Fool me once

2021 really sucked. This year was extremely rough, even moreso than 2020. I’ve never been so bogged down by depression and anxiety before. I’ve never been physically injured so badly before. I’ve never felt so profoundly burned out. The word “exhaustion” doesn’t even cut it.

I worked on myself a lot. Physically and mentally. Felt like most of the time I was struggling to break even, to keep going. To get through the day. There were definitely bright spots. Traveling, as simple as getting out of town for the weekend, either with friends or family. That’s the crux, really – the word simple. As the sequel to 2020 in a shitty franchise that goes on forever, I’ve had to focus on the simple pleasures, and honestly that’s been nice.

I really hope 2022 is better. Dear lord I need that, we all need that. I’m also hesitant to place a bet because this rollercoaster has fooled us all multiple times now. Fool me once.

In 2021 I read the second highest number of books in one year in my adult life. This year I read 25 books, three of which were Harry Potter read out loud to my kids, a few pages each night, complete with all the voices. Man, that was fun! Such a joy to read a Quidditch match as fast as I can to try and spark excitement and action. It’s amazing reading Fred and George’s lines and getting laughs. Books are the best.

This year, I made a point to choose some books with the aim to educate myself on race and the black experience.

  • White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo
  • I’m Still Here – Austin Channing Brown
  • You Are Your Best Thing – Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, editors

All were informative in their own way. You Are Your Best Thing was the most emotional, as a collection of stories and essays from black authors.

I finally finished Barack Obama’s book, which was tough to consume as bedtime reading. Perhaps I should have invested in the audiobook – his voice is quite soothing but would that have made the experience even longer?

  • A Promised Land – Barack Obama

I read a bunch of titles that were just meh for me. I wouldn’t really recommend them. I suppose I enjoyed Anxious People the most out of this bunch.

  • Anxious People – Fredrik Backman
  • Welcome to the United States of Anxiety – Jen Lancaster
  • The Sanatorium – Sarah Pearse
  • Hush – Dylan Farrow

Here are the other non-fiction titles I read this year.

  • The Power Worshippers – Katherine Stewart
  • Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
  • Burnout – Emily and Amelia Nagoski

Power Worshippers was about how evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are working in America (and overseas, actually) to infiltrate the public school system and get people elected to public office, among other things. I had no idea how many churches use public school buildings to save on costs, and in an attempt to recruit young members. Anyway, I saw the book on a shelf and grabbed it and it was an infuriating read. Yes was fun to read and learn more about the woman behind all those hit shows on TV like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. Burnout was a self-help book, but SUCH a good one. It speaks to women in context of the patriarchy and explains what burnout is and how to complete the stress cycle in our lives. I’m pretty sure it was written pre-Covid, but my glob, it was exactly what I needed.

This year, The Bloggess, aka Jenny Lawson had a new book come out and it did not disappoint. That woman is skillful at chronicling her experiences with mental illness in such a way that is honest, humanizing, and extremely funny. It’s beyond validating to read.

  • Broken, In The Best Possible Way – Jenny Lawson

For my Halloween book this year, I stumbled across Grady Hendrix and he is masterful. He created a slasher book that reads like a movie with exquisite dry humor woven in. I identified with the anxious, protective, badass, sarcastic leading Final Girl and wanted more.

  • The Final Girl Support Group – Grady Hendrix

I am a huge Brene Brown fan. I love her work and I love her, both as me the clinician and me the person. Her podcasts have helped me cope over the past 2 years and her new book should be required reading for being human. I’m fascinated with language and how it’s used, and how that shapes our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We need a fan club. What are her fans called? Brownies? Friends of Brene?

  • Atlas of the Heart – Brene Brown

I won’t list every single book I read this year, but these last four are my top four fiction books of the year.

4. Outlawed – Anna North

A friend recommended this one to me, and I knew enough to take her up on it. It’s an alternate history western that is after the “Great Flu” and is feminist AF. Very fun and interesting to read.

3. The Whisper Network – Chandler Baker

Recommended by the same friend, this one is Big Little Lies meets The Morning Show. It’s a group of women working in corporate America dealing with all the shit women deal with…and it’s a whodunit. It’s good, y’all.

2. The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

This one was recommended by a different friend, one who knows my love of WWII civilian life. This is based on the true story of two people who meet and fall in love living in the Auschwitz concentration camp, if you can call that living. It is an awe-inspiring account of the horrors of war and the resilience of the human spirit. Brought me to tears.

  1. The Alice Network – Kate Quinn

By far the best book I read all year. I couldn’t put it down. This one intertwines the storylines of two different women in two different time periods – one is a spy in The Great War and one is pregnant out of wedlock in post-WWII Europe. The way the characters are written are detailed, nuanced, full of trauma. I was on the edge of my seat, and afterward I researched just how true to life the story was. Several of the spies in this book were real people. Real badass ladies.

So there you have it. 2021 was definitely the year to get lost in a good book if there ever was one. Happy New Year, all, and happy reading.

Posterboard versus hand signals

I just got Jenny Lawson’s new book in the mail A DAY EARLY – the postal service must really know what they’re doing when the tracking number tells me my beloved package will be here on Saturday, and since I am a creature whose mental health depends on expectations being met or exceeded, they, well, exceeded them because today is indeed Friday (at the time this was written), a survey of my peers confirmed – and I’ve already dived into it, even though I have a library book that’s due soon and it can’t be renewed and I don’t like to read two books at one time so now I’ve gone and fucked everything up but who cares because nothing matters anymore.

Her book inspires me to write in gauche run-on sentences that include lots of italics and all caps because her writing just speaks to me. She also inspires me to write about my own struggles with mental illness, among other things.

I hesitate to write about depression versus anxiety for a number of reasons. First is that anxiety is my main course and I usually only order a side of depression, and not all that often. Also, depression just seems scarier. More dangerous. When I write about it, I always feel the need to add that I’m not suicidal (because I’m not). Depression is so much more than that, anyway. And it’s different for everyone.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to decide to go to social events because things I try to say come out wrong because my depression manifests as extreme irritability. While I want human connection and know that it will be good for me, my worry is that my depression will say something horribly rude and piss off my friends and I’d like to keep my friends. But, if I stay away from my friends for their sake and express myself only with one liners and emojis via text, I fear they’ll think I’m trying to ghost them and I swear I’m not.

My depression also manifests as a profound lack of energy. If you’re seeing me outside my house wearing pants lately, be sure I’ve used up my energy just getting to that state. Another reason I worry about group events is that I’d rather not burst into tears if someone asks me how I’m doing. See, I’m a horrible liar and I don’t want to lie but I don’t necessarily want to discuss every last detail about how I’m feeling with a group of people – partially because I don’t always know what or why I’m feeling. BUT- I do appreciate people asking. I do. Even if I suck at answering. And if I did burst into tears, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. I also don’t want people to be afraid to ask – again, because I suck at answering – mainly because I don’t want my depression to become this huge, ugly elephant in the room (but not indoors in any room, because covid. the proverbial room). Lastly, I’m extremely cognizant of the fact that I don’t want the topic of my mental health to hijack the festivities. I don’t want to be that sick person who sucks all the fun out of the [metaphorical non-covid-filled] room, but I don’t want to ignore the obvious, either. I’d love to strike a balance between totally ignoring the huge elephant I’m riding in on versus bursting into tears and becoming the focus of an impromptu group therapy session.

Nobody, firstly me, wants to have to tiptoe around the issue of how I might be feeling on any given day. I’ve often thought about how I might cut straight to the chase. I’ll arrive at the please-wear-pants garden party and loudly shout I’M AT A 4 TODAY. I MIGHT CRY. I’M GLAD I’M HERE BUT I ALSO MIGHT LEAVE EARLY. GOOD AFTERNOON TO YOU ALL. But, to be realistic I should probably put all that on huge white posterboard and go through them one by one like the Walking Dead guy does in Love Actually when he’s totally trying to steal his best friend’s wife. (Who does that?!) Cuz if I’m actually at a 4 (out of 10), then there’s likely no way I’d be able to say all that without crying. Either posterboard or hand signals. Hand signals would be more environmentally friendly.

Hand signals it is.

Ways I Combat Seasonal Depression

Hello, dear Psychos, and welcome to Day 8.

Seasonal Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately SAD) is a real thing. Oregon is cold, it’s dark, and it’s freakin gray. It’s hard to get out of bed some mornings, and I often can’t get warm, even in my own house. It’s no mistake that Jo Rowling (we’re on a first name basis, people) gave the dementors, a metaphor for depression, the power to create an icy chill in their midst while sucking the soul out of their victims. When I’m cold, like that chilled-to-the-bone feeling, I’m irritable. Moody. Unable to feel contentment. I feel like crawling back into bed.

I have several tricks up my sleeve to try and keep the soul-sucking dementors at bay. I wish I had a magic wand, but I guess my Hogwarts letter got lost in the post.

Until that ruddy post owl is found, here are the things I try:

Note: This post is not a replacement for real, amazing therapy. These are simply things that work for me personally. Psychology Today is a great place to start looking for a therapist if you’re in the market, as it were.

  • My light therapy lamp

Last year, I finally went out and got myself a happy lamp! Getting up in the morning is hard for me, especially in the winter time when it’s pitch black outside. Somehow, that just seems wrong for a person to have to function in those conditions. I just got my lamp back out for the season, and I put it on my bathroom counter and flick it on as soon as I get out of bed. It’s on and shining into my eyes for about 10-15 minutes as I get ready in front of the mirror. It helps to perk me up in the mornings and makes me feel less dead inside. I wish I could get the effects for longer, but I have active kids who need to be places and I no longer sit in one place for very long. At this point I’ll take whatever I can get.

  • My slippers and hats and sweatshirts and blankets. And sometimes my cat.

Did I mention that I get cold in the winter? I’m actually always cold, but in the winter I’m knocking-on-death’s-door cold. I still can’t believe that I survived living in Boston for two years. I attempt to stay warm by wearing fuzzy slippers. I have ones with down feathers in them. And memory foam. I also have those buttery-soft slipper-socks. When I’m feeling saucy, I’ll wear slipper-socks and slippers at the same time. It’s also not unheard of for me to wear a jacket indoors, or one of my many knit hats. The couch is covered with blankets. And when I don’t hate my cat (and when she doesn’t hate me), I will allow her to sit on my lap to keep my nether regions from frosting over. When animals aren’t total assholes, they can be kind of comforting.

  • Those microwavable ricey/beany heat pad thingies

They are warm when I am not. The end.

  • Hot drinks, sometimes with sugar and caffeine

In the winter, I’ll often make hot decaf tea in the afternoons and evenings (in addition to my normal caffeinated morning beverage) to take the chill off, but also because they provide this psychological cozy boost. I enjoy feeling the warm, solid mug between my palms and breathing in the sweet, warm vapors. The Dutch call this feeling gezellig, which roughly translates to “cozy,” and I find myself often chasing it.

  • FIRE. (Candles and the fireplace)

First off, let me just say that Oregonians have a weird obsession with scented things and lighting shit on fire. Haven’t any of you heard of a spare the air day?! Having said that, I do enjoy the occasional scented candle or switching on our gas fireplace because Oregon creeps up on you after a while. It’s the warmth, but it’s also the psychological boost from the bright, flickering lights and the yummy, spicy, earthy, comforting scents that can fill up the house and my soul.

  • Music

Music is the perfect drug; there is a piece of music to induce any mood you’re after, with little to no side effects. Spooky Halloween music, cozy Christmas music, after dinner dance party music (pants optional). Music shoos them dementors straight back to Azkaban. Also, if you don’t get these Harry Potter references, consider yourself on notice.

  • People

I tend to isolate when I’m anxious and depressed, so I schedule events on my calendar to get me out of the house and interacting with humans over the age of 5, even if it’s cold and rainy and gross and disgusting outside. We might get wet or cold or muddy or all three, but at least we have a fun time hanging out with others, and then we’ll get warm and gezellig once we’re back home again.

  • HUMOR!!!!!! DEAR GOD, THE HUMOR!

Humor is my EXPECTO PATRONUM!!!!!! Laughter boosts the mood and the immune system. It brings people together, and holy crap it makes me feel less alone. The best cross-section of humor and mental health I can think of can be found at The Bloggess. Jenny suffers from anxiety and depression, but she doesn’t let that get in the way of being fucking hilarious. She’s the reason I started blogging, and I love her and I met her once and she signed my DSM because that’s how deep her commitment to hilarity runs. She normalizes and humanizes mental illness, makes me feel less alone, and makes me laugh – which makes me feel better. Boom. If you’re at all interested, read her blog, check out her books – geez, I wonder if she’ll pay me for this? Shout out, Jen! Call me.

As an example to show how much Jenny Lawson just gets me, here are her calendar pages for October and November:

 

She gets me.

 

The timing is no mistake

 

Ok, I’ll stop here. I hope this is helpful for some people. TELL ME – What do you do to combat the cold, dark, gray, damp winter months of torture?!

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Today I Was Furiously Happy

Today, I got to meet one of my idols, and the reason I started blogging in the first place.

Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, came to P-town and made me one furiously happy lady.

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I had Jenny sign her current book, her old book (cuz I missed her last time) and my copy of the DSM IV because…why not? We’re both well acquainted with it.

File_001File_006As you can see, we’re besties now.  We braided each others’ hair and painted our nails together.


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