On the familiarity of grief

My grandfather died yesterday.

I’m dealing with this lovely wide variety of emotions and, because of the last three years of therapy, trying to process them carefully and feel them all in their entirety so that they don’t come back and bite me in the ass in the future. A largely introverted nature means that I do most of this alone and quietly, which works for me, but is likely a bit hard on others. I don’t know what to do about that. Nothing, I think.

I feel the ache of loss that is a tight fist in my chest, that occasionally tightens and squeezes and lets go again. I am already aware that this loss is less brutal than the loss of my father, will pass faster, will be easier to process, and then I feel a twinge of guilt that I am not as sad as I ought to be. Then I remember that there is no ‘ought to be’ and I try to let it go. This is the process, as it were, of processing.

I am aware of the depths of loss again, as each loss brings back the ghosts of others. Pain is pain and my body and mind want to say, this is familiar, and this is like that time when, and even though my grandfather’s death is nothing like the loss of, say, my first love, I remember them all in fits now because of the familiarity of grief.

I woke up this morning thinking about my grandfather, and his life, and his kindness and strength and all of the things that made him wonderful. Then I thought about the plans I have for today, the board meeting I have to prep for, the writing and work I have to do, and I didn’t want to do any of it. Still have to get shit done, said a little corner of my mind. And of course, that’s not true. I could cancel everything. I could sit in my house and find this little core of grief and cut it open and let it bleed, find all the things that grow there and dig them out until the core is sparkling clean. I could do that, couldn’t I?

I’m not going to, though. I think because just having the option is enough, and at some point I am still a member of western culture and society. And it’s nice that it’s a choice now. That’s maybe the most valuable tool I have these days: recognizing choice. So I’ll get on with things as we do, and take my time to grieve in my own way when I need it, and find moments of peace and reflection. And I’ll process.

In all of that clever, thoughtful processing, it is still very clear to me that this sucks, and I wish it didn’t hurt so much. And my goodness, I am so grateful for this blog, that gives me a quiet place to still think ‘out loud’ and is waiting for me even at 3:30 in the morning, when otherwise I would have to talk to the damn cats.

The word that allows yes, the word that makes no possible.
The word that puts the free in freedom and takes the obligation out of love.
The word that throws a window open after the final door is closed.
The word upon which all adventure, all exhilaration, all meaning, all honor depends.
The word that fires evolution’s motor of mud.
The word that the cocoon whispers to the caterpillar.
The word that molecules recite before bonding.
The word that separates that which is dead from that which is living.
The word no mirror can turn around.
In the beginning was the word and that word was

CHOICE

Wise Words from Jim C. Hines

Over at SFSignal, Jim C. Hines has written a great little post about his upcoming book, Unbound, in which his main character (Isaac) struggles with depression. The post addresses the issue of writing with depression, and applies nicely to doing anything with depression. In particular, these bits stood out to me:

Looking back, I’ve been dealing with depression off and on for much of my life. I just never really labeled it as such until 2012. I still made it to school and to work. I still met my writing deadlines. I was functional.

We tend to associate being clinically depressed with non-functionality. That’s never been true for me–at my very worst, I have always managed to do my job. Something about our society elevates that to the status of ‘functional’, like that’s all there is, like that’s how you pay back the world for all that oxygen you’re using up. But since I’m going to be using up all that oxygen anyway, I figure I might as well aim for something higher than ‘functional’. Like ‘happy’.

For people who believe mental illness helps your creativity, or that medication will ruin you as an artist, I’ll note that the past two years have been the best of my career. 

Yes. This. I worried about this, and I know a lot of other writers and creative folks who believe that you need your demons scratching at the inside of your skull in order to foster creativity. And who knows, maybe I was wildly creative when massively depressed, but the point is that no one would ever have known because I Could. Not. Write. (It wasn’t my job.) Since the slaughter of my own skull-demons, I’ve been writing regularly, I’ve published a few things, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the craft of writing and finding ways to call on creativity when it’s being a pissy little kid who won’t come out of their pillow-fort to work. There may be medications out there that kill creativity, but they don’t comprise the whole shelf of options. Cipralex certainly isn’t one of ‘em.

Isaac’s depression is truer to my struggle. I worry that he’ll be too unlikeable…because that’s how I felt at the time. I worry people will say he’s too weak, that this character should just man up and get over it, because that’s how I felt. That’s what I expected to hear if I talked about it. I worry about readers who don’t understand that depression isn’t something you just snap out of.

Honestly, sometimes I still feel like I need to man up and get over it. But that’s just … that’s other people’s voices, in my head. That’s grandparents who didn’t understand, generations of people who thought depression was just a weakness of spirit (or something that could be fixed with leeches). And because I know those things to be untrue, I can turn them away, and remember that I’m dealing with a real issue, and I’m doing it well. And I hope that others can do the same. In that way, we slowly change things for the generations to follow.

 

Variables

The problem with going on meds–this time, because I wasn’t in the life-has-stalled-completely mode–is that there are too many variables for me to feel that I can properly assess the effect the drugs are having. I’m happier, more energetic, it’s easier to focus. I’m working out more, I’m more inclined to be outside, I want to go for walks. I am eating healthier food, I don’t have weird/stupid cravings. I don’t keep wishing that I were asleep.

But.

It’s sunny outside these days in the Pacific Northwest, and the days are longer. Am I working out and going outside more because I’m on meds, or because it’s sunny out and I can? And if so, is that catalyzing the rest of it – the healthier food, the energy, the focus?

The answer, of course, is ‘probably not’ and likely it’s a combination of the two. It’s just that I’m never going to be SURE, which bugs me. Still, it’s nice to be happy. It’s REALLY nice to be able to focus.

The closest I can come to describing what it’s like to go on antidepressants is that it’s like getting over a long, bad cold. You know that first morning when you wake up and you’re not sick? And you’re suddenly full of a ridiculous amount of energy, which is likely your normal amount of energy, except that you’ve been drained of it for a long time? It’s like that. Except that instead of new-found energy, you’re suffused with what previously seemed to be an impossible amount of clarity, happiness, and hope. It’s … well, it’s damned good, is what it is.

 

Hello, Old Friends

I picked up a new prescription for Cipralex a few days ago. I’ve been keeping track of myself for a few months now, watching for red flags – foggy brain, lousy memory for details, irritability, fatigue, random appetite changes, dizzy spells, insomnia, and of course the hopeless/worthless/useless slew of thought patterns. I have ten main red flags; I decided that if I got up to 8 on a consistent basis (more than two months consecutively) I would talk to my doctor about going back on the magic pills.

I did, and so here I am. Sitting with a little bottle of meds beside my computer, looking all innocent and helpful (the pills, not me).

I filled the prescription today. I think I’ve been waiting for some feeling of failure, or guilt, or something to kick in, but all I can think when I look at this bottle of pills is oh thank god. There is no prize for living on the hard setting, far as I can tell.

That’s all, I guess. The funny thing about depression is, it’s hard to talk about it when you’re in it, so I feel doomed to always write this blog in the past tense. Ah, well. C’est la vie.

 

Generally and Vaguely Annoyed

I read an article on ‘15 things that emotionally strong people do‘ this morning, which I am linking to for reference but don’t actually think you should read. It contains such points as ‘They Don’t Lie in Bed Dreading the Day Ahead of Them’ and ‘They Don’t Forget That Happiness is a Decision’ which, I dunno, maybe is valid for people which shiny happy brain chemistry, but made me feel really angry. And simultaneously shitty. Oh, happiness is a decision! Jesus H., why didn’t anyone tell me? Here I’ve been going around deciding to feel like ass. I wish I’d known.

I’m also going through an annoying downswing, mood-wise, which I have only recently been able to identify as a brain chemistry fritz. This is because of the fun dizzy spells that have accompanied the past three days.

Anyway. I’m feeling exhausted and dark of thought. And I was going to write this whole point-by-point thing in response to the post about the Things Strong People Do or whatever the shit it’s called–I’m not re-reading it–but I can’t be arsed. So I’m going to reiterate: Understand that being strong means letting people see that you are vulnerable, because that’s the hard thing to do. It’s easier to splash cold water on your face, drop visine in your eyes and pretend, but it’s not strength. (I just realized that crying and smoking pot have the same effect on the face. Huh.)

And now I’m going to steal words from other people, because I’m tired and I need my brain for spaceships and aliens writing serious things.

This is what I want to say about depression to everyone:  Hyperbole and a Half on Depression

And likewise, about anxiety: Boggle the Owl on Anxiety

Sometimes I think everyone’s seen those, and then I am reminded that MAYBE NOT because people still seem to think that depression/anxiety=bad days, and everyone has bad days, so what’s the big deal? Anyhow. Reposting can’t hurt.

Just noticed this little set of comments when I linked to the article. This may be the only time that reading the comments has ever made anything better…

Capture

I don’t even know which of those two responses is my favourite.

Anyway, I’m going to go play with words now. Everybody try to play nice.

No, really. It’s not you.

Just yawning. Nothing to see here.

Just yawning. Nothing to see here.

This photo belongs to Splityarn.

Haven’t been here in a while and was recently told to write something profound. I don’t really do profound, so I’m going to tell you a story.

The other day, as I was driving home from work, I stopped at a red light (as you do) at an intersection. An elderly lady was crossing the street in front of me, with a walker.  I watched the light in the other lanes for a minute to see if it turned yellow, but this intersection has long lights and I got bored. So I looked at the elderly lady for a few seconds, and then glanced up at the light. Then I yawned.

When I looked back, this woman was angrily WAVING HER WALKER at me and angrily mouthing, “I’m TRYING!” before angrily stomping forth. And I realized:

  1. She thought I was staring at her and yawning to show how bored I was with her crossing the street so slowly
  2. That must have happened to her at some point, right? Because who would just assume that otherwise? But what kind of an asshat would get impatient with a woman who was, approximately, four hundred and twenty years old?
  3. The world is full of asshats.

Really, sometimes a yawn is just a depleted level of oxygen in an overtired body. I actually take great comfort in the generally assumable level of selfishness in the average human body. The odds are pretty crap that the girls who just walked past me, giggling, are laughing at my hair. I mean, my hair is pretty silly right now, but they’re in a world that involves the two of them and they’re probably not reaching outside of that bubble to criticize me.

Most of the time, unless told otherwise…it’s probably not about you.

Was that profound enough?

Sad Fish is Sad

Apparently fish can also become depressed. Who knew? According to this Dr. Herwig Baier, “The [mutant] fish have mutation in a receptor that binds cortisol — they cannot dial down their brain’s stress response. Although there are a whole range of drugs available for depression, no one yet knows what the relationship is between their effect and the stress hormones. Our findings provide the first evidence of a possible connection.” Cool.

This checks ‘Find a way to identify with mutant zebrafish’ off the bucket list. THANK GOD.

Better science information lives here.

Plantar Fasciitis & The Beauty of Orange Shoes

A review of my bright orangey-coral shoes, because I know how much you care. 

Mizunos

They look pink. I swear they’re orange.

When I started running, I overdid it and ended up with plantar fasciitis. You can Google it, but the short version is that it’s bloody painful and the outcome is that I’ve been wearing these damned bright-orange-and-green-foot-holders for nearly three months solid. (Why yes, they DO smell awesome.) At this point I really feel like I should have named these shoes, we’ve spent so much time together. Have you ever put on shoes before you got out of bed? It’s really weird. I mean, first world problems, yeah, but it’s really weird. Two or three times a week I would have little whining fits where I JUST WANTED TO BE BAREFOOT DAMMIT. I’m really freaking lucky to work in an office where they do not associate my ability to do my job with my footwear or clothing. I’m lucky to have a boss who wore her blazing purple trainers so that I ‘wouldn’t feel lonely’. I’m lucky to have benefits that cover physiotherapy, and through no luck at all, I have worked hard at making sure my recovery period was as short as possible. This weekend I’m going to try my first real run!

Anyway. I love my terrifying little shoes, and since this bout of three-months-solid wear will make them lousy as runners when I start back up again, I’m probably going to buy another pair of the exact same shoes very soon. I’m even going to buy the same colour, because I have formed an almost-unnatural attachment to them, which has been wildly encouraged by this review on Amazon which, if none of that looks/sounds familiar (it did happen all the way down in Texas), is a good Google path to follow.

I did a fair bit of damage to my feet, because I sort of thought pain-upon-running was normal, until a friend on Twitter said that feeling like you’d been punched in the foot was not, in fact, a common running pain. Maybe running pain isn’t normal at all, in fact. Possibly pain is not normal? Is pain not normal? Did R.E.M. lie to me?

The price tag shocked the shit out of me when I first bought them, but (amusingly) I really wanted to learn to run ‘properly’ and I like to have the good gear. I am one of those people. So, fingers crossed for this weekend—and a big ol’ kudos to Mizuno for making such damn good shoes.

 

Of some note: I have another post in the works on the depression-Cipralex-withdrawal saga. Should be out shortly.

Tramp Stamped

I have a tattoo on my lower back.  I had it done when I was seventeen or eighteen to commemorate the loss of an aunt I loved dearly, after her long struggle with cancer; probably also to cement on my body my first real experience with death. I chose the location because I would be able to forever choose whether to hide or show it.

At seventeen, I’d never heard the term tramp stamp; or if I had I wouldn’t have made the association. I heard it when I was around 21, for the first time, and tried to laugh it off, and I’ve been trying to laugh it off for ten years. For some reason over the last two weeks, I’m hearing the term all over the place. Recently I thought about talking to a local artist about changing the tattoo so that it branches left or right or somehow exists less on my lower back, because I absolutely loathe the term ‘tramp stamp’ and all of the connotations that come with it. The thing is, until I heard it, I loved  this tattoo. It meant – means – a lot to me.

So in the grand new tradition of fight, fuck this. Let’s play with Google, shall we? Tramp stamp is not in my real-paper-dictionary quite yet, but it’s in Urban Dictionary (of course):

“Tramp Stamp” is a derogatory term referring to a tattoo which a women places on her lower back. It is especially popular among women born in the late 70’s, 80‘s, and even early 90’s. Fair or unfair, these tattoos have a socially constructed connotation associated with them. These women are labeled as tramps, whores, or other derogatory sexually promiscuous terms.

Well, I was born in 1982. I’ll give you that. There are several other definitions – they only get worse, but then, it is Urban Dictionary. Wikipedia?

Lower-back tattoos (pejoratively referred to as tramp stamps)[1] are a form of body art that became popular among women in the 2000s and gained a reputation as a feminine type of tattoo. They are sometimes accentuated by low-rise jeans and crop tops, and are considered erotic by some.

Hmm. I would have gotten mine in 1999, I believe. So, unusually ahead of a trend by a few months, but otherwise factual. I mean, I’ll be long cold and dead before you catch me in low-rise jeans or crop tops, but I take your point. You could show it off with a judicious use of clothing. That was actually part of my rationale, in fact. But did I get the tattoo in an attempt to be erotic? Er … no. Very few men find it hot. Because the conversation goes like this: “Oh wow, hot tattoo.” “Thanks, I got it as a memorial when someone I loved, died.” “Oh.”

(Less hot, isn’t it?)

Let’s try the dictionary, just for fun:

TRAMP:

  1. vagrant
  2. a woman of loose morals; specifically : prostitute

I see. So when people refer to my tattoo as a tramp stamp, assuming they are fully conscious of the implications, they’re either calling me a vagrant (‘one who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support’), or a whore.

Look, most of the time it’s innocuous, and said by people who would be unlikely to even use the word ‘whore’ but that’s sort of my point: language has power, and we each have a responsibility to be aware of what we’re saying.

Ugh. Okay, better. I really just needed to vent. And the next person who uses that term in front of me is going to have to explain why they think I’m a travelling prostitute-hobo.

Fat and happy, my ass

GwenCamping

Me in 2007, four months before Dad died.

When I saw him recently, my doctor asked how I was doing with the off-meds business (as is his wont, since that’s the only reason I see him). I gave him the 40/60% standard answer I’ve got going, and explained that I had no physical symptoms beyond the VERY occasional re-occurrence of The Spins. (Which is fun, I’ve decided, and allows me to pretend that I’m two-glasses-of-wine drunk while at work.) We got to chatting about how I am, ahem-hem, a truly model Cipralex patient (you know, because my BRAIN doesn’t ZAP ME) -

- Damn it all, the parentheses are back, hang on while I wrestle them down -

- and how I didn’t have any significant weight gain while I was on them. This is not a thing I talk about often, but I have actually had a significant weight gain over the past five and a half years. About 40lbs, which on a 5’3″ human, is a lot. Wait a minute – I’m imagining a grocery store cart full of 40lbs of butter – that’s a lot no matter how tall you are. Anyhow, it was something that Therapist warned me about before I started the Cipralex, in her very kind way, saying that she hoped I wouldn’t concern myself with it too much as it was one of the milder potential side effects.

I won’t lie. For a few minutes I was very concerned. I feel like I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life – though in reality up till ’07/’08 I was a healthy weight – and I didn’t want to add ‘Increased Arse’ to my list of reasons to loathe my entire self-hood at two am. What I realized over the three weeks between my appointment with Therapist and my ability to find a GP was this: in the pits of depression, spending time on the couch, never doing any of the active things I loved – Weight gain was in my future no matter what.

I’ve actually lost a bit of weight since going on the drugs and then coming off of them, mostly due to two things. The obvious one is that I am more inclined to be outside, active, and generally in motion; the slightly more complicated reason is that the foods I crave when I’m sad – because for a few moments, they generate something in my brain that simulates ‘happy’ – are not good for me. I believe in being healthy, and my body is remembering that along with my brain, and I’ll land on whatever-the-hell weight I’m supposed to be when I’m once again able to do every activity that pops into my head.

Regarding weight and depression, these are my new truths:

  1. Some antidepressants will make some people gain weight, but so will depression. (Or not, if you go the other way and stop eating. I hear that’s a thing. It sounds awful.)
  2. Food and exercise are the ways in which we tell ourselves that we matter.
  3. Health is not contained in a number, but in a capability to do all of the things that are important to you.