A Depressive’s Check List

One thing at a time.

When I’m depressed, even the word “list” is overwhelming. Everything seems too much. I don’t have the focus or the strength or the will to make even the most simple of decisions, and I’m already feeling like an abject failure, so the concept of having more than one thing on a list, and then having to choose which thing is the most important, and then actually do that thing, knowing darned well that at least one of the things isn’t going to happen, and the guilt and emotional self-torture that will result from not doing that thing? It’s too much. Waaaaaaaay too much.

After a lifetime experience with sporadic depression, I’ve learned to keep it simple. Here’s my list:

Do one thing.

Breathe. Our society stigmatizes depression, and seems to assume that it’s just another form of laziness or immaturity, or self-indulgent nonsense that shouldn’t be taken seriously. But I’ve been there enough times to know that doing one thing while depressed is a gigantic accomplishment, and one to be proud of.

That one thing might be getting out of bed. That’s a huge deal and a lot harder than it looks from the outside. And it’s progress. For a while that was my list: Get out of bed. But over time I realized even that was too much. It’s too specific. It sets one up for potential failure. Making the list a bit more vague allows for flexibility based on circumstances, and it increases one’s margin of potential success. So…

Do one thing.

Potential things might be eating something. Showering. Changing positions. Whatever it is, it’s a thing. Things are good. Once you’ve done a thing, then, and only then, consider doing another thing if you are able. One thing at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to think too far ahead.

This list might seem like an unattainable luxury to those out there who have kids or can’t miss a day of work for fear of the financial consequences. Life must go on. I get that. I do. And yes, let’s be honest, you may have to power through and do your “one things” in quicker succession for the pure sake of survival, but your list can still be simple for now.

Do one thing.

I look at my depression as this huge, dark, fetid pool that I have to get across. The less time I spend in these toxic waters, the better off I’ll be. So doing one thing is like throwing a lily pad out there. I did one thing. Great! I hopped to that first lily pad. So far so good. Only then do I contemplate the next lily pad. For me, at least, the process will be slow. Others might have to move a little more quickly. But I usually can get away with slow. Slow and steady wins the race.

Do one thing.

Feed the dogs.

Do one thing.

Brush your hair.

A really good thing to do is ask for help. But that’s a hard one. Imagine, though, how good you’ll feel if that’s the one thing you do. But no pressure.

If you have the energy after you’ve done one thing, maybe consider writing that thing down and then crossing it out. That might be another thing to do. It’s up to you.

Be gentle with yourself, dear reader. Simplify. Remember that hopping from one lily pad to the next is progress. It may not seem like a big deal to those who are observing from the shoreline, but, believe me, I know. It’s huge.

If you’re lucky, and you’ve allowed yourself to just focus on the next lily pad of the moment, eventually you’ll look up in surprise and realize you’ve reached the opposite shore. You’ll have reason to rejoice. You did it.

Even if you suspect there may be other ponds of depression in your future, you now know that you can do this. Hopefully that will make those ponds seem a tiny bit smaller and a little less overwhelming. So hold on to that list of yours, as tightly as you can. Even that is a start.

Do one thing.

If you’re having thoughts of self-harm, dear reader, I hope that the one thing you do will be to click on this link for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, because you matter. You really do. I promise.

First Post of the Year: We’ve Got This.

Change happens.

Happy 2022, everybody!

Well, here’s hoping, anyway. I can’t shake the feeling that there will be more drastic changes this year, globally, politically, environmentally, and pandemically. I suspect yours truly will be hard-pressed to keep up with those changes in this forum, but I promise to do my best to shower you with my usual quirky and unsolicited opinions.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I haven’t in decades. My failure rate is too high, and there’s no sense setting myself up for said failure right out of the calendrical gate. And this year will be unpredictable, so it’s a lot harder to make any sort of a plan to reach any sort of a goal.

Frankly, most of the time these days I’m just sitting around feeling nostalgic about those kinder, gentler times when I could give out free hugs to strangers. Those days are gone. So maybe my goal should be to see everyone as germ vectors, yes, but choose to like them anyway. I think that may still be achievable.

On the day I post this, Dear Husband and I should have been driving home from a romantic mini-break in Victoria, Canada. But we decided to cancel, because there’s no predicting if the borders will remain open, there’s no predicting how bad this Omicron variant will get, and one of our dogs is displaying some worrisome but vague health changes. None of us are getting any younger. So we chose to do the responsible thing and mini-break in place. We weren’t expecting that. But, you know, change happens.

I think many of us have a gut instinct to fear change. That stands to reason. Knowing what the heck was going on was critical for the survival of our cavewomen ancestors. Their ability to predict is what has allowed us all to be here. I’m sure that instinct to desire predictability was passed right along to us. Now we’re having to squelch that fear of change in exchange for a heaping helping of flexibility, and some of us are better at that than others.

But I’m feeling optimistic today, and looking back on the past couple of years it’s very evident that we’ve all been through a lot. Change has come at us at a furious rate. And yet, here we are. We’ve made it this far. It may not have been pretty, but we did it. And I suspect that will be the case this year, too, as long as this pandemic is taken seriously.

I suspect that there will be many times this year when I’m tempted to post just one sentence: “I’ve got nothing.” Coming up with topics for this blog is a constant challenge, especially when all travel plans and new experiences seem to teeter on the edge of cancellation. But as I said up above, I’ll do my best.

When all is said and done, that’s really the most any of us can do, isn’t it? I believe that the majority of us are really doing the best that we can under these difficult circumstances, and because of that, I choose to continue to have faith in us. We’ve got this. Just you wait and see.

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Reverse Engineering Your Life

Three cheers for utter devastation!

They say that the top five stressors in life are:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Moving
  • Major illness or injury
  • Job loss

Thanks to this freakin’ pandemic, along with life in general, many of us are experiencing several of these stressors at once. It can be devastating. It’s a fragile time, and an all-time low. Under the circumstances, you can’t be blamed for feeling like a starfish that has been washed up onto dry land.

If the hits just keep on coming for you, it’s important for you to understand that you’re quite likely in a state of mourning. You are grieving the life you once had that has been ripped out of your hands. It’s perfectly natural to be upset, depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and afraid, by turns, or all at once.

Be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself as though you’ve just come out of major surgery. Give yourself time to heal and breathe. Let yourself feel all the different emotions. There’s no shame in that. It will take time to regain your bearings.

But once your feet are back up under you and you have a renewed sense of the compass points of your life, dare I say it? You have a unique opportunity. Yeah, I know. Hard to believe. But hear me out.

Your life has been stripped down in such a way that you are practically reborn, and yet you’re no baby. You are a capable, imaginative, creative creature who has just been stripped of its shell and perhaps everything that you’ve held dear up to this point. You are naked and vulnerable in the world, but you still have your brain and your character and your life experience. No one can take that away from you.

That vulnerable state also means you have more options than you ever have had in your life. And options equal opportunity! Even though you might be feeling like you’re at the bottom of a blast crater, you can now rebuild your life any way you want. You are at the foundation. You can build something amazing out of that crater. The land has already been cleared for you.

Believe me, I speak from experience. In 2014, I had hit rock bottom. Someone I loved more than life itself died quite unexpectedly. I also had just gotten my third college degree and was realizing that, like the other two, it was completely worthless in terms of starting me on a career path. I had a job that I knew would not be able to sustain me financially moving forward, and I had been kicked out of my apartment and had no idea where to go. The few days I experienced homelessness was enough to make me understand how I didn’t want my life to be. I had nothing left but the ringing in my ears after the explosion that was my life.

But that’s when I had an epiphany. (Don’t you just love a good epiphany?)

If ever I was to have the life I wanted, I needed to start now. Rather than scrambling through life, desperately clutching at whatever handholds came my way to get me out of this pit, I needed to reverse engineer everything, and I mean everything, about the way I chose to live.

I needed to think deeply about what it is that I truly wanted out of life, and then position myself to achieve those goals. I thought about where I wanted to live. (A liberal place, definitely not Florida). I thought about what I wanted to do. (Be in a stable, healthy relationship and build a solid home base from which to travel. I thought about what that would look like in detail.)

Your goals might be very different from mine, but one of my major realizations was that my job should not be my life. My job should be what allows me to live my life. I didn’t want a job that made me so miserable that that feeling bled into my off hours. If I was miserable, how would I be attractive to a healthy and positive life partner? I wanted a job that sustained me financially, but I also wanted one that I didn’t have to bring home with me. I wanted time to explore and have adventures and read books and focus on the people I love. I wanted time to write. I wanted to be able to turn off my phone whenever desired, without consequences.

I needed to do several things. First of all, I had to stop settling for the crap jobs that continued to put me in the waiting room of life. Waiting for change and not being the change was getting me nowhere.

I also needed to break free of toxic people. If I wanted to have a good life, I needed to be surrounded by good people, and those people would never present themselves if they had to swim through a sea of poisonous drama to get to me. I needed to put myself in places where I was most likely to meet the kind of good people I want in my life. That process was an emotional spring cleaning of sorts, and it wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

But most of all, I had to take chances. I needed to have a clear vision of what I wanted, and I needed to say no to negative things and break old destructive habits, and say yes to opportunities. I needed to move. And now was my chance, because I basically had nothing and no one. While traveling through life without baggage can be scary, it can also be liberating.

If you’re at ground zero, down there amongst the smoke and rubble, there’s nowhere to go but up. This may seem counterintuitive, but I’m telling you to stay in that crater for a bit. Take some time to carefully plot out your course so that when you reach the rim of that crater, what you’re looking out at is exactly what you want to see.

I’m not saying that my path from 2014 was easy, but it was carefully plotted out. I now live in liberal Seattle, have a job I love that I don’t have to think about after the shift is over, I’m happily married, and life is good. For the first time in my life I feel as though I’m exactly where I need to be, and it took total effing devastation to get me there.

I never thought I’d say this, but three cheers for devastation, and a hearty thank you.

It can be done. Don’t just let life happen to you. Make it happen. There will be better days. But take some time to figure out what a better day would look like for you, and only then go there, step by step.

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Vacation Anticipation

The planning part of travel is almost as good as the real thing.

I have a love/hate relationship with travel. It’s my reason for being, but just as in the rest of life, it has its annoying bits, too. To date, the good far outweighs the bad.

I really hate packing for a trip. That’s why I came up with a master pack list, which I update as needed, and then modify for the trip in question. No need for winter coats on that trip to Hawaii, after all. Oddly, this list also helps me avoid over packing, because I don’t overdo it for fear that I’m forgetting something important.

I also hate the stress-of-getting-to-your-destination part if I’m flying by plane or have to arrive at my hotel before they close, and so on. I don’t breathe easy until I’m in my room, and all my luggage has arrived with me. Then, let the fun begin! (That’s why road trips can be awesome, because you know you’ve got your stuff and nobody will lose it, and the journey is part of the fun.)

Naturally, I adore the actual being-there-and-experiencing-things part of travel. But I also love planning a trip with someone who is willing to actively participate in that part. I like deciding where we’ll go, and when, and what we’ll do. I like reading up on the region to find out what to see. I like learning its history, and if needed, it’s fun to have a rudimentary command of the language. I like watching movies about the area. I like reading guidebooks and deciding which places to stay.

I also find that the more homework you do on the front end, the smoother the trip will be. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting home from a trip and discovering that you had been really close to something amazing without realizing it. I see that as an epic fail.

I’m very lucky in that I now have a travel partner who enjoys the planning as much as I do. We both make an effort to include things that the other person is interested in. (More often than not we are into the same things, so that makes it easy.) He’s also as willing to try new food and have new adventures as I am. I don’t ever feel as if I’m dragging him along against his will, or that the burden of trip planning falls solely on my shoulders, so that makes it fun, even before the actual fun kicks in.

Don’t deprive yourself of the planning part of travel! It’s almost as good as the real thing. And then, of course, there’s coming home and blogging about it…

Frank-N-Furter knew what he was talking about.

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Prolepsis

Yes, we can. I can see it.

I learned a new word today. Prolepsis is seeing the reality you’d like to have in the world. It’s anticipating. It’s a Greek word that means, literally, “a taking beforehand”.

Debaters use it to address rebuttals that haven’t happened yet. “I know you’ll say this, but…”

People use it to budget and plan for the future.

Writers use it to flash forward.

I don’t consider myself a particularly optimistic person. I see optimism as magical thinking. Optimists seem to have to overlook certain starker realities in order to maintain their worldview. To me, the difference between optimism and prolepsis is that optimists assume that the future is going to be full of rainbows and unicorns, but they do nothing to make it so.

On the other hand, prolepsis is more about having that vision, and then working toward bringing it about. I envision a world where we use a lot more green energy and the environment is all the better for it. But I don’t think it’s just automatically going to occur. A lot of scientists have to come up with ways to make this happen, and the stupid politicians will then have to be convinced that it’s more important than getting money from the fossil fuel lobby. (Vote!)

Prolepsis is all about being the change you want to see in the world. One of my favorite dear readers (Hi, Lyn!) once said, “What we don’t change, we choose.”

I couldn’t agree more. But making different choices to make a change, in many cases, has to do with anticipating the consequences of those choices. And that type of forward thinking is impossible if you don’t make room for a little prolepsis.

Practice prolepsis every chance you get. Don’t get caught up in the Trumpian negativity. Don’t think that the world is going to go to sh** if we don’t build walls and fear everything that is different from ourselves. Instead, think, “Yes, we can.” And then imagine what that would look like. And then do something to make it happen.

Let’s imagine that door, and then pave the long and winding road that will lead to it. Make the world a gift we want to receive. Onward!

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Listening to the Yes

Live the yes.

It’s so easy to take shortcuts in life. Frozen vegetables. Fast food. The elevator instead of the stairs. The less than optimal and yet oh-so-convenient partner.

While these things may save time and effort, in the long run, or in the grander scheme of things, they aren’t the best choices. My inner voice tries to tell me this all the time. I’ve just gotten too used to ignoring that voice over the years. But it’s still there.

I know that when my husband and I prepare a delicious meal from scratch, with a variety of fresh vegetables, I can hear my inner voice saying, “Yes!” When I exert myself to the point that I know I’ll sleep well that night, it says, “Yes, yes! Oh, yes!” When I stand up for myself and don’t accept rude treatment, “YES!!!!”

I need to get back into the habit of listening to the yes. Even better, I need to do things in anticipation thereof. I need to encourage the yes. Live the yes. Be the yes I want to see in the world.

Why is that so hard sometimes?

Yes

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Cannonball!

If you’ve managed to go through life without having made a really big splash in a swimming pool, then I respectfully suggest that you haven’t lived. Sometimes you just have to go for it. Put yourself out there. Cowabunga!

Not that there’s anything wrong with being cautious. Stick your toe in. Test the waters. Make sure there are no sharks. I get that instinct, too. I just tend to be a cannonballer, myself. Even more so, the older I get. If I don’t jump right in, I just might chicken out.

I suggested to someone recently that he and I are at the opposite ends of the cannonball spectrum. He’s very much a toe-dipper. I didn’t intend that to be a criticism. His caution is probably why he’s more successful than I am. But apparently he took that on board and the next day, told me that he loved me for the first time. (I was over the moon!)

I guess there’s a time and a place for both philosophies. For example, even I wouldn’t jump into a pond if I wasn’t absolutely sure of its depth, or of what might be beneath the murky surface, aiming jaggedly at my highly perforable flesh. It really is important to use your head.

But without risk, there’s no reward, right? Leading a healthy life means finding that happy medium. So, yes, look before you leap, but leap!

cannon ball splash

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Predictions

The day I wrote this, it was a sunny Saturday here in Seattle. It was probably one of the last ones we’ll have until May. And yet, all shift long I hadn’t had a single request to open my drawbridge. Not one sailboat. I could have phoned it in. If I had a boat and the day off, I’d have been out there! Where was everybody?

I’ve long since given up trying to predict how busy my work day will be. Sometimes it’s cold, rainy, and raw, and the sailboats are out in force, demanding bridge openings every 10 minutes. And that could be on a Wednesday. Go figure.

Anyone who followed the last presidential election can tell you what a monumental waste of time predictions can be. Polls? No one ever asks my opinion. And yet, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to guess the future.

It’s only natural to want to know where you’re going to land when you jump into an abyss. Looking before you leap only makes sense. And if we were all forced to face up to the fact that, for the most part, we are fumbling in the dark, the world would be a scary place indeed. I totally get why people are comforted by the concept of a higher power.

But I often wonder how much time is wasted anticipating things that never come to pass. Worrying. Agonizing. Wondering. Altering one’s behavior based on… what, exactly?

Not that I’m different than anyone else in these situations. I’m not some enlightened being who lives in the now. I wish I were. The fact is, I grew up in such an unpredictable atmosphere that I learned to plan ahead to an almost obsessive degree just so I could survive.

I have no solutions. But I feel the need to point out that perhaps we are all so focused on what we see through our figurative binoculars that we are missing those wonderful people, places, and things that are right under our noses. Don’t forget to pause and look about you every now and then. Beauty is in the present tense.

binoculars

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Faith Ain’t Reality

I admire people who have faith. Religious faith in particular is a quality that seems to have eluded me most of my life. I would truly love to be able to let go and let God, as the saying goes.

It has to be comforting to think that there’s a higher power who has ultimate control. It must be liberating to not have to think you are the primary decision-maker in your own life, that the buck doesn’t stop here after all, that some cosmic being is on your side, and therefore a large amount of the responsibility belongs to someone or something else. It would be so nice to guess that your fate has already been mapped out for you. That there’s a plan. What a weight would be lifted from my shoulders! I’d also love to think that prayer could solve my problems.

I just can’t do it. I like facts. I want evidence. Proof. Otherwise, how is it different from believing in unicorns?

I wish there were unicorns. I’d love to see a unicorn. I’d love to live in a world where unicorns wandered the streets. But I live in the real world.

Here’s what gives me comfort: we’ve learned so much about the universe and how it works that it becomes increasingly easy to not rely on the great unknown to answer the decreasing number of unanswerable questions. We know what causes eclipses these days. Nothing is devouring the sun.

Now, the trick is to maintain a moral compass when you technically don’t answer to anyone other than yourself. Perhaps that’s the kind of faith I need to nurture: the concept that humans have the maturity to be capable of morality without oversight.

Wish me luck.

unicorn

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When Things Fall Into Place

For me, there is nothing quite as satisfying as those brief, random moments when the chaos that usually swirls about me suddenly becomes a comprehensible, stable, solid whole. Maybe it’s because I’m a worrier and a planner, but that “All’s Right with the World” feeling often eludes me. That makes it all the more precious when it does stop by for a short visit.

For example, during this whole home buying and moving process, I’ve had a to-do list that’s 12 pages long. I’ve often woken up in the middle of the night, thinking of something important to add to it. If I don’t sit up, turn on the light and write that thing down, I’ll lie awake and go over it in my mind for hours. I’ve taken to leaving my to-do list on my night stand. If you want to see me absolutely wig out (and trust me, you don’t), just hide that list.

My stress level spikes around those to-do items that require me to rely on other people. Is it a West Coast thing? No one around here seems to be the least bit dependable. That drives me up a wall. If my friends need me, or I’ve made a professional obligation, you can count on me to follow through. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it, unless I’m dying. How hard is that? Apparently it’s pretty freakin’ hard if you are anywhere near the Pacific Ocean. Go figure.

But every now and again, all the puzzle pieces seem to fall into place. People show up on time and do what you so desperately need them to do. And maybe a little extra. “Oh, you’re trying to get rid of a washing machine? I’ll be happy to take it off your hands, too!” “Need some extra money? Well, here’s some overtime!” “Sure! I’m available to clean your carpet on the only possible day you have available for me to clean your carpet!”

I love that feeling of weight being lifted off my shoulders. At times like those, I can breathe. I never realize I’m holding my breath, but apparently I do it quite a bit. But then, all of a sudden, whoosh! Oxygen to the system! It rarely lasts long, and those moments are always unexpected, but I’ll take ‘em!

weight-of-the-world-america

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