The saying, "A rolling stone gathers no moss" is also a saying in Japan. Here it means that you should keep going because you don't want moss to grow on you. In Japan it means the opposite. You want the moss.
When I came home yesterday I stopped to smell our late-blooming dwarf lilacs. When nature isn't making me sneeze I really do enjoy it. Or when it isn't making me too hot. Or too cold. Or it's too buggy. Or rainy. Or cold.
I think that the injunction to take time and smell the roses may be more important than I originally thought. Looking at nature-- taking close-up pictures of flowers-- appreciating beauty does good things to your brain. You gather some moss, maybe. Or the people and the social connections-- are they the moss?
This whole post is sounding like a Zen koan to me. "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." That sort of nonsensical whack to the psyche.
I must go.
Before I figured out that I needed to deal with my under-treated depression I was trying (not very hard) to lose weight. It was not working very well. Because, for some reason, I lacked motivation.
I am obese. This is the clinical term.I have a BMI of 36, which puts me in the obesity class I. I have been sickly thin before (BMI of 16), and for a brief span of years I was at a healthy weight.
I do NOT long to be skinny. Skinny on my big Scandinavian bones comes with a whole set of neurotic behaviors and loss of personality that I have no interest in revisiting. I want to be a healthy weight and I want to get there in a responsible way. While in treatment for my anorexia I realized that every number on the scale comes with a certain lifestyle for me:
At a BMI of 16 I eat as little as possible, am in pain most of the time and don't have time to spend with my friends because I am too busy complying with all the neurotic rules I make up for myself (clothing must be in ROY G. BIV order in closet, no one can touch me, clothing should come in contact with as little of my body as possible...). I am convinced that everyone thinks that I am grotesquely fat and that unless I am hospitalized for being underweight I am not doing this well enough. When I break down and eat "too much" I engage in purging behaviors. Gross.
At a BMI of 36 I don't have time to think about eating healthy-- it's too exhausting. I throw things together at the last minute. I eat in fits and spurts. Sometimes too little, sometimes too much. Often just whatever I feel like eating. Which likely is not a green salad with a light vinaigrette. I don't have much energy or enjoyment in exercise. I pay for weight watchers but I do not go to meetings because I don't want to know what a bad job I am doing. I am using food to self-medicate for mood. Including when I feel bad about how my body looks or the fact that I don't fit into my clothing. Smart, huh?
At a BMI of 22 I am working out every day on a strict schedule. I lift weights. I do yoga. I use the eliptical trainers. I am eating sweets very rarely and have a lot of energy. I am involved in many projects. I sew clothes for myself. I wear a bikini. I do not have time to work even part time and shuttle children around-- it would cut into my exercise and healthy cooking regimen. I attend weight watchers every week. I could give up working or give up children and achieve this lifestyle. Probably not realistic. I'm kind of attached to both.
At a BMI of 25 I work out about 3 times a week. I eat a moderate amount most of the time. I need to track what I am eating periodically, but I am not obsessive about it. I go to weight watchers once a month or so just for a tune-up. I like how my clothes fit on my body. I don't feel self conscious about seeing my relatives or friends who I haven't seen for a long time. I look like a healthy, big-boned, Scandinavian girl.
Right. For me the new concept of a healthy weight isn't just a weight at which I am at lower risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and joint pain. It means the weight that I am naturally when I am healthy.
So focusing on the weight loss while my mental health is in the dumps is backwards. It's like getting stitches for a cut at the doctor's office when you are having a heart attack. Sure you should maybe take care of the laceration, but maybe deal with the more urgent problem first.
Step one: get healthy. Step two: let your body figure out where it wants to be.
The phrase "two steps forward and one step back" makes me think of dance steps.
It's also an image for treatment and recovery that is often used. And not a bad one-- because it removes the pressure of every day being better than the last. However, the fact that it reminds of me of dance is suddenly ominous.
I cannot dance. Really. At all.
As a teenager I was in musical theater and required remedial polka lessons for a show! And I failed at those. Eventually my frustrated director gave up and told me to just skip in a circle. My poor partner had terribly bruised kneecaps. Don't ask me how.
Today (actually yesterday since today is another backdated post) I was exhausted beyond reason. Didn't get enough sleep, and even the long nap I grabbed with daughter didn't help. Fluffy feeling in my head. Kept going around in circles forgetting what I was doing. Late for everything. (Technically on time, but in body only.)
So the dancing got me thinking-- I feel like I am doing the box waltz. One of the only dances I remember learning a long time ago. It looks like this:
Slept late, had a disorganized start to the morning... insert a fantastic time swimming in the outdoor pool at the YMCA with a perfect blue sky and puffy clouds with gloriously happy children... now back to whining.
Spent the afternoon longing for a nap. In the way that Tristan longed for Isolde. So the fact that my daughter did not fall asleep did not make fore a productive few hours.
New camera arrived today (okay, so it's actually a pretty old camera) and it came with everything but the Compact Flash memory card.
So I went to Target where I wandered aimlessly through the aisles with my sleepless toddler saying plaintively: Mama, where are your memories? Don't you have any memory?" People gave me some seriously worried looks.
And here is the kicker: new/old camera only takes pictures when it doesn't have a memory card. It can take pictures but not store them. It has severe short-term memory loss. Unable to encode new memories it exists in a constant state of being in the present... sigh. More trouble-shooting tomorrow before I give up.
I would get a camera with mental health issues.
See, the sun is here today. And I went to Quaker meeting. And I felt amazing watching the sun coming in through the windows and the people I know and love sitting facing one another. Joy was bubbling up. It made me dizzy, like I was looking down on things from a great height.
Son #1 came with me and read for much of the time, but tried meditation for a short time as well. We talked about the power of meditation to change the architecture of the brain.
"In a good way?"
"Hmmm... I guess that must be why I feel so happy after meeting...
I also sang today. Loudly. Then I experimented with Garageband in my basement. It was very fun. I want to play with it some more.
Note: the above picture is being included as photographic art. It was taken one year ago on Father's Day (Happy Father's Day) at Como Conservatory.
P.S. my new secret identity is The Crimson Warbler
Today is rather grey. As much as I dislike summer's heat, I think I rely on the sun to power my mood. More than I think I do.
I should crack out my happy light. I think I will. Now that I am mentioning it. I have no idea if it has any positive effect, but what the heck.
I sort of overdid it on basement clean-up this morning. Not that I did much, but I am out of shape and allergic to cats and it didn't take much to wear me out. I want to get to my boxes and boxes of sewing stuff that is poorly packed in disorganized boxes but I am trying to work through the basement project slowly and methodically.
Those of you who have met me will know that Slowly and Methodically are not two of my favorite methods. Suddenly and Obsessively, though? Yes. They are pals of mine. We hang out all the time. Every night. I keep them in my knitting bag and they come out to play whenever they get the chance.
I had a great time last night with friends at an outdoor performance of La Boheme. Then I found a wood tick crawling on me this morning. Happily it had not yet burrowed in. I was enjoying some time to myself-- the rest of the family is playing video games and napping. The house is quiet. But now it seems too quiet.
This post is sounding all morose to me. And I don't feel morose. I just feel kind of floaty and detached. Grey. So I am going to do the following things: sing, turn on my happy light, drink a glass of water and enjoy the relaxing afternoon.
P.S. tomorrow my digital SLR camera arrives in the mail. I am only a little bit superexcited about this.
Note: I have to find a new superhero alter-ego name for my Superbetter game. The random name generator chose "Rose Monsoon" for me, but then I came across a drag queen who goes by the same name and I want a name that doesn't already belong to someone who dresses more femininely than I do. I like her confidence, but I want my own name...
Last night when I was staying up waaaaay too late (because it was fun and I could really stop working on my crochet puzzle any time) I watched a TED talk by game designer Jane McGonigal. It isn't the most scintillating of the talks, but I really liked the content and where it led me.
McGonigal was a gamer and game developer who developed traumatic brain injury and depression with suicidal ideation following a concussion. She said that for 34 days she lay in bed wanting to die.
Then she decided that she had two options: kill herself, or make a game of getting better. It worked. This led her (through a great deal of research on game design and the human brain) to create a game called Superbetter.
In the game, you set a goal for yourself, come up with an alter-ego, identify "enemies" in the things you are trying to overcome and enlist allies in trusted friends and relatives. You can earn "power-ups" and are sent on quests to help you toward your goal. Here are a few of the "power-ups" available:
I know, you are saying to yourself: but these things are so EASY. True. And kind of the point. Instead of making giant unattainable goals accomplish tiny, totally doable things. They improve your mood and success breeds success.
This is nothing I haven't heard. And the power-ups are not things that are new ideas. What is appealing to me (and many others) is the game format. Because I am a geeky gamer girl. So naturally I am playing Superbetter.
As my alter-ego, the " ," I will Kick Depression's Ass in my first Epic Quest. After that I can choose a new Epic Quest.
Today Depression, tomorrow, who knows?
Mary, mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With single crochets
And double crochets
And chain stitches all in a row.
I am engaging in a deliberately slow start to summer. I did start my evening teaching gig this Tuesday, but that is just fun. Okay, technically you're right. It's work. But I love my work.
The boys start swimming lessons and Summer Blast at the park and rec next week. So next week I will start trekking out to the Y and getting everyone out of their pajamas before noon. But for now I am reveling in lazy, not-too-hot summer days.
I do think that I am feeling better. Yesterday I thought to myself, "Hey, it doesn't feel like someone is squeezing my chest in a giant fist anymore!" This was the first I noticed that I used to feel that someone was squeezing my chest. Not in an asthmatic I-can't-breathe way, but in a super-stressed, waiting-for-something-bad-to-happen way.
We humans have an amazing capacity to adjust to whatever the current "normal" is. Here are a few examples:
I was an undiagnosed asthmatic until I was 23. But I was also a French horn player at conservatory. So I had some potently powerful lungs. I was operating at 40% lung capacity but I felt fine. At least, I thought I felt fine, because that was all I knew. Until my asthma was treated and I realized how much more room there was for air in my lungs. Wow!
A friend of mine had an undiagnosed Chiari malformation until well into adulthood. Often this problem; having a brain too big for your head; is asymptomatic. Hers was not. The progression of her condition included poor balance, extreme fatigue and a number of other neurological and physiological symptoms. She thought maybe she was just lazy after giving birth to three children. Thank goodness they diagnosed her and were able to perform cranial surgery to correct the problem. Too smart for her own good.
Somewhat related is the family story of how I returned from daycare as a young child and said, "Hey mom, Derek didn't hit me today!" Because being hit by this young brute was my normal. Never occurred to me to mention it.
In a more extreme example of this, another friend of mine fled from domestic abuse, but only after she saw the effects on her children. She could pass off the negative effects the relationship had on her as "normal."
Depression can be like that too. You think to yourself: I am pretty sure that I have always felt like this and I will always feel like this. I guess the moral of the story is: thoughtfully examine what your normal is. Be skeptical of the idea that physical and mental symptoms are a result of a character flaw. Don't put up with a bad situation. Get help.
Persistance taken to an extreme cannot be considered a virtue. I guess that is true of most things. Except that pesky moderation. Given the opportunity I am sure I could find a way to take that to the extreme.
Presented for your viewing pleasure is the Irish Rose square that took me at least a week to do. And I am not exaggerating when I say that I reworked the green lacy part sixty times. At least I don't think I am. As I have said before: crochet is soooooo easy.
I watched a TED talk today by Ruby Wax titled "What's so funny about mental illness." It pulled together some of the things I have been thinking about lately. She mentions that when she was hospitalized after having a mental breakdown she didn't get any flowers or cards, just people telling her to "perk up."
I am grateful that I am not surrounded by people who say idiotic things to me. That they don't have the expectation that I will be magically at 100% now that I have realized that I have not been doing well for some time. I am more often the one with unrealistic expectations. As per usual.
I am also glad that I have never had to be hospitalized for mental illness. I don't think a hospital environment would be very conducive to improving the state of my mental health. Isolating. Bad smelling. Fluorescent lights and loud noises all night. Terrible food. And kinda scary.
Here is the next thing I am grateful for: that I live in an age where depression is treatable. Where even if there is some stigma attached there is growing recognition that mental illness is quite common. That it doesn't prey on the weak-minded. That it isn't a sign of being "deep." It isn't a requirement of an artistic temperament. Because I can tell you that when I am DEPRESSED there is no artistic expression going on.
Treatable but not imaginary. A chronic condition that I can live with so long as I am getting the help I need. Not something I can snap myself out of. And if I have to take medication for the rest of my life, then so be it. When I resisted drugs for the first time my doc asked if I would deny insulin to a diabetic. Of course not. So...
I realize that it's only 3:20 but I am calling it: today is a good day. I have felt more like me and less like blaaaaaaahhhhhhh. I successfully did some things without feeling like I must do all things.
I think that having days in the summer where I don't have to run around is going to be a good thing. It should give me some time to catch up with all the regular life things that kind of get away from me when my depression is at its most loomy.
This balance of obligation and enjoyment is a tricky one. It's the push and pull between engaging in activities that let me experience "flow" and thus increase my level of happiness and making sure that the basics get done and I get enough sleep.
Musings on the current state of flow
I really want to make an awesome cake because I have been reading the cakewrecks blog.
I can't get sucked into surfing for cool things on the internet because it takes time away from the activities that make me happy. And then I have to stay up way too late in order to do both things.
I am attempting to teach myself to crochet. I have noticed that all people who crochet talk about how much easier it is than knitting. So as I rip out the same 3 rounds of stitches for the fiftieth time I say to myself, "Crochet is soooo easy." It is unclear whether crochet is an enjoyable activity or an obligation.
Quaker, teacher, parent,