dog

dog

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on my blog. I needed some clearing and gathering time. And time to determine what to clear and what to gather.

This has required a great deal of thinking — thinking while I’m driving (distracted driver), thinking while I’m walking the dogs, and thinking while I’m trying desperately to get some sleep.

It has taken some wandering, experimenting, and hibernating time as well.

In September, I received an email from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, which was the prompt that started me on this journey. Elizabeth facilitates a writer’s group that meets once a month. It’s different than most writer’s groups as we don’t read each other’s work or do critiques, instead we talk about the sorts of questions that a writer might ponder.

Elizabeth’s email prompted the group to think about the word “play” in relationship to writing.

Play?

As I thought about this word, the words that popped into my mind were free, light, uninhibited, unworried about outcome, adaptable, unrestricted.

And I realized how little time I spend in the state these words bring to mind.

fat bike

I work hard to get from point A to point B. The goal is usually for me to become an expert on something or at least good at it. I want whatever it is to become something that comes naturally, that flows and is no longer difficult for me. If I can’t reach that point of flow or at least reach the point where I no longer feel self-conscious about my lack of skills, I will often decide that it wasn’t that important anyway and quit to move on to another it.

During our discussion about playing, some of the writers used the example of music and how you gain muscle memory where you no longer have to think about the notes and which fingers go where. Instead you play freely, taking the energy you put into learning the music itself and putting it towards infusing feeling and personality into the piece. By doing so, you make a song that has been played by millions of musicians into your own unique creation.

And that is how I’d like to think about life.

walk in the woods

I think that playing freely and making my own unique creation means that I need to make some changes. Like…

  1. On the days when no one seems to value or appreciate me or my unique creation, that it doesn’t mean I, as a human being, have no value. More than likely, the people who don’t appreciate my Maeryness don’t see any value in the things I’m good at. They may not even see those things are even there. I think (I hope) this just means my real life is somewhere else.
  2. Believing that I am more than the things that don’t come naturally to me. I want to quit striving to mold myself into something I don’t even want to be.
  3. For my own sanity and well being, I want to play around with the things that I enjoy and I feel good about. If I feel the need to define myself (which is limiting and I should stop it), but if I must, define myself by those things.
  4. I am the person who alone has lived my life and knows the lessons it has taught me. I would have preferred to be oblivious of some things, but life has granted me a certain set of wisdoms whether I want them or not. I am a conglomeration of what I have lived and I’m tired of trying to pretend that I am something else because something else has been seen by me as being better than what I am. It’s time to find value in the tools I’ve been given and stop looking for the ones I don’t have.

I’ve been trying to remember what it was like to be a kid — to remember what I played at and imagined and loved. I want to see if the things I started out loving provide clues to how to bring those playful feelings (free, light, uninhibited, unworried about outcome, adaptable, unrestricted) back into my way too serious life.

And so I’m returning. Slowly. But playfully.

bicycling in woods

Distress

 

bridge wall

I don’t know what to write anymore. Which is a real problem for a writer. It’s why I decided to do a photography project for August.

How do you write when you you don’t feel like you can tell people how you really feel?

Of course, I could write about what I “think.” Maybe write a political opinion piece… No, there’s enough of those out there.

I’ve been kind of off the grid beyond working my job and posting some photos. My main focus, I’m sorry to say, is all about me and how to get “better.”

bridge peeling

I’ve been reading two books lately – both are attempts to understand what the hell is wrong with me. The first book is called “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” by Andrew Solomon. It’s a long book but is teaching me many things about what this pattern of ups and downs is welding into my brain.

It ain’t good, in fact the damage that has been found to occur from repetitive patterns of depression is frightening, which just makes me all the more determined to break out of this. If I wasn’t so afraid of what’s happening to me, I wouldn’t have faced the shame and defeat of going to a doctor and asking for help. I shouldn’t have felt that way about a doctor visit, and yet, so many of us do.

The second book I’m reading is called “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone” by Olivia Laing. Laing writes about loneliness from her own personal experience but takes it deeper by investigating expressions of loneliness in art, writing, and music by well known creatives such as Andy Warhol and Edward Hopper. I haven’t read very far yet but already, I’m struck by common expressions of this thing that I feel:

“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged. It hurts, in the way that feelings do, and it also has physical consequences that take place invisibly, inside the closed compartments of the body. It advances, is what I’m trying to say, cold as ice and clear as glass, enclosing and engulfing.” ~ Olivia Laing

Because of the book’s subtitle “Adventures in the Art of Being Alone,” I remain hopeful that there will be a message somewhere that tells a person how to be alone without feeling lonely. I’m not talking so much about being physically removed from other people. I’m talking about the loneliness that comes from not being amongst your own kind — isolation in a sea of people kind of stuff.

Distress

I felt better for a while yesterday, after I visited my horse, Luke, and shared a conversation and a few laughs with the woman caring for him.

I’ve been thinking about the stigma and shame around being depressed and lonely. These are defects. Weaknesses. A mind over matter failure.

It’s the American way. Everything is controllable if you are strong enough and confident enough. If you work hard enough.

People believe that depression is “unhappiness.” So do this and do that and you’ll be happy. Or it’s mind over matter. Focus on what is good about your life, instead of what is bad, and you’ll be happy.

Like the song “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” I have to ask, what does happiness have to do with it?

What I feel has nothing to do with happiness or unhappiness.

Anoka Rum River

I love my home and the person and the dogs in it. I know I’m very fortunate. I know there is no good reason for me to be anxious and depressed.

What I feel is not because of what’s out there. It’s a lifetime of what’s inside me.

Who knows. The drug I’ve been prescribed may kick in and things may turn around. I hope so.

In the mean time, I do simple things, like the photo project. I try to go easy on myself and not over schedule or ask too much. I look for ways to connect. Silly ways to tell myself I deserve good things, even if that only means buying fresh roasted coffee beans and taking extra care to brew one damn good cup of coffee.

I am hanging in there. Perhaps that’s why I am studying and photographing hands…

holding hands

dog fur

dog fur

It seems like so many people are doing 30 days of something. I’ve done my own stints of 30 days of yoga, 30 days of bicycling, 30 days of meditation, 30 days of poetry, and so on. 30 days sounds doable. And if you can hang in there for 30 days, there’s a promise, implied or explicit, that you’ll come out of the exercise with a new and healthy habit.

Usually there is a hash tag involved. You post a photo, a little blurb about how you are doing and this creates a community of people working together on the same thing. With a group comes encouragement and accountability — that extra push of not wanting to be the “one” who did not stick to it for the full 30 days.

But there doesn’t seem to be a 30 days of mental health thing — something to turn a muddy rutted road into a solid path away from anxiety, depression or whatever it is you feel yourself slipping too deeply into.

petting dog

You know how there are highly functioning alcoholics? Well, I am a highly functioning depressive, which merely means that this is a low grade, under the radar depression. It is a level of the illness that is bad enough so you irritate and frustrate people but not so bad that you are rocking back and forth in the corner of your closet.

I have asked myself over and over, what is this about? Beyond the obvious that there is something wrong with my brain.

Some of these things sound really silly as I write them down, like this one:

  • I thought I was going to get onto this health and wellness committee at work that would have been an outlet for my interest in promoting bicycling and participating in a group activity.

It didn’t happen.

I felt huge, out-of-proportion disappointment over this. Perhaps that shows how desperate I am to be a part of something and have an outlet for the ideas rattling around in my head.

This one is maybe a bit more like conventional disappointment:

  • I thought I was going to get a job that would have put me into a position of working on something I enjoy, with people I enjoy working with, plus learning new things and having new challenges. And the best benefit — feeling useful and like I’m helping people.

It didn’t happen.

petting dog

Loneliness and losing people through distance or death is a common trigger for depression:

  • I haven’t seen my son for over two years and I miss him — a lot. Pulling together travel plans, making flight and hotel reservations, and figuring out all the logistics is something I can’t wrap my head around right now.
  • And my birth mother died. This hasn’t been the kind of losing your mother experience many people my age go through. I barely knew my birth mother. She was difficult to get to know. Whether she had always been that way or not, I don’t know.

I’ll never know.

When she died, I lost possibilities I didn’t even know I longed for. And I don’t know how to process what I’m feeling…

I wish I could be one of those people who when they’ve lost confidence in themselves, take off across country on their bicycle or hike the Pacific Trail, or eat, pray and love their way across several countries and finish their journey with a whole new outlook on life (and possibly a best selling book). But there’s too much that I couldn’t take with me (like dogs and a horse) to go be that kind of person.

All I can be is myself. And right now, I don’t know if being myself is very helpful.

driving car

I’ve read studies and know from experience that the physical act of smiling can make you feel happy. It’s a temporary fix. If you tried to fake smile to feel better all the time, it would come off as pretty, frickin’ creepy.

I made a weird discovery on my own while working through some training games with my dogs. The games require that you get your dog all revved up so they will enthusiastically run to you when you call them. This revving up requires jumping up and down, running across the yard and using that crazy, excited voice you hear parents use with their kids a lot. Strangely, all that goofiness makes me laugh and feel, well, goofy and weird, which is way better than feeling weighed down and sad.

I may feel stupid, bouncing around and sing songing, “Get the toy! Good puppy! Whoo! Whoo! Get it! Get it! Get it! Good puppy!” But it’s a good kind of stupid.

My dogs jump around me and look at me with those expectant eyes that say, “That was fun! What’s next?”

“Good question,” I answer.

I don’t know what’s next. But I am working on a series of photos in the month of August — photos of hands doing what they do in day-to-day life. I believe hands are as individual and expressive as faces.  You can follow my photo experiment in my Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feeds. If you have any catchy or silly hashtag suggestions for the series, send them my way.

Creating something is usually healing (or at least distracting) for me, so here we go…

coffee mug

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