Happiness Descending

colt3.FullSizeRender-3He wouldn’t give me the money. I had a gun on him and my calm must have told him I knew how to use it, but he didn’t care. “I’ve been feeling like it’s time to die lately, anyway,” he said. “So shoot me. You’ll be doing me a favor.”

I lowered the gun. I hadn’t planned on killing anyone other than possibly myself that day before I got the bright idea to find some illegal self-medication. I liked nothing more than the way, when I first got high, it felt as if God reached down and lay his hand on my head. Happiness descended through me, swimming in every cell.

The Colt revolver was twice, three times, as old as me. It was heavy. It might be worth something. An antique, once owned by my great-grandfather, a Pinkerton. I didn’t have any bullets for it, but still. I should have checked on eBay.

“I just want to be happy.”

“Happiness,” the bartender’s grunt sounded weary. “You want a drink?” He asked without moving.

“A hundred drinks won’t cover it.”

“Tell me about it,” he said.

That could have meant a couple of things. One: bartenders are paid to listen to sad stories, so he was just doing his job. Two: he understood how a hundred drinks wouldn’t lift the blackness. I bet on reason two.

“Call the cops,” I said.

“I already pushed the panic button,” he said. In the silence after his final words, I heard the sirens singing.

“Good,” I said.

The cop car skidded to a stop, someone kicked the door in. As I turned to the noise, I raised the gun toward the voices, thinking that one consolation in life is how you never stop learning, not until the last second, like when you know it’s the end, your ability to hear even the smallest sounds intensifies.

 

Coping with the Holidays

My beloved Granny died on Christmas day many years ago. I remember going to the hospital in the morning, as we were visiting Al’s family later than afternoon. I walked into her room and she wasn’t there. I’d seen the flowers I’d sent out at the nurse’s station, so I had a foreboding feeling, but not trusting my intuition I asked a nurse if she’d gone for tests. Although there were no more tests and we all knew it. Granny was DNR and under hospice care.

Driving home, I wondered why I hadn’t gotten a call from my mom. I told Al I couldn’t face a party and he stayed home with me. We tried calling everyone in my family but nobody was answering phones. We went to my grandparents’ home, where there had been so many wonderful Christmases, and my grandfather answered the door. He looked dazed but stoic. Before we left that day, I had a much better understanding of how far his dementia had gone. Granny had kept that to herself.

Since then Christmas has been hit or miss for me. Some years it’s wonderful and some years it sucks. This year it was more better than bad. I saw all my grandchildren. I saw my kids and my folks. I had trees in Florida and Michigan and Al was with me. He’s had most of the month off, saving all year to have this vacation time together with family. I could not have done any of it without him. My anxiety for whatever reason goes into hyper mode during the holidays. As much as I love them, I can’t navigate them alone near as well as I can with Al handling the tough stuff.

I’m blessed and I know it. But I’ve had awful Christmases alone and with others so I think about those people who may not be doing so great, for whatever reason, this season. I can’t speak to the horror so much of the world has to cope with right now, I can only tell you how I lightened a dreary mood upon my return from Florida. This is something anyone who has a tree, holiday decorations, and ornaments can do. It really helped me and maybe, when you start taking down your wreaths and angels and candles, it will help you too.

A few years ago there was a wildly popular book about the magic of tidying up. That might have been the title. I didn’t read it but I heard about the premise: take each item you own and hold it while feeling the emotion it evokes. Does it bring you joy? Is it useful? Keep it. If it doesn’t, donate it. I did that in a small way with my tree ornaments this year. We didn’t have any on the one in Florida, just lights. Then the kids came and we got two very special ones. I decided I wanted every ornament that went on my tree to give me joy. (Much easier than doing with every possession you own!)

So over the course of two days I whittled my 300 ornaments down to less than a hundred. What I found was that joy didn’t come from expensive ornaments. They didn’t have to be shiny or beautiful. Joy came from remembering who had given me the gift. My granny gave me an ornament one year when I first started teaching. When I held it, just as I held the ornaments from my children and grandchildren, I felt joy.

I donated the rest of the ornaments to Salvation Army in the hope that someone will find joy in all the dazzle that just didn’t spark for me anymore. And that’s my recipe for a little Christmas magic. It doesn’t work half as well if you just put the joyless ornaments in the basement. You need to give them away. Only then will your joy be complete. Until the next disaster. We all have them. But this year, I hope your burdens are light and your joy shines.

Coming Out of the Cold Dark Cave

I woke up this morning and nothing hurt. Not my heart, not my knee, not my spine, not my belly with its girdle of barbed wire. True, I’d only had six hours of sleep, but I’ll take it. Nothing hurts. All is well. Like a miracle I am me again. And all it took was one year and two gallons of ardent coral paint.

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When you live with situational depression, in my case I had a falling-apart marriage and a too-stressful job, or chronic physical pain that almost comically morphs from torn ACL to fractured bone to shingles to strep throat with all the pills and their side effects in between, and one thing just happens after the next, there comes a point where you accept the pain and learn to live along side it. I don’t want to say I made friends with the pain, but I didn’t try to ditch it every second of every day anymore. I sat with it. I let myself feel it.

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I’m a reader and a meditator, I have tools. First I got a therapist. There’s something about cognitive therapy that feels like unpicking a knotted gold chain. And another thing happens calls transference. Sometimes the patient (that’s me) transfers her anger, pain, distress, or even love onto her therapist. In my case, I transferred my friend-gene. I had lost the ability almost entirely to talk to my friends. Physical sickness does that to me. And I didn’t want to tell anyone about my crumbling marriage, either. So Dr. B became my confidant, she became my best friend and gold knot untangler. Stars did she do a heavenly job.

We were almost done with the mental aspects, and the marriage was looking pretty good, when the physical stuff hit. Dr. B, like any good best friend, stuck with me through that because I needed her to cope with the way the pain wore me down and also all the pills. My aim is to get out of this cold dark cave un-addicted to food, to pills, to wine, to whining. I want nothing less than shining health.

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See that light on top of the room? Al brought that home for me from his travels. It had been his mothers and his father had given it to him. Now Harrison men are not vocal in their appreciation and love, but I knew that Al’s dad didn’t give Al the light for his man cave. And I knew Al didn’t show it to me so I could say it was pretty. I knew it  for the gift it was. Love of a mom no longer with us shining down on my new room where I can write in peace on the other side of a year of pain.

Paint It Black

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Not sure when things started going dark. Knew it was the medication for almost daily migraines since the accident. Knew I didn’t have clinical depression, knew I was lucky, knew I had some stuff to sort out but felt up to the task. It was just … I felt sad. Every day. For maybe a week. The routine became familiar. Mornings, if I slept more than a few hours, I’d wake up hopeful. Start the day feeling serene. But, slowly the slide into sadness would begin and then, more often than not, migraine pain would beat its drum on my head. So, medication, then meditation. If I’d only slept a few hours, I’d nap and wake up feeling better.

Same thing next day. According to Hara Estroff Marano, “the human brain has a negativity bias” — it takes five positive experiences to offset one negative experience. I have always been a positive person, maybe too positive. I’m all about bright sides and silver linings. So I didn’t enjoy my descent into hell, but I knew if I could generate some positive experiences and fit them into my days, my mood would lift. Just a day without a migraine is a win for me. A night when I sleep more than four or five hours is a win. If I exercise, yay me. If I eat right, happiness ensues. If I write that day, and I write every day, I’m good. If class goes well, and it has been, although early days yet, I’m thrilled.

So it was much to my surprise that when I chose a new car, I picked black. Just returning to the dealer only a few months after picking up the Jeepster felt–not good. Telling the salesman what happened was hard. Explaining why I didn’t want to just go ahead and get another Cashmere Pearl Jeepster made me a little defensive. “I feel safe in a smaller car. One that fits my body.” But sitting there, I wavered. It would be easy to say, order me another one, just like the other one.

But I’d thought about it and after ten days of driving a car more my size I still felt, deep inside, more comfortable in something like the 200M my guy showed me. It doesn’t come in Cashmere Pearl, which at first bummed me out as I loved that color. I loved the NAME of that color more than the actual color. So I set about looking for a color that said YES to me. And it was not Red Velvet. It was not Bright Eye Blue. It was not Blinding White. It was Glossy, Shiny, Sinful Black. With buttery leather interior in a light linen color. The car had everything my Jeepster did, plus a panoramic sunroof. Something new!

It might be black on the outside, but there is plenty of light inside. And that’s sort of how I feel about my life right now. Yes, I’m having some dark and shiny issues. But inside I’m filled with light and I know I’m gonna be okay.

Checking Out of the Depression Hotel

blonder.photoSpent the weekend at the Depression Hotel. Beat myself until I was black and blue and did the sort of inner questioning that some people have no patience for, including myself. Becoming more patient is one of those things I am still working on. So when I go there, to the bottom, I am impatient for it to end.

But when me & you are black & blue, we’re paralyzed.

I know why I got depressed. I also know practicing yoga or walking works for me, but moving my body from A (depression) to B (contentment) seems impossible. I’m rooted to the spot like gum stomped to the floor.

Here’s what I know because I’ve lived a long time: depression passes. I do not suffer from clinical depression, just regular old rainy day blues. If you have severe depression lasting for a long time, more than a weekend, you need more help than a blog post, and I hope you seek it, for your own sake. I am not a therapist or a doctor. I’ve just been around awhile.

How I checked out of that damn hotel:

Today, it’s a balmy 48 degrees. The sun is shining and so am I. Sun is key to feeling good. But I started feeling better yesterday as my impatient mind searched for ways to feel better. Called a friend. Wrote some emails to another. Replied to comments on the blog. Thank you! Comments make my day. Al must have seen my state because when he got home from work he sat down and talked to me. About our life, where things are headed, how long we want to stay away from Michigan when we retire, where we might visit, and, inevitably, if you know Al, finances.

Everything is good. The economy, our checking account, the future. All is well. Woke up in better shape just from connecting to other people and having Al reinforce the good in our life. We’re going to California in a week! To see our son and his wife. We’re spending a week on the beach, in a room with a balcony and a view of the Pacific.

cousins.1239005_10201444394727357_372830143_nToday, after talking to another friend on the phone and more through email, I walked. I watched the uplifting video Lisa sent. Then I actually left our rapidly melting igloo.  Soaked in some rays. Saw a cat at the tax office. Which reminded me about who else is in California…Bosco!