are trying to kill them, and that they have still managed to keep going. It makes the road rage easier to manage.
So– maybe check it out, add it to your rotation of mindfulness and self-care.
I was messaging back and forth with someone on my tumblr blog about something I’d reblogged about being middle-aged (ish, I know 40 is the new 30 *rolls eyes*) and mentally ill.
I tagged myself as being 42 and having bipolar 2, which prompted that person’s message, and thus far we’ve had a few back and forth messages about bipolar 2. Among other things, I mentioned that I think (and still do) that I am a better writer when I am really depressed.
Something they said in response struck me (to paraphrase): “I don’t know who I am without meds.”
I used to feel that way, and when I went to check out their tumblr profile I was reminded that they were in their late 20s.
It made sense, even though I don’t know how long this person has been struggling with their diagnosis. Here I am, 42, and I’ve been doing the bipolar diagnosis thing for 10 years. I’ve had this blog under one name or another for 10 years, however lately neglected it’s been.
And gosh, do I remember how fucking agonizing life was for a really long time. First, because I was miserable and couldn’t fix it. Then, miserable because I knew what was wrong with me but the meds weren’t a cure. Then, more miserable because the meds would work for a while and then just stop working.
Never mind all the stuff about the impact bipolar has had on who I have managed (or abandoned) relationships with– family, friends, and work– and how hard those relationships were to navigate around trying to keep a stuff upper lip and keep going. Never mind all the stuff about work and achieving what other folks expected of me and castigating myself for not being enough of a success.
A very big part of the angst and the agony was about questioning my identity– was I just malfunctioning neurotransmitters and faulty hormone levels? Who was I if it required medication to change my perceptions to something “normal?” Wasn’t there, surely, a “normal” that existed outside my ups(ish) and very deep downs? Wasn’t it really a character flaw inside my personality (whatever that was) that meant I wasn’t morally strong enough to just push my way through the depression?
I said to this tumblr friend that I had been through that and at some point it had stopped bothering me. I guessed that in all the thrashing towards leaving my marriage, I’d unconsciously resolved the question in favor of “I am worth it,” and stopped questioning whether “meds me” or “non-meds me” was the real person who deserved to have attention paid to them.
I think this is probably true– although heavens know, I could go back to when I was blogging here then and re-read my posts to see if that’s what I was thinking then. I’m not going to, though– because it matters less than what I know to be true now.
Here’s what I know to be true now.
It mostly gets better. Better(ish), if you like.
Infuriating, right? Everyone who’s not inside your head tells you this and it is so damned hard to believe in the midst of the darkness. Someone told me this back then and I emphatically refused to believe it.
It’s true anyway.
I don’t want to navel gaze about self-help or sports-jargon words like “resilience” or “adversity” or “living with your struggle.” I think that “keep calm and carry on,” is as close as I can come to paraphrasing what I’ve come to accept makes sense for me. Or maybe Winston Churchill’s “if you’re going through hell, just keep going.”
I kept going and decided to do that even when things were objectively terrible– and not just because my perspective was tinged by depression and panic and very little hope that things would improve or that I deserved to keep going.
A lot of times I tried to trust in the therapeutic value of work– not in some big, high-minded way, but in an “at least I accomplished something today” kind of way. I have journaled erratically over the last several years, and when I have it’s been focused on what I have been doing that means I accomplished something.
Sometimes it’s been– I fed someone something delicious.
Sometimes it’s been– I got someone back their health insurance, or hired someone who’s succeeded, or I gave someone the space they needed to attend to their health and still keep their job.
Sometimes it’s been– I made someone I care about laugh.
Sometimes it’s been– I cut back that overgrown, unblooming rosebush that scratched up everyone who came near it.
I hacked back that rose hedge the week after I left my marriage and moved. I was scratched all to hell by the end, and I sweated the whole way through it, sore and tired from all the work.
It’s been 6 years since then, and that hedge is more or less orderly, blooms all summer long, and it’s beautiful in its own droopy, old-fashioned, slightly scraggly, occasionally thorny way. Those things are all true, standing right up on top of the hedge. But three feet away, it’s a well-put together rose hedge that delights everyone who sees it. (We get notes through the mail slot about how nice a rose hedge it is.)
It’s work, though. That first pruning was not a magical fix and it was ugly and bare for a while. I have to tend to that hedge every year and cut out the dead parts, feed the roots, and take a step back to figure out how to fit other parts of the garden around it.
That rose hedge is a little too heavy handed a metaphor, but it’s true. I had to hack my life back down to the ground for it to grow back– but it worked. It got better.
Gardening metaphors aside, though, it doesn’t mean I don’t still get depressed, or anxious, or agitated and doubtful and occasionally helpless. It does mean that having decided to keep going, there are more and more successes over time that are objective proof that I am mostly making the right decisions, and that whoever I am, with or without meds, I’m doing okay. And then, I feel better more quickly than I had in past years.
It gets mostly better. And when it doesn’t, it’s okay. It will get better(ish) again. Just please keep going.
Why do I wait until the last minute to file my taxes when now that I’m separated I know I’m going to get money back, but only because I have extra withheld?
A story in stupid procrastination, not taking the advice I give to other women, and useless railing against the patriarchy and government systems weighted against women, women who aren’t married, women who are separated, and women who earn less than men, by me.
Some day I will be a grown up. Not this year, though.
This morning, I was watching a squirrel climb down my rose trellis in order to sneak away from the hawk tearing into a starling from its perch atop my bird feeder. As I watched the squirrel flee this natural scene, I thought, hmm, that’s something.
We put up the trellis so the roses have someplace to grab, something to hold on to on its journey up— and sometimes we even tie roses there when it’s a rambler instead of a climber, but anyway, still, a trellis goes down and sideways as well as just up, it’s all just a matter of which way you want to use it, the trellis is just a tool and it doesn’t care if you’re a rose or a squirrel or a clematis, some weedy bindweed or that dumb, stupid cat who’s not as subtle as it thinks it is when it sits on top of the fence and uses the trellis to climb down the fence but still the cardinals and blue jays fly off before it finishes its “stealthy” approach, because it’s orange, and I hate to tell you, cat, but the ground is not orange. You’re not going to blend in.
This evening, my Dad was talking to me about something while I washed the pots. I have no idea what he said, because I couldn’t hear him over the sound of the water, and in any event, if I had turned off the taps he’d have been mad that I’d interrupted him to say anything, even though he knows perfectly well he can’t hear me when our roles are reversed.
But that’s often how it is with parents, not to mention people in general. They’re not talking to you for you to hear them or so you can respond; they’re only speaking to get the voices out of their heads. Calling out that you can’t hear what they’re saying won’t change anything; not only cann’t they remember what they’d think if they were in your place, but your yelling gets in the way of enjoying the hot soapy water and the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing something, even if it’s only clean spoons. Clean spoons are important. How else are you going to eat your dulce de leche? With your finger? Don’t be a heathen.
(with apologies to Welcome to Night Vale)
Trying is the point of life
So don’t stop trying
Amanda Palmer’s got a new song out called “Bigger on the Inside,” and while some of her musicianship is not always my bag, her words always are.
I’ve also been reading her “The Art of Asking,” slowly, in bits and pieces, because it breaks me open with its honesty and straightforwardness in a way that other great writers on vulnerability do (like Brene Brown), but even moreso. Her perspective is about learning how to make art and silence our inner critic long enough to let ourselves create; it’s about learning how to ask others for help, how to ask without fear, and how our creative drive and our need for interconnection stems from a need to “be seen, understood, accepted, connected. Every single one of us wants to be believed. Artists are often just louder about it.”
Yes. Every single one of us wants to be believed. Sometimes it just takes us a while to find our voices.