the challenges of feeling empty

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Depression is a difficult thing to talk about.  I know, because I suffer from it.  Lock, stock, and barrel, I deal with depression and anxiety both.  I do think the stigmas around mental illness are slowly beginning to change, but preconceptions and judgements still linger.  Even when people mean well, it can still be a challenging topic to deal with.  Especially since these disorders are largely invisible.

In some ways, I think some of the difficulties surrounding depression (and anxiety) can be attributed to the language we use.

“I’m so anxious about my meeting today!  I can’t wait until it’s over.”

“Ugh, I’m so depressed they got rid of the pumpkin spice latte already.  It’s my favorite!”

Sound familiar?  The fact that we use the same verbiage to describe both fleeting emotions AND majorly debilitating illnesses often makes it difficult to be taken seriously, no matter how well-meaning someone might be.  No, a walk around the block will not make me less depressed.  Unfortunately, encouragement to look on the bright side will not make my anxiety any better.  But someone listening, just being there, or simply acknowledging how difficult things may be can sometimes make a world of difference.  And if you aren’t sure what might help?  Ask.  It’s that easy.  A very dear friend recently asked me what helps when I am feeling bad, and I felt so seen.  His kindness in that moment made me so grateful.  Similarly, I almost cried when my doctor described panic attacks as one of the most terrifying experiences out there.  Up until that point, the episodes I had experienced were described to me as “only” panic attacks (as opposed to a cardiovascular issue).  The validation and relief that came with that simple shift was staggering to me.  I felt seen.  And I felt understood.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to explain is when people say you can “just ask” for help:  “Just reach out — I’m here anytime!”  Unfortunately, depression is insidious in that way.  It isn’t simply feeling sad. To me it feels more like emptiness.  Like inertia.  All the color drains from the world, I can’t appreciate any of the good things in my life, and I want nothing more than to curl up into myself and cease to be, for fear of being a bother to anyone.  As much as I try to “logic” myself out of negative self-talk, on the bad days, you can’t convince me I am anything other than lazy, weak, a downer, a failure, and a burden to everyone I care about.  It takes an immense amount of willpower to even get out of bed some days, much less send someone a text that I’m feeling a little down.  (I won’t ever say more than that, for fear of being a burden.  Or a downer.  You see?  Insidious!)  That being said, if I can get there, if I can send that little text, I am forever grateful if someone says, “Hey, you’re not a bother.  I know it’s hard, but you’re strong.  I believe in you.”

I had a rough day recently, which made me think I should put some of this out there, in the hopes that maybe someone sees this and feels a little bit less alone.  Sometimes, that can make all the difference.

Rest, wander, live…

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“The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of room, not try to be or do anything whatever.”

May Sarton

My cold still hasn’t quite let up, so I’m especially grateful for a long weekend on this fine Friday.  Wishing you all a restful Labor Day weekend!

 

Feeling beautiful

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Apologies for my absence this week, but I have had a terrible cold.  I’m hoping to be back in action fully next week, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a resonant piece about beauty that I stumbled across this morning:

“… Here are some activities where I feel intuitively beautiful and feminine – Walking through the Minneapolis Institute of Art alone. Writing and creating in an afternoon coffee shop. Talking with my girlfriends late at night, long after the persuasion of sleep has crept in. I feel most beautiful when interacting with this life that surrounds us. So I’m trying to do more of that. Because the image I keep hoping to see in the mirror? She’s never going to show up. But still, without fail, I greet her within me every single day – she is the way I respond to art and humanity. She is the rare and precious awareness that comes only when studying something that is distinctly outside of myself. I want to learn more of her. And it’s not going to happen while looking into the empty reflection of my bathroom mirror. So why would I bother to look there at all?”

–Anna Jeter via Wit & Delight

It made me think about how I feel vs. how I look, and how important it is to feel good in my body.  Here’s to a weekend full of feeling beautiful in and of ourselves.

 

On goals…

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Me and my scuffed sneakers on a gorgeous tile floor — Barcelona, Spain.

A chat with a friend last month got me thinking long and hard about goals.  Goals — those things we had all throughout our growing-up years, shimmering ahead to work towards, keeping us moving ever-forward.  A week or so prior to our talk, I realized that hovering here in my mid-thirties, goals are conspicuously absent.  I mean, I have the vague desire to travel as much as possible, to succeed at work, to surround myself with people I love and trust… but those big goals I had outlining my paths over the last three+ decades?  Conspicuously.  Absent.

This worried me.  My school years were full of both immediate and longer-term goals.  Learn to ride my bike.  Get straight A’s.  Become section leader in band.  Pass that year’s Advanced Placement exams.  Get into a good college.  Graduate with honors.  Get into a good grad school.  Get an advanced degree.  Get married after getting my degree.  Find a job.  Find a job in my field.  Find a full-time job in my field that would allow me to do the very adult thing of saving for retirement.  The realization that I didn’t have an immediate goal hovering out there… bothered me.  I wondered if I had gotten less ambitious.  If perhaps I was less driven than I had been.  That possibility rattled me as much as the lack of a goal, to be honest.  Being smart and driven were things I felt were part of my identity.  If I wasn’t, then what was I?

(To be clear, I do have some “goals” in the back of my mind, but they are the kind that are on autopilot.  Pay off my student loans in X number of years.  Keep saving for retirement, that pie-in-the-sky happening that may not ever materialize for my generation.)

As my friend and I chatted, she reminded me of the plethora of things I am doing right now that I should be proud of, and I am so immensely grateful for her reminders.  It helped me find a little perspective, but it also made me wonder: are we focusing so hard on setting goals that we are missing the joys of those we have successfully achieved?  To be honest, I am not sure I ever have stopped to enjoy mine.  What a sobering realization.

This past weekend I had very little desire to do much of anything.  I felt guilty napping the hours away, but a small part of me did realize that there is a season for everything, and there is an ebb and flow to life.  We need idle times to give productive ones their verve and satisfaction, just like we need seasons of striving and seasons of reaping what we’ve sown.  That seems to be my big lesson recently in terms of goals: that I can be a person rather than a perpetual motion machine, and that I can (and should!) enjoy the fruits of my labors from time to time.  Otherwise, what is the point?

Lighter

Yesterday, inspired by all those brave souls who have KonMari’ed their way to organized bliss, I decided to tackle my closet and really declutter.  Every so often I will do a cursory purge of worn or ill-fitting items, but this time, I was determined to embrace the “spark joy” mantra and really go at it.  While I didn’t physically pull everything out of my closet and drawers the way Marie Kondo advises, I did review everything in my closet, drawers, and storage — all of my clothes, shoes, and (perhaps most overwhelmingly) handbags.  I was much more ruthless discerning than in the past, and a lot more items wound up on the bed as a result.  The leather jacket I wore not-quite-often-enough that is a little too snug now?  Out.  The dress that proved to be way too fiddle-y to wear a bra under?  Out.  The bag(s) I bought because they were pretty and on sale even though they were a little too small for everyday?  Out.  The cute shoes that I figured would “break in nicely” that hurt my feet all whopping two times I wore them?  Out!  I realized that many items I was holding onto were things I wouldn’t use much, if ever, but that I couldn’t get my mind around being a sunk cost.  And I had no idea how much lighter I’d feel until I got into bed last night!  Freshly laundered sheets, a no-longer-crammed closet, a successful drop off to charity, and many tiny psychological weights lifted?  Yes to all of the above.

img_6864I’m hoping I’ll get more use out of the things I do love now that I can find them easier.  This also reaffirmed the concerted effort I’ve been making to only buy things I love rather than getting an item because it is a good deal (and boy, do I love a good deal — just ask my mom!).  Plus, it feels good to know that some things will be going to friends and family who will get use and enjoyment out of them — certainly more I would having them take up space in our little house.  Perhaps I was a little late to the gate on spring cleaning, but it sure feels good to start my summer with a clean(er) slate.

Sources: green lamps, black shades, and gold pillow from Target; Klimt canvas from Ikea, upholstered bed frame from Cost Plus World Market, patterned pillow from Cupcakes and Cashmere Home, linens from Matteo LA

Links to ponder

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It has been a difficult couple weeks for a variety of reasons, perhaps most especially because we lost some amazing and luminous figures to suicide just days apart from each other.  Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, you will be missed.  As we hold ourselves gently, gingerly, and move forward, here are some important/poignant/touching/thoughtful reads for you to ponder:

The kind of “bad boy” we need more of…

Why “you are loved” is not enough.

Anxious and unashamed.

An important read on size appropriation.

Quick, curious, playful, & strong.

 

Are we there yet?

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending a book signing with the delightful Mari Andrew for her first book, Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood.  I’ve enjoyed Mari’s insights on her Instagram and on the blog Cup of Jo for some time, but fell for her even more after hearing her speak at Vroman’s Bookstore on Thursday night.  She’s been a real inspiration for me: not only did she transition to illustrating full time only a couple of years ago (and already has a book that made the New York Times bestseller list? Amazing!), but she manages to say the things we all are thinking but afraid to articulate in a way that is fresh, disarming, candid, and compassionate — often all at the same time.

In her talk, Andrew held forth on things she thinks are valuable “wastes of time,” including making your own happiness reliable, working towards the person you want to be, pursuing fun, and sometimes having no goal at all.  “I am a person who is loved.  And I am a person who loves.”  These words resonated with me long after I walked out of the bookstore, signed book in hand.  In a culture that seems to privilege self-sacrifice to an impossible degree, sometimes these small reminders that fun is a good thing, and that prioritizing your own happiness is an even better thing, are exactly what is needed — especially when they are offered with a smile as genuine as Mari Andrew’s.

Small tweaks

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Bailey has self-care down pat. Naps every day with zero guilt.

With Earth Day freshly come and gone, I took the plunge and made a tweak to our routine that feels really good.  I ordered a big pack of microfiber cloths, a new lidded trashcan, and a reusable liner in a quest to wean us off of paper towels.  We are only a few days into this, but so far I am actually quite pleased!  Our new cloths are not only reusable, but are more absorbent and efficient at cleaning up messes.  Now I just need to work them into the laundry routine, and we’re set.  It has been easier than I anticipated so far, I must admit — and now our household is that much more eco-friendly.

There is something uniquely satisfying about seeing a problem and then finding just the right solution.  Maybe this might feel like a stretch to some, but I think that sense of satisfaction can be an important part of self-care.  Large milestones and big accomplishments don’t have to be the only things we celebrate.  Sometimes smaller achievements and personal satisfactions are even more important, because they keep us going and keep us smiling.

The other small thing I did for myself was entirely un-revolutionary, but equally satisfying: I gave myself the night off last night.  I have had very little downtime of late, but I’ve been proud that I’ve managed to keep getting everything done, even with extra trips to visit an ailing parent.  Well, last night I took the whole evening off instead of trying to cram the laundry into an already-busy weekend, and I am so glad I did.  I had time for a much needed nap, I got to bed on time, and I was up early enough that I added yet one more small tweak to my day: I took five minutes to read before making the bed and leaving for work.  It is amazing how much less rushed and stressful that five minutes made my morning feel.  I wasn’t mindlessly scrolling on my phone while I blended a smoothie — I was sitting down, with a book in hand.  It felt great.

So, with three small tweaks under my belt, this week’s little self-care realization is that even a small change can still be a significant one.  And that is satisfying in and of itself — to know that even five minutes in the morning, or three new items in my routine, can make a world of difference.

Balance point

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“This is the first time the girl becomes aware that the world requires something other than what she is.”

–Lesley Nneka Arimah, What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky: Stories

 

This Friday I am thinking about expectations, and about balance.  The world might expect something different than what we are or what we want, but that doesn’t mean we are obligated to give in to that expectation.  Find your bliss, find your fulcrum, and don’t let the world upset the balance you find.

Getting warmer

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My visit to the Metamorphosis & Migration exhibit, Oakland Museum of California.

Yesterday on Cup of Jo, the fantastic Caroline Donofrio wrote about a five-word quote that she said changed her life: “Cool is an emotional straightjacket.”

Whoa.  Whoa.  That really got me thinking.  It really is.  How often do we censor ourselves for fear of what other people will think about us?  Maybe it is reining in enthusiasm about an interest that isn’t “cool enough,” or swallowing a sentiment because we feel obligated to “play it cool.”  Maybe it is putting down other women to seem like the “cool girl.”  Or maybe it is putting that favorite sweater/jacket/scarf/hat/whatever back in the closet with a sigh, wishing it were still “cool.”

The prospect of living my life in an invisible straightjacket seems terribly sad.  We are bombarded by admonitions to just “be yourself,” to “live authentically.”  But what does this mean?  I like to think I am forging my own path.  But when I get dressed in the morning, when I chime into a conversation, when I choose the restaurant for a group night out?  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want the approval of others.

Perhaps this is a part of that ever-elusive self-care: to truly allow ourselves to be.  Be unique, be freer with our affections, be engrossed by the things that make us smile, be supportive of our fellow women without fear of not being “cool enough,” be unencumbered by what we think is expected of us in a million tiny ways.  Of course, this is an enormously difficult task.  But by recognizing this propensity for what it is rather than move invisibly constricted through our days , we can make an important first step.  Recognize that second-guessing, recognize the holding back, and act accordingly.

Caroline closes with his gem: “After all, the opposite of cool… is warm. Doesn’t that sound nice?”  It does, Caroline.  It really does.