Feeling

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At Home

When the hubster and I were traveling this summer, and any time, really, over the last few years, we have felt at home. We arrive, despite perhaps being travel weary and discombobulated from hours of flight or driving, and are at peace. We are here. This wondrous place is for us. For now, for however long we stay. Whether it be new or a comfortable, oft-visited destination, there is an air of the familiar. A warmth that embraces us, no matter the weather nor the language or custom of the inhabitants.

I think that is why we aren’t afraid to part from Portland. Though we will miss this skyline, and these most fabulous friends, Pittsburgh is already home. There is a well worn path to the supermarket stamped with our names. It meanders along a tree-lined road. We wave at our neighbors and friends, maybe stop to chat. The hubster pets every cat along the way.

It is all we have ever known.

Happy 46th Wedding Anniversary to my Parents!

XOXO

So that post yesterday, maybe you liked it, which would delight me. Maybe you didn’t, maybe because you suffer from depression and want to smash my face for having the audacity say that shit will even work. You know what? Sixteen years ago, I would have been right there with you.

You see, I suffer from depression and have for my whole life. It has taken me to dark and horrid places, including first wanting to kill myself at the ripe old age of eight. I even started, with this blue and yellow jump rope. I wrapped it around my neck and pulled, tight as I could, until I realized I didn’t have the strength to finish and had no idea how to tie a noose. Thank goodness there was no such thing as an internet tutorial back then.

The depression waxed and waned, and the next time I felt suicidal was in high school, which is difficult enough, but I had a LOT of drama at home. The final straw on my fragile camel’s back happened when a “friend” super-glued all of my folders together in the library. In theory it is funny, and I would like to laugh about it, but, even some twenty-five years later, I am overwhelmed with the same feeling I had when it happened. The body remembers. I flipped out and was wise enough to tell my parents I needed counseling. It helped, and I actually felt good for a while.

Most often, my depression manifests itself as a gloomy heaviness and negativity with mind-blowing head aches. What actually led me to discovering that I suffered from it and not something else was a doozy of a head-splitter in my early twenties that lasted two years. My doctor gave me every medication and shot imaginable, but nothing helped. Which made me worry and feel heavier and my head ache more. It was an awful cycle.

I finally saw a neurologist to eliminate the possibility of a brain tumor. My first MRI, and it was scary! The doctor found no tumor but rather matter-of-factly gave me a prescription for anti-depressants and a referral to a psychiatrist. Zing!

She didn’t do a lot to help me, including putting me on lithium (very bad news for my body), save confirm the fact that I was indeed depressed (ah, the DSM IV), and from my history and that of my family, had likely suffered, on and off, since I was a wee sprout.

In some ways, the diagnosis was freeing. I did not have a brain tumor! I was not dying! My head was feeling better! But it did nothing for the heaviness, the inability to escape the couch, bathe, even blink. I remember my eyes burning from staring intently at the wall and me actually telling myself that it would be okay to do it, that it was better than the pain I was feeling. So sometimes I blinked, and sometimes I didn’t, preferring the pain and feeling like I deserved it, for some unknown sin (damned childhood Catholicism).

I should also mention that much of this happened in the first years of my marriage. How about them apples? More reason to extol the virtues of that hubster of mine because he helped me (and continues to do so) in ways beyond measure and tolerated a shit storm of wicked behavior on my part.

After giving up on my first psychiatrist, my neighbor, Judy, who also suffered from depression, recommended that I get a counselor and a psychiatrist; one for talking, the other for prescribing. “Because psychiatrists are lousy with feelings.”  My counselor’s name was Nancy, plump and pretty, with a sweet voice. I did not like her. She told me things like, “Take a bubble bath!” and “Make a list of what makes you happy!” Maybe like you yesterday, all I wanted to do was smash her face. She had not one fucking clue. So I stopped seeing her, stuck with my new psychiatrist, and coped as best I could.

I finally knew what was happening and had my meds. They had some wretched side effects, like hair loss, seeing stars all the time, and being dizzy while lying down. But, at least I wasn’t suicidal and my head didn’t hurt like it had before, though I still got migraines from time to time.

Then we moved to Oregon, I found a new doctor, and my life began to change. I asked him to renew my meds, and he suggested otherwise. I listened (and have not taken medication since). He had other suggestions, too, like lying to myself. “I don’t feel so bad.” “I can do this.” “It’s okay.” “That animal is not dead but, rather, sleeping.” He suggested exercising more, too, and I did.

That’s when I found yoga. And as much as this will sound like treacle to some, it changed my life. That first class was the first time I didn’t hear all the voices in my head telling me how worthless I was. Oh, gosh, I guess I forgot to mention that, the inner critic. Well, mine, like the amp in Spinal Tap, went to eleven. So imagine that, from eleven to quiet! And it helped with the pain of my endometriosis, too. I found my holy grail! Praise be to everything stretchy and bendy!

After that, yesterday’s list started to take shape. I read books and searched my soul. I saw another counselor. Flash forward to today. I now practice yoga at least five times a week. I walk. I dance. I lie to myself. I do everything on that list and more. So, sorry Nancy, maybe you did have a clue.

And, yet. I still get depressed and even suicidal, for though my nature is happy, my chemistry is not. I recently discovered that I have a genetic mutation that predisposes me to this, but I will tell you about that later. The fact is, I choose happiness (people hate that one, too), every single day, and work my ass off to keep the claws of depression from digging too deeply, from swallowing me whole.

I am middle aged. Forty-two. The hubster and I have been together for twenty-two years. And this very evening, this boyish utterance, in a half-awake state, “I was dreaming about bananas,” though sweet and funny, was hardly a surprise. There aren’t any surprises left. I have seen all of his cards. They are lovely and fine and worn at the edges. Beautiful, even.

This is not about me wanting to be with someone else. The hubster is everything I love in a person, everything, and me being with another would look an awful lot like me with him, because I am not keen on that other jazz. I had a friend who was obsessed with dating a bad boy. Her ex, who was not kind, terribly insecure, and cheated on her, apparently was not bad enough. I dated plenty of them as a young person, men who were unkindly about my appearance or casually told me they spent the night with other women as if they were talking to a wall and not a real-live person with feelings. It was awful, and I hated it.

I just get a little terrified when I think that if we live to be ninety, we will be together for seventy-one years. This is a long time by human standards and sometimes discomforting to think how much more worn those cards will be, down to gossamer and still no surprises. I kind of like surprises, novelty. It is why I watch so many movies (recommendations coming soon!) and know so many restaurants in town. We ate there six months ago. It’s just too soon!

Then I read Mindy Kaling’s book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, and she kind of rails against married couples talking about how hard it is. But it is! The hubster will never be as detail oriented or questioning or interested in home improvement projects as I am. I will never be as tolerant as he is or love discussing software design. It took me eight hours to update the look of my blog (Did you notice? Century Gothic rocks!), and I was nearly insane with irritation. He does this kind of thing for a living, every single day.

There is no map for this territory. People get married and stay married and don’t really talk about the day-to-day, the boredom, the irritation. Why people take up hobbies and have separate vacations, I suppose. Sometimes marriage is wildly difficult, and I wonder if I am insane to do it. But most days I know I am one lucky gal, plodding along in my peculiar way with the finest human I have ever known and think, seventy-one years is nothing, really.

 

Running

My mind’s a wanderer this morning, running a zig-zag track to an unknown destination, obscured and isolated in the scrim of distance. I keep thinking about the boy who died at the Marathon on Monday, the word “peace” scribed in his learner’s hand, the face that said, “I am kind, gentle, heart-full.” And my friend Jon, who ran Boston in years past, my heart jittery with worry that he was there, that his swift limbs might be among the many obliterated in those harrowing milliseconds of abject cruelty. I and we were lucky, he did not run this year, but someone else’s Jon did, and my heart is filled with agony and hope and prayer for a lissome recovery of mind, body, and spirit.

I used to feel grateful, safe in a bubble of security. Then the outside world turned up the volume, and I couldn’t help but hear it.  People were shot pumping gas, murdered in their place of work. The hubster had a gun drawn on him just across the street, our car got stolen, and myriad neighbors  had their homes ransacked by thieves. No one is safe from the world. Accidents and incidents happen; aeroplanes fall from the sky; guns are fired; grocery stores are robbed; slurs are uttered; women, men, and children are harmed in every manner we can conjure.

I trip and stumble, dumbfounded at the wickedness. I cry hot tears. I hug my knees and rock away the pain. But I do not let it deter me from the love I am wont to share, from moving about in the world, from seeing the blue of the sky and green of the grass, from smiling and uttering hello, from being kind or trusting in the good nature of most. That I cannot abide.

Sunrise

This weekend, while sewing away on a quilt, I listened to Pema Chodron. It is something I like to do, a sort of movement meditation, my fingers cutting, pinning, and stitching her words into my very own mental quilt. One that will warm, comfort, and protect. Something beautiful and flawed, too.

She was talking about a time in her life where she felt a kind of anxiety and terror without a storyline, and no matter what she did or thought, it stayed with her, this heavy presence. Then she spoke to her teacher about it, and he came to recognize it as the Dakini Bliss, where it had seemed like such a burden to Pema. She made it bad, and upon the realization and her desire to actually sit with it and feel it as bliss, it went away.

I have had a similar anxiety for the past few weeks, also without a storyline, also something that I have demonized. Then I heard Pema’s words and realized that it doesn’t have to be a burden or an indication of yet another of my failings. What if I allow myself to be curious, lean into it, as Pema says, not label it, and see what happens? What if I just let it be and not relinquish my power and self esteem to it? What if I let it be bliss?

At that moment something opened in me, and I laughed, an exquisite rain of gratitude falling over me, tender and warm. I’m okay and whatever I am feeling is, too. It might even be bliss!

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