Monthly Archives: January 2015

January 6: Epiphany

we_three_kingsToday is the last day of this calendar. It’s Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. It’s the day we celebrate the three kings (aka the wise men) coming to see Baby Jesus. Who wasn’t really such a baby by then. The story is that these scholars saw a new star in the sky (the star that announced the birth of Jesus) and knew that it signaled the birth of the Messiah (because of ancient prophesies) so they followed the star and traveled to where Jesus was in order to pay homage to him. Allegedly the trip took them about two years.

Yeah.

What I find fascinating about this story is that whether you think they were royalty or academics, whether you think there were actually three of them or some unspecified number (the Bible mentions the three gifts they brought but not specifically how many people there were), and whether you subscribe to the tradition that they were named Melchior, Balthasar, and Gaspar or not, you probably have the idea that these were people who were used to Deciding Things and Assessing Things and Judging Things.

These men had power. They had knowledge and wealth, and those things equal power. So it makes sense that they’d be coming to assess the Messiah and pronounce him worthy or not. But there’s none of that in the Bible. Simply a journey (long and arduous, with dangerous encounters with Herod that always feel creepy) that ends with their showing up and giving Jesus’ parents a riddle that fulfills a prophecy in the form of gifts.

It has always felt to me like the wise men were telling Jesus and Mary and Joseph, “It is time for you to do your part. We are giving you these clues, and passing you the baton.” Like they were blessing Jesus (even as they knew he was pretty much screwed by earthly standards) instead of assessing him. The arrival of the kings is basically the plot of The Fifth Element.

This is why this is the end of the Christmas season. Christmas is about birth and joy. Epiphany says “Make it work.”

What does this have to do with you? I am guessing that you probably feel like you’re coming up short whenever you’re assessed. I know that I do. The last few days have been a quiet realization that I’ve been doing something in a massively misguided way for a few years. But that it isn’t my place to allow myself to feel inadequate, because I have work to do. So do you.

There’s something that is your task. Something that you’re good at, or that no one but you can do. Whether that’s your job, or some other vocation or activity. Whether it’s being your child’s parent or your parent’s child. Whether it’s caring for your dog or cat or lizard. You have a job to do. And you can do it, even if it sucks, and even if you get screwed sometimes.

You can do it.

(See you on November 29.)

January 5: The Airing of the Gratitude

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 8.04.44 PMThis is my holiday yard card. Yard cards are kind of a thing in my town.

Since the holidays are over, I’m getting ready to take it down now. But I can’t help but get a little weepy when I think about how it got up there in the first place.

My friend and I went together and painted our respective boards in the storefront dedicated to the yard card workshop. When the designs were finished and the paint was dry, we were sent home with the cards and a fairly cryptic sheet explaining how we were supposed to attach posts to the wood and illuminate the card with a spotlight. This was just before Thanksgiving.

Two weeks later, the same friend and I were having lunch, and I confessed to her that my yard card still hadn’t been put on display. I explained that power tools weren’t exactly my forte under the best of circumstances, let alone during the pit of depression I was currently experiencing.

“I have my drill in the car,” she said. “I’ll swing by Home Depot and get you everything you need, then come by and set it all up for you.”

And she did.

And I cried.

It was such a beautiful gesture.

She didn’t stop there. She texted me several times over the next two weeks to find out how I was doing. She invited me to go out with her, even though it was freezing cold and we were in the throes of holiday madness.

Shortly after the yard card assembly, another friend texted me. “I’m at Walgreen’s. I want to bring you a treat. What do you want?” I wanted to respond with the standard “Oh, don’t worry about me,” but I decided I needed to let her do something nice for me. I asked her to bring me Mike & Ikes. Soon a bag containing three different varieties of Mike & Ikes, plus a box of tea, showed up on my doorstep.

That friend kept texting me through the coming weeks, too. “How are you?” “I’m worried about you.”

It’s important when friends recognize that depression takes a long time to get better. It’s important when they keep checking on you and showing their support.

Another friend of mine, on a rare balmy 50-degree day in December, offered to walk laps around the park with me while our children played on the playground. She listened. She said, “This isn’t your fault. It doesn’t matter that you have a good life. Depression is something you just get.”

I also have friends I only know online. They g-chatted and Facebook messaged their support almost daily. You can send a lot of love through cyberspace.

And I have a friend who never failed to be there for me, even though I know she was going through some of her own difficult stuff. The brutally honest, tear-filled, soul-baring conversations we had were some of the most meaningful interactions I’ve ever had with another human being. It’s going to be okay, she told me over and over, even though I don’t know if she always believed it herself. That’s love.

Why am I telling you all this? I’m not usually a fan of the public shout-outs—I think if you want to thank somebody, you should do it privately. But I wanted to go public with my gratitude because I want to emphasize how important friends can be when you’re facing depression. If you are the depressed one, try to reach out to a friend, even though I know that’s a really difficult thing to do. If your friend is depressed, send a text or email and ask if he or she is okay—and do it often. Take the friend out somewhere low-key, or just offer to sit in the friend’s house and talk.

No friend can cure a friend’s depression. That’s an awful realization I have come to again and again. Whether you are the depressed one or your friend is, there is nothing one friend can say or do that will automatically make the pain go away.

But a friend’s small gesture can go a long way. Because sometimes your friend is propping up more than just a wooden board in your front yard.

January 4: Together

Man and woman handsAlmost back to “normal.”

Normal for me is a bit of an effort. I think the tasks I do on a daily basis are about the same as any other working mom does, but they’re an effort for me because of the depression. Sometimes the depression makes it hard for me to sequence, so I have problems getting out of bed. People talk about that all the time, as if it’s this overwhelming sadness and need to hide that keeps depressed people in bed. And maybe sometimes when I’m having a real flare, but on normal depressed days it’s just that I sometimes can’t figure out what to do first. Right leg or left leg? Do I get out and put on some item of clothing, or do I go to the bathroom first? Making breakfast and coffee can be a minefield, even though I can put together a multi-course meal for a dozen people with a variety of food requirements when I’m in remission. But on a normal depressed day I sometimes get confused and can’t act quickly.

I thought it was just me. It’s not. It’s you, too.

And that’s what I want you to take from this calendar. Tuesday is going to be the last day for 11 months. But I want you to know that I know what depression is doing to you. It’s doing it to me, too. It’s doing it to us together, apart.

Let’s figure out how to have more of the together, and less of the apart. Depression creates the apart. Depression lies to us that the together is impossible, that we don’t qualify for the together anymore. And you know that on a good day, and so do I. But I’m writing it down here so we can look at it on a bad day and know that we’re still together, even when all we can see is apart.

January 3: Be still

2015-01-03 16.35.23It’s cold and rainy and grey and I’m ready for things to go back to normal.

One of my friends posted on FB this morning asking if anyone else was ready for Monday, and got a flurry of “Oh, no! I’m loving having my kids home!” responses. Which is great for them. I love having my kids home, especially since they were with their dad through a lot of this break. I sighed when I read those responses, though.

It’s just been Too Much for Too Long. Too much food and drinking and enforced cheer. Too much being off my schedule, and getting nothing done.

Too many self-improvement vows.

Too much goal-setting and forcing outcomes.

Not enough just listening and being still.

My regular routine has a lot of space for listening and being still. I’m ready for that again. Maybe you are, too.

January 2: Resolution

Most years I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. On January 1st I’m usually recovering from the excesses of the holidays and a whirlwind cross-country trip. It’s hard enough for me to eke out some semblance of a normal existence, let alone orchestrate a fabulous new-and-improved life.

But this year I’m making a resolution.

I’m resolving to love myself.

Now, first off, let’s get the obligatory reference to Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” out of the way. Yes, learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. I believe the children are our future, too.

Second, let me make it clear that “love myself” is not some kind of euphemism for, you know, something else. 

I really, truly mean that I want to love myself as a person.

I want to believe that I am a worthwhile human who makes a valuable contribution in the world. I want to be clear of the metaphorical bruises I get from constantly beating myself up. I want to stop thinking that if somebody doesn’t reply to my text, or turns down my invitation, that it’s because that person hates me. I want to become impenetrable to every message from the world that says I’m not good enough. I want to believe the compliments people give me.

I want to protect myself with an armor of love that comes from within.

Thing is, I have no idea how to go about loving myself. I could list all the good things about myself. I could attempt to derail all my self-criticisms. Both good ideas, but I don’t know if they’d have the long-last effects I’m looking for. And I don’t want to get too new-agey or self-helpy or The Secret here.

Is there some kind of workbook for regular people who need to learn to love themselves? Is there a curriculum for this?

Seriously, I’m asking.

January 1: Coming Up Roses

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Happy New Year. 

Truth be told, I struggled with the idea of what to write about New Year’s.

On the one hand, I love the idea of new beginnings. I like to think of starting over, setting new goals, and turning over a new leaf. And a huge part of me just likes the idea that the excesses and expectations of the December holidays are behind us, and we can focus on the tranquility of January.

It’s a brand new era. Everywhere we look, print and digital media remind us that it’s a time to start anew. These media proclaim, “New Year, New You!”

It’s a nice thought. Except.

You’re still the old you. And I can’t speak for you, but I’m pretty glad to still be the same me in 2015 as I was 24 hours ago in 2014. Waking up January 1 after some sort of involuntary midnight personality transplant would be like something out of a Twilight Zone episode.

But, being the same you means that you also have the same life circumstances. An arbitrary change in the calendar doesn’t erase all the problems going on inside and outside of your head.

Which means that it’s okay if you don’t instantly feel better because it’s a new year. It’s okay if you don’t feel like reinventing yourself or making goals or being a whole new you. It’s okay if your only resolution for 2015 is to survive.

And I do think that sometimes the best thing you can do in this epic quest toward survival is to bring in some tiny joys. It is in this spirit of tiny joys that I share with you my own personal New Year’s traditions.

You see, I originally hail from the town of Pasadena, California, home of the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day. So to me, New Year’s will always mean roses.

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 4.38.22 PMEven though I now live very far from the land where roses bloom on New Year’s Day, I celebrate my hometown roots by bringing roses into my home on New Year’s. They add some beauty to the bleakness of January, and they stand in such simple contrast to the excessive decoration just taken down after Christmas.

I wish I could give you roses, too. I know this small gesture wouldn’t solve all your problems—I’ve learned enough being on both sides of the depressed friend equation to know that there’s really nothing a friend can do to take away another friend’s depression. But I also know that a tiny caring gesture can go a long way.

But since I can’t give you flowers, I encourage you to buy yourself flowers. You can buy yourself flowers literally or metaphorically, depending on your preference. But the point is, do something nice for yourself. Establish a practice of being kind to yourself, even if it’s the only new habit you form for 2015.

I wish you a peaceful and hopeful 2015. Now go buy yourself flowers.

I did. IMG_5885