Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Let there be white

I am taking my latest automotive acquisition as a good indication that treatment is working. Actually, this was a lease and, before I sound like I regularly swan out and pick up brand-spanking-new cars, I have to point out that the last time I bought a car I was under 30. That's right, I have been driving my loyal, dependable, though currently dented and filthy Acura for -- deep sigh -- 17 years. Before that, I drove a used Volvo station wagon for years. (It barely made it onto the lot for the trade-in for the Acura.) Automotive planned obsolescence has never been a personally held belief for me.

Still, as many of my exasperated friends and family members can tell you, I have talked a good game in terms car acquisition. Since before my son was born, I have been threatening to buy a new car. Through wrestling his baby carrier into the back seat of my two-door, I have been telling people I'd get a 4-door. Through hauling bushes home in the hatchback, I've been swearing I'd buy a pickup. After adopting a big (often muddy) dog -- and then another -- I mused about switching "up" to a bare bones van, something I could hose down quickly. In the end, my impractical Acura has hauled everything from heavy sheets of stained glass to bicycles to babies (a la three carseats wedged in the back with bottles and Cheerios a-flyin').

And now I've done it. I have gotten a new car. Today, I am stylin' in my ride -- a hybrid Toyota Highlander -- bigger than I had wanted, but quiet and confortable and a hybrid, which I have wanted for years. My son cheered and danced on the sidewalk when I showed up to the winter dance at his school to pick him up in our snowy chariot.
He was even happier when I explained that I had leased the new car for three years.

"You mean you have to get a new one then?" he asked. Yes, I nodded.
"Good, mom!" he huffed, climbing up into the car. "No more old, cruddy cars."

I smiled, but a in a bittersweet way; it's hard to give up what might be my last, best habit in hippie economy.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Blackness

You are worthless.
No one likes you.
You husband can barely stand to listen to you.
He’ll find some thin, pretty, political strategist to have an affair with and then leave you for her.
And no one will blame him.
Even your son will like her better.

You are wasting your life.
Everyone else – even the guy pumping gas into your car right now – has more goals and chutzpah than you.
You are so lazy, you aren’t even pumping your own gas.

You should be ashamed of yourself.
It’s only a matter of time before you will become completely invisible.
Nothing left.
No evidence that you were ever here.
Nothing of value will you leave behind.

And that will be a relief to everyone who has to put up with you.

Why can’t you talk better, look better, do better?
You had every advantage, and now look at you.

You will never be happy again.
You don’t deserve it.

This was my morning meditation when I was depressed.

It would begin as soon as I woke in the morning and then repeat itself, on a kind of malevolent tape loop, carping on in the background, for the rest of the day. By 11:00 in the morning, I was slouching through the black fog of this incantation, just putting one foot in front of the other. By 2:00 in the afternoon, I wasn’t talking very much. I was just trying to stay focused on keeping on doing the tasks and steps of my day, pushing through these terrible thoughts like I was wading through mud. By 6:00 at night, it was all I could do to get through dinner and get my son to bed. Then I would curl up under the thick, warm afghan on the sofa in my office, the one I knitted (despite my lack of industry!) years ago. I would pray for sleep, not because I was tired, but rather just so I would not have to listen to such horrible things about myself.

I wrote this down one day in December, and reading it today, I can hardly believe that I ever felt this way about myself. I’m glad that I don’t anymore, nor would I ever want to again.

And yet I know I might just feel just this way again. I am watching for clues. Snippets of self-deprecation that pop up. A tendency to dwell on possible disaster. There is a new part of me that watches, like a sheep dog, for any wolves prowling around the edges that might make off with my best sheep.

I suppose if this experience has taught me anything, it is that the best parts of me are worth protecting. And that joy -- in all its golden and playful forms -- is just as much an ability to practice and develop as it is a happy circumstance.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Should I stay or should I go?

I couldn’t make decisions when I was depressed. Should I write this memo? Work on the first chapter of the book? Or the last? Should I pay the bills now or finish mulching the garden? Should I go shopping or cook dinner? It was as though all the tasks of my life had a constantly revolving and capricious importance in relation to each other. The only problem was this: As soon as I started on one thing, I became quite certain that I should be doing the other.

“Ah, Jeez,” Agnes moaned as soon as I cranked up my laptop. “I can’t believe that you think this is how you should be spending your time. Go get a regular job. Tom's not going to carry you forever.”

I opened up the draft of an article I had started working on the week before. At the time, it had seemed to flow and even most of the research had fit together easily. This week, according to Agnes, it was drivel.

“The time for that article is dead and gone,” Agnes said emphatically. “You should be working on this. The rest is just shoveling shit onto a page.” She pointed her bony finger at another, completely different article outline. I felt all the enthusiasm I had come to my desk with drizzle away into a fine, invisible mist.

Some days, heading out to meetings, to the gym, shopping, or for whatever else was on my schedule for the day, I would quite literally change direction two or three times. I might be suited up for a workout, but turn around and come home, convinced that I couldn’t waste my time on exercise. I'd call from my cellphone and cancel the meeting. Work was more important. Other days, the quandary of “what comes first” was so overwhelming that I didn’t do anything at all. And those days were the worst, because then I would fall behind and feel guilty and even more self-loathsome.

“Sometimes I think all you do is drive around all day,” my husband blasted at me one night. He couldn’t figure out why I couldn't finish a seemingly simple list of home-related tasks. I didn’t blame him; I couldn’t figure it out either.

This inability to make decisions also made me engage in a long string of unrelated life decisions that would be better categorized as swell ideas. I began to reformulate my life and work in ways that most people pick up woodworking or macrame --- as hobbies.

“I think I’m going to take that job at the knitting store,” I told my husband one night over dinner. “They only pay $9.00 an hour, but I could learn a lot more about knitting and then maybe start teaching some classes.” I noticed how carefully my husband put his knife down on his plate.

“I thought you were a writer,” he reminded me quietly. “Aren’t you writing a book?”

“Well, yes,” I explained. “I would still do that in the early morning, but I’d work in the store after that.”

“That’s right,” Agnes concurred, surprisingly supportive. “You should really do something that requires a lot less brain power. You really don’t have much to say anyway. Why impose yourself so much on others?”

“I never knew you had this burning desire to knit,” he pointed out.

“I didn’t either,” I admitted. And as soon as I did, some small part of me sat up and took critical notice – and action.

I called a friend of mine the next day who has – through wisdom, good psychiatric care, and sheer courage – whupped down on her own bipolar dragons to a point where she is one of the most well-balanced, successful people I know.

“When you are depressed a lot of hooey will start to look good,” she explained, relying on her clinical knowledge. “It’s a ‘one week I’ll be an electrical engineer and the next I’m going to palm reading school’ kind of thing. Don’t make any decisions for a while. Stay on your usual schedule.” I promised I would. She didn’t buy it.

“And when you think you will start driving trucks next Thursday, call me first.”

Now that I am on the anti-depression program (mentioned in previous post), one of the first things to amaze me is how easily I can make decisions. This morning I dredged up a “problem chapter” from my book – one that had seemed to suffer from the same inability to decide where it was going as I had. After an hour, paragraphs were fitting into place, dead end sections were cut, and I added a different ending that worked. After another hour I paused. I braced myself for Agnes, telling me I was back to my old, worthless shenanigans. The only sound I heard was my old, black dog rolling over on the sofa across the room. He let out one satisfied sigh and went back to sleep.

Just the metaphor alone was good for a laugh.

Friday, February 2, 2007

It spoke to me

Don’t get me wrong: It wasn’t a voice like someone calling you from across the room. It was more like my conscience, turned up a few notches with a mental tone of voice that sounded someplace on a self-critical scale between my mother’s voice (very annoyed about all those daffodils I had pulled up from her garden for my 7 year old tea party) and Susie Schafer's (the girl with the perfect curled blonde pony tails who ruled 5th grade like Tito sat on the former Yugoslavia – and I was not Serb.) It was a voice that, as time went on, could sustain itself with a constant, even pressure, from the moment I woke up until I squeezed my eyes shut hard against it to sleep at night. In a last ditch effort of self-protection, I decided to call it “Agnes,” derivation agony.

“Honestly, what makes you think that is enough food,” she snapped at me. I was ladling my famous sweet potatoes into a bowl for Christmas dinner. Across the room, my father-in-law was extolling the virtues of my Cornish hen in red wine reduction. It was joyously releasing its garlic and rosemary bouquet throughout the room.

“Are you sure those are done?” Agnes growled. “You know, undercooked meat is the leading source of E-coli.”

“Shut up, Agnes,” I growled back at her.

“What?” said my husband, sidling by the stove to get an early nab at the sautéed portabellos. He popped one in his mouth and made a sound that came close to ones that had helped make our son, 10 years earlier. “Mmmm, you know, I am so happy you decided to make this an Italian Christmas dinner.”

“He’s just saying that,” quipped Agnes. “He’s probably thinking he’d rather be out getting sushi tonight. Why don’t you know how to make sushi yet?”

“Thanks, honey,” I sighed. “Can you take those to the table?”

For whatever reason, Agnes gave up on my cooking after that. Apparently, my culinary confidence was, in the end, my last and strongest defense against her. I held onto this with both hands, but after a month I could also hold on to more and more of my body with two hands, too. Fifteen pounds later, I decided to go to the doctor.

Actually, first I went to my Reiki master. Reiki is an ancient practice of laying on of hands. My Reiki master, Luann, is a world-class mover of energy. I’m not sure how it works, but it works well enough that I always schedule an appointment with her for after the holidays, when anyone needs some emotional housecleaning. Reiki works on your feelings and spirit; thought and intellect must be shut off in order to do it right.

“Yup,” she said after our session, “you are pretty black in there.” She went down the hall to have a quickie consult with my doctor, Barbara. They prescribed various supplements and scheduled me back in for an appointment in 3 days. Just receiving such an immediate, helpful, and accepting response from them seemed to make Agnes’ voice a bit less commanding and a lot more whiny.

Enter Agnes

This past holiday season I was laid down, sucker-punched, bled dry by depression. Though like all good Celts (50% here), I have been gripped by the odd phase of melancholia, this was different. This was out to get me. I have always had a measure of superior-minded disdain for people who suffer from depression. I mean really, why can't they just think positively? It was not until I had experienced my own heart-numbing brand of it, that I really understood and could feel a fuller sense of empathy for those people who share in this bleak dance.

Now that my bloodstream courses with cupfuls of fish oil, daily Same-E and B-vitamins, I find myself standing in the light again. Still, I'd like to clear all the corners, throw salt into them, and air out any remaining stale, dark drawers. So, I've decided to write about my depression here.

For the sake of clarity, I have named her Agnes --- derivation agony.