You Get What You Need

I have a lot of energy. Once I make a decision I want to make it happen. Sometimes I find myself at odds with what I know and what I want. Sometimes I find myself in the same conflict with Rose: what she wants against what I want.

When Rose suggested staying in Portland for a month I had some concerns. But, the first night in our sublet erased them. We have come here, I think, for good reason. We have experiences that are useful to the people we are living with. Well beyond our goal in this project, these are conversations that Rose and I need to have as people.

June is not a great month for me. One of my favorite people died in June–specifically my father. This year I attended my grandmother’s memorial and found myself leaning on my aunt during the anniversary of her husbands death. Overall this project has been forcing me to slow down.

It doesn’t have to happen today. Just breathe and let your thoughts happen. Getting what you need today won’t stop you from getting what you want eventually.

Raw honesty

One of the ongoing challenges for me in my life right now is working out the balance between doing things and talking about things. I am striving to live more transparently, but it’s a process that I often find really painful. My mom tells me that even as an infant, I would practice new skills privately before I used them in public, and I still have that instinct. Add to that the 18 formative years I spent in a town where my discomfort was a prime source of entertainment for my peers, and you kind of start to get the picture of why I’m so cagey and reserved.

In particular, I have an instinct to go underground when stuff is hard. I imagine that people won’t like me when I’m down, and I hate sharing my pain, and I also hate admitting that I have uncertainty. Yeah, even though I know that other people also have plenty of uncertainty, and that they can be of help to me in my time of discernment, and also, sharing my own discomfort helps other people find comfort in their own.

Even knowing all of that, I still want to hide. But hiding isn’t an option. So here it is:

I am in a really bad mood. I am angry, frustrated, tired, and full of uncertainty. My body hurts. My heart hurts. I am the cause of most, but not all, of my problems this week, and the difficulty I am having getting out of them is also pretty much entirely my problem. I am unhappy, I am the one with agency to find my own happiness, and I cannot find the beacons to get myself back on track.

I acknowledge and believe the platitude that “happiness is a choice, not a destination,” but that doesn’t seem to help me here. I feel lost, and I don’t know what actions will get me back on track, and I deeply fear getting further afield than I already am. I already had a significant depressive episode this year, and I am fucking tired of them.

Also, I realize the irony of not wanting to share my bad mood when my whole personal brand is “Grumpy.” One of my favorite professors in college told me that I was at my best when I was grumpiest, because it was when I did the best cutting through BS. But here’s the thing: I don’t really like being mad at the world. I like being able to say “that’s nonsense,” but I feel like I lost that power somewhere along the way. What happened to me?

I feel like, at 32, I shouldn’t still be in this place where I’m struggling to find my place in the world. I’m mad about it. I am mad that I don’t know how to fix it. I am mad that I’ve let it get so sideways. I am scared that my decisions will leave my kid feeling this way as an adult. I’m scared people close to me aren’t going to like the choices I’m going to make. I’ve spent my whole life looking for approval, and it hasn’t done me very much good. I need to let go of it, and I’m scared. And mad.

Clear floor, clear mind

I think that if you told me 15 years ago that I would be finding comfort and calm in cleaning up other people’s mess, I would have called you crazy. And yet, here I am, covered in dust and happy as a clam.

I’m writing this from a break in my bi-annual (no, tri-annual?) expedition into cleaning my parents’ garage. Last year I spent some (but not really enough) time fighting through a friend’s basement, and the year before that I put a beat-down on my sister’s patio/miscellany-pile. While it wasn’t the highlight of that vacation, it was still a satisfying morning.

The garage is easy for me because none of what I’m cleaning is mine, and there’s a big pay-off. Cobwebs, sawdust, plaster dust, cat hair, everything goes into the shop-vac.

One of my elementary school teachers had a sign that said something like, “If a messy desk means a messy mind, what does an empty desk mean?” The implication here is that an empty mind is a bad thing, of course, but there’s another side to it. An clear desk isn’t really empty, and neither is an clear mind.

For me, remembering to meditate helps keep my mind cleared out of cobwebs and dust. I can’t meditate for anyone else, but I can help make a little space in the world feel clearer. Part of this is purely selfish – I’m storing a bunch of stuff in that garage, and our life literally always benefits from less cat hair in the environment. Beyond that, the nature of cleaning (engaging the body in action while making few demands on the mind) is an easy meditative space for me to enter. But it’s not only selfish – I have the resources (time, strength, non-attachment) to take on the challenge of a dusty garage or overflowing patio, and applying them makes one corner of the world clearer and more functional. “Clear floor, clear mind” is a goal that we often use, especially when things are feeling chaotic. It’s easy to get started, and highly impactful, and transferable. Of course, I can’t clear your mind, but I can clear the way to your toolbench so you can do your own mind-clearing meditative thing.

Is it possible that we can apply “many hands makes light work” to the intensely-personal work of meditation? I do really love to sit in a group setting, much more than sitting on my own. More research is definitely called for!

Love is weird, and that’s OK

Love is really hard for me some times.

In my “smart brain,” I know that it’s a two-way street, and that there’s a strong likelihood that the people I love also love me. I have been told that I am lovable, and people keep being friends with me and stuff, so clearly there’s something to that, but part of me still feels like I have to be perfect to be loved. I realize this is an artifact of old shit that I’m carrying around, but knowing that doesn’t make me stop feeling it.

When we were talking about depression last week, a couple people sent me private messages talking about “fake it ’til you make it.” It’s a tried-and-true method for a lot of people, and it has, at times, been an ally of mine. It works great for me in social situations – I roll in there like I’m an extrovert, like I’m comfortable being myself in a room full of strangers, and play along until I actually am comfortable (though never actually an extrovert). But when it comes to depression (and particularly this depression), it doesn’t cut it for me.

One of the things that Carlos said in his great post last week took a while to settle in for me. He said, “we have to show other people enough love that we can open up to them.” It seems a little backward, to say “here is my pain” and mean it as an expression of love. I, at least, want love to be happiness and sharing joy and creating positivity, and so this instruction “love them enough to show them your pain,” it feels counterintuitive to me. But, then again, I’m a hard-wired, dedicated introvert, with plenty of issues around showing vulnerability.

The vulnerability, though, is the key. All that pain that I think I’m sharing with you by opening up? It’s because of vulnerability. Showing you that I’m hurt isn’t necessarily showing you love (there are plenty of ways that sharing hurt is definitely not loving), but letting you see my broken insides, telling you that I trust you to see my pain and treat it with care, that’s love. Giving you that trust is an act of love from me to you, and opening that door is an act of love from me to me.

I often don’t know how to behave when I find myself in a situation like this. It feels insufficient and incomplete to say “thank you for letting me show you my vulnerability and treating it with kindness.” I feel like, at 32, with a husband and a child and plenty of living under my belt, I should be better than this. I feel like I shouldn’t still fall down the hole of depression, that I shouldn’t still find painful broken things inside of me. And I am still surprised to wake up every day and discover that people love me, not because they have to, but because… I don’t know. Because they do? (The phrase I want to use here is “porque sí,” “because yes,” but I don’t know an English equivalent.)

I guess the thing about love is that it always has the capacity to surprise and delight, even in dark times. I still don’t feel like I understand it, but I am grateful to have it in my life, and to be able to share it with my people.

RockandJoe

The Depression To-Do List

Depression is like having a to-do list where almost everything is marked “Lowest Priority.” It’s not so much that you don’t want to fix things so much as you just don’t ever get around to doing anything because literally everything else gets in the way. So, by the time you get home from work you just flop down into a pile of unfolded laundry and contemplate which episode of Archer will make you laugh enough to dull the crushing weight of the fact that you still haven’t folded your laundry and it is almost time to stick it all back in the washing machine to make it clean again. Lucky for me I only own two pairs of pants, so the cycle is pretty short.

I think one of the most difficult parts of depression is that for most people it goes away pretty quickly. They have a bad day, they feel like some alone time, and then they get back to the regularly scheduled program. It’s a commercial break of depression. But, for others it is like everyday everything gets an ounce heavier or an inch further away until the door is a mile from your bed, your toothbrush weighs five pounds, and you have to squat-press your laundry basket. At some point you need to start taking medication, which is like a mental weight belt that makes sure you don’t blow out your metaphorical colon while doing your household chores.

And to make it just that little bit harder, no one is ever congratulatory of your accomplishments, because you are the only one that sees the invisible weight and distance–it’s like being the kid from The Sixth Sense and all of the ghosts are sitting on top of your stuff and trying to trip you while you walk.

Having a community is incredibly important when you find yourself pinned under this massively mixed metaphor I have created. You need to kill your pride and show your love for someone by confiding in them your dark secret.

Get a depression buddy (or buddies):

  1. Text them when you take your meds.
  2. Tell them the thing that you did today.
  3. Tell them what you eat.

If you eat well, hold yourself responsible for taking at least one productive step a day, and you take your meds, you can dust of the ounces and push back the inches. It might not be fast, but it will be real, and it will become a habit. Even if it has to be cultivated as a rote habit, eating well and taking your meds is crucial to winning your battle.

Ultimately, depression is a very personal experience. Your mileage may vary; this works for me, and if nothing else, it’s a place where you can start.

I want to thank my buddies that help me with my PTSD.

I don't know who to credit for this image. YAY DEPRESSION. Thanks Loading Artist!

Catching up

People, I have so much catching up to do. I’m hours late with this blog post, I have easily a dozen emails I need to send, I still haven’t brought all of Rock’s clothes in from the garage, and I’m not sure when I last washed my hair. And that’s not even all of it, just the first four things that came to mind.

I’ve been in Yakima since 10:30 Saturday night, and I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done. It’s not true, but everything I do accomplish is accompanied by a feeling of deep bodily exhaustion. I’ve been starting to feel like I’m recovering from some grave illness, without ever being sick. It was starting to feel a little worrisome, to be honest.

Then, this morning, I made a somewhat surprising discovery, that made sense of a whole bunch of little mysteries, like why I am so tired, and so hungry, and did I mention, tired, like, in my bones? No, I’m not pregnant… I weighed myself. I realize that this conversation might feel a little alienating (and/or TMI). Culturally, we have a lot of issues around weight, and I don’t want to get into a conversation about body image or any of that. Without putting too fine a point on it, let’s say that I realized this morning that I do not weigh enough for my own health. Like, kind of significantly.

I knew I wasn’t eating well during most of February. The work of cooking was just too much on top of everything else. And then we got to the end of the month, and it got real bad. I packed up the kitchen tools I actually used, and got down to the last of the food in the freezer. One day I just ate an entire package of chocolate covered graham crackers, because I knew I needed the calories. And then, before we knew it, moving day was almost upon us, but first we had a gauntlet of much-needed and deeply appreciated social events. I know I ate during at least one of them, a big, lovely bowl of poutine that I meant to share with Carlos and did not. But more than the calories, even, all that lovely time spent with our beloved Vancouver family meant that by the time we pulled into the driveway in Yakima, I was short more than a full night’s sleep over the course of half a week. Awesome.

So, after baby bath time this morning, I “helped him take a nap,” and then ate a bowl of cereal, half an avocado, two huge handfuls of fancy mixed nuts, two kinds of candy and some string cheese. And noted, with a heart full of appreciation, that my dad took Copper River salmon filets out of the chest freezer for dinner. Like he read my mind.

I really struggle with this feeling of weakness, of my body being unable to do the things I want it to. When I told Carlos about my weight predicament, we talked about how to get back to where I need to be, and he said “weightlifting!” I cannot wait until that’s something that’s an option for me again. One of the things that has been hardest about this over-scheduled month had been how hard it has been to get exercise. My poor body needs to work, and the sooner the better.

After today’s nap, I think I might be as close as possible to caught up on sleep. I’m off to clean up the kitchen so someone else can turn those fatty filets into something delicious for my face, and the, if I’m really lucky, I’ll go for the world’s laziest swim. I love you folks, and I am making progress catching up. I’ll be there soon!

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One more sleep!

I don’t know where the meme of “x more sleep(s) until [whatever event]” originated, but I have seen it a lot this week. Some friends were counting down to their trip to Costa Rica by counting down sleeps, and just this morning, Carlos used the phrase to describe how long I have left in Vancouver – One More Sleep.

I wish I had a hundred more sleeps in Vancouver, or even just a dozen. Honestly, I would be happy with two. But one is the number that I have, and I already know that that one is going to be shorter and sadder than I would like.

I take a little comfort from knowing that the sleep I get after my last one here will be at my parents’ house, a place virtually guaranteed to be recharging and restorative for me. There is sunshine there, and not one but TWO freezers full of farmer’s market goodness, and people who are good for my soul. I also take comfort from the knowledge that the big ridiculous adventure part of the move will be me and my dad (go team!), and that my mom will be waiting at home, ready to hold the baby and feed me delicious foods.

Things that are not comforting me right now: my reduced kitchen is still, like, 8 boxes; there was avalanche control on Snoqualmie Pass this morning, and “the worst storm of the winter” is hanging out around Seattle; I really need to meditate today, but finding time to do it will be ridiculously hard; once again I am having difficulty packing our art. And, most critically, I don’t want to leave. I love our friends here, and even though I can and will be back, before long, I am still sad to be leaving a community that has been so warm and welcoming to Carlos and me and our whole zeitgeist. Even having spent last night with a lot of them, and knowing that I’ll see them again tonight, I have heaviness in my heart, knowing that I don’t get to stay, and that I don’t get to grieve until I settle in my next place. (And all of this leaves out the fact that my most favorite person of all isn’t coming with us just yet. But time apart has always been a reality of our relationship, and at least I know that we’ll be together again.)

In the end, though, I’m glad that this part of this stage of our life is almost done. I know that there are still things that I’ll need to shed when I get on my feet in Yakima, but most of the things that are truly useless are staying behind, and that feels good. And the next time that I have to pack up all my things, it’s going to be easier, so that gives me hope. I am excited to be traveling, and to get to spend quality time with the people I’ve been missing.

And adventure is awesome! Let’s not forget that!

Next week we’ll play some fun games, like “why did I bring this, again?” and “we have HOW MANY waiter’s corkscrews?” It’s going to be hilarious! Maybe there will be prizes involved! Until then, I’m signing off. Time to put my head down and get through this busy time. I’ll see you on the other side. Much love!

Rose Waves

Shaking off the dust

First, let me apologize for yet another post about housecleaning. It is a large consumer of my time, and I find that it’s bringing up a lot of thoughts for me. Thanks for your patience.

The other day, our friend Dylan used the phrase “shake the dust off my feet” in relation to some work related thing, meaning “be finished with.” This being a rant on Twitter, he used the phrase and then had to clarify, but before he explained, I knew exactly what he meant. (Where does that kind of reference live in my brain, that I understand that? Anyway…) The phrase stuck with me, and has been rolling around inside my head for several days.

When Dylan used it, it was definitely an expression of exasperation. I will admit that it keeps coming back to me as I’m pulling boxes and bags and piles of things out of dark corners in the house, and discovering that they’re covered in dust. This whole house has always been covered in dust, and I have not been good at managing it. We have these funny pinkish marbled tiles, and of course, they just collect dog hair. Plus, we live near an arterial road, and have open windows and/or central heat that originates in the downstairs unit. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, I have a somewhat mixed relationship with cleaning. This was even more true when I was pregnant; I wanted things to be clean, but I had a really difficult time accomplishing the physical tasks necessary to get it done, and I became quite easily disheartened.

This time around, I have that same drive – CLEAN ALL THE THINGS! The surrounding circumstances are much more conducive now, especially with the new emphasis on letting go of and getting rid of things we don’t need. We have a lot of those, and every time I get a bunch of them sorted into boxes or bags or out the door, I find a new bit of empty space in the house that I can just clean, without ever having to put anything back into it. I like that a lot.

Once I get down to those places in the bones of this house that I am leaving and finally coming to love, I’ve found Dylan’s phrase in my head. I’m shaking, or more accurately, wiping the dust off, cleaning out, finishing up. As I’m moving us out, I’m seeing the things that Carlos saw in this house a year ago – the open space, the strong bones, the funny quirks of the Italian man who lived here for so many years. This totally makes sense to me now, in the context of the way we talked about balancing the energies of the home in my Shambhala home workshop: The spaciousness is heaven, the bones (architecture) is earth, and the quirks (The fireplace!) is man, and they’re coming into alignment, finally.

As I checked my notebook for reference from that workshop, I found two things I wrote down that are relevant to this post: “Recycling our emotional havoc into a receptacle of energy” – Someone else in the group said this, and it resonated very deeply with me as a path to understanding my housekeeping problem. The other thing I wrote down was a favorite saying of many people’s, from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: “You can do it, Sweetheart!” Wise words, indeed. And words that I’ll keep filed in my head for the next time I feel disheartened about shaking off the dust.