Monthly Archives: December 2015

Virtual Insanity

Too Many TabsYesterday I realized something about myself.

I have a very low tolerance for insanity.

I’m not talking about insane people—in fact, insanity is not an actual medical diagnosis, but rather a term only used for legal matters. I’m talking about the insanity of life. 

We all know people who thrive on insanity. In the most negative form, thriving on insanity manifests itself in those we tend to label drama queens, those who intentionally create unnecessary chaos in their lives. But I think there are people for whom thriving on insanity is a helpful coping mechanism. These are the people who always seem to be on the go, working crazy hours, having big families, chairing every committee, traveling all over the world. Some people need to be in a constant state of movement during all waking hours.

I do not.

My low insanity tolerance probably explains why I was overwhelmed enough with my first kid to never have a second. It also explains why the aspect I miss most about my pre-kid life was the ability to spend an entire weekend day doing nothing. And why now, when given a break from the responsibilities of life, my first choice of activity would be to take a nap, not go out and socialize or shop or whatever. Or why I have never understood the appeal of loud bars or situations involving enthusiastic cheering.

I think coming to the realization that I have a low insanity tolerance was kind of a big breakthrough for me. It is well-documented in the pages of this blog that I tend to get down on myself for not accomplishing as much as some other people. But you know what? Maybe those people like insanity and living life at breakneck speed.

Me, I’ll be taking a nap.

 

Feeling trapped

Today I was supposed to do something that I’m not good at. And not only am I not good at it, but I don’t understand how to do it and I get panicked about it, and I’ve been shamed about not being able to do it so I’m traumatized about that and even thinking about it makes me feel all shaky and trapped and like an utter failure.

And I was supposed to spend the entire day today doing it. I have to do it to be able to move on to the next phase. But I got about 10% in and just lost it.

So now I have to go try to finish up on Tuesday. I’m feeling shame paralysis already.

I have always thought that there’s a way to outthink almost everything. Some way that I just haven’t figured out yet to make whatever thing it is doable, even if I don’t do it well. (Done is good.) But this has been beating me for 42 years.

Is there something that’s making you feel all panicked and weepy this season? You’re not alone. (I’ve got no solution for either of us. Just a fist bump of solidarity.)

Things That are Total Downers, But Are Surprisingly Reassuring

This first poster is actually from despair.com, the company designed to make fun of inspirational posters. As such, it should be funny, but discouraging. I kind of find this one to be neither. It makes me feel better to know I’m not alone in thinking This Is So Hard.

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It’s the same sort of comforting message I get from Coldplay’s “The Scientist.” I know it’s a song about a breakup, but somehow throughout a number of life’s struggles I’ve found solace in these lyrics:

Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard

I’m not sure why I’ve always liked this lyric, something about taking the unhelpful platitude of Nobody said it was easy and saying, Yeah, but 

 

Here’s another music video. This one is a photo montage set to Ingrid Michaelson’s “Breakable.” The lyrics are sad, but the reminder that it’s okay to break makes me feel better.

Here’s a highly relatable poem about a woman trying to explain her depression to her mother. Mom still doesn’t understand. Mom! Can’t you see that neither can I? 

And finally, this quote I took at some point from the To Write Love on Her Arms Facebook:

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It’s not all in your head

I get very used to thinking that I’m depressed because my body has this dysfunctional reaction to things normal people handle just fine. But then it’s a Friday like today and I’m thinking, “This has been an utterly horrible week” and it hits me that it has been objectively horrible and my sadness and feeling of being at a loss is probably a pretty reasonable reaction to actual events.

My friend’s sister died of breast cancer. My friend’s grandson died from being born too soon. My friend’s friend’s son died from being accidentally shot during military training. My friend had a miscarriage. RIP, Amy. RIP, Hunter. RIP, Max. RIP, baby who would have been.

And then there’s a lot that’s happened that isn’t actual death but feels closer to that than to life. Fear and anger and hatred and scorn. Trauma and exhaustion. Being tired of trauma. It is not so easy being human this week.

If you are in the habit of feeling guilty or apologetic for depression, well, stop it. You can’t help it. But especially this week, maybe depression is the most reasonable response to external events.

 

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish (But It Sure As Hell Feels That Way)

This morning I woke up early, after getting too little sleep, to a dreary December day. Some ugly monthly lady hormones were sloshing inside of me. I had to get my not-at-all-a-morning-person eight-year-old son out of bed and ready for school.

Forty-five minutes, a barely-eaten breakfast, and what seemed like about a hundred battles later, he was off to school.

And all I wanted to do was go back to bed. 

I work freelance from home, and I didn’t have anything scheduled for the day. My workload was manageable. And my bed was very comfortable and inviting. All conditions were great for a nice little morning nap.

All conditions, that is, except the nattering dissent from the ongoing track in my head.

You can’t go back to sleep, it said. Successful people don’t go around sleeping in the middle of the day. I bet your friend So-and-So never takes naps. Get up and be a productive person. This is why you’re not more successful in life. You’re so spoiled to even get the opportunity to sleep during the day. You don’t deserve this. And you’re fat. 

(And you’re fat is the head track’s catchphrase. All arguments get to and you’re fat eventually.)

The reality is, we’ve all been so indoctrinated into the culture of success = busy and tired that many of us feel guilty if we’re not operating at the breakneck speed at which we assume the whole rest of the world runs. We feel guilty if we’re not doing it all, having it all, or giving it all.

Certain forms of self-care are more acceptable than others. Anything related to exercise is a strongly-encouraged form of self-care. Yoga. Going for a run. Talking a walk out in nature. Those things are all very wholesome and thought of as acceptable diversions from being Busy and Productive.

Somewhat relatedly, the next acceptable form of self-care is self-improvement. The mani/pedi. The haircut. Maybe the massage, although not too often, because you don’t want to be selfish and extravagant, unlike your wonderfully self-sacrificing friend Such-and-Such who doesn’t have the money for those kinds of luxuries and hasn’t eaten in a restaurant since 1997.

We’re told to take time for our marriages, to have the hideously-named “date nights.” And a “girls’ night” is acceptable. (Why you are still dating after getting married and still being called a girl when you’re in your 40s is a topic for a whole other post.)

But what if all you want to do is sit in your house and vegetate? What if all you want is a nap? Those are my favorite kinds of self-care, the kind you do at home and alone. (And I realize that you can’t use the terms self-care, at home, and alone without people’s minds going to the gutter, so let me clarify that I’m speaking here of activities such as sleeping, reading, or watching TV.)

I don’t want to go shopping. I don’t want to get my eyebrows waxed. I just want to take a nap. 

And even when I do let myself nap, any relaxing benefits are undone by the all-consuming guilt of the voice in my head. Well, that certainly was indulgent. Do you know that in the two hours you were napping, your friend X probably earned a thousand dollars at her job, all while caring for her kids and doing charity work? Also, you wouldn’t be so tired if you weren’t so fat. 

I don’t know if the voice is depression, or society, or both. All I know is that when I’m happy to get sick because it’s an acceptable time to nap (stomach viruses notwithstanding), that’s when we have a problem.

You can tell me a thousand times that self-care isn’t selfish. You can say that I can’t take care of others if I don’t take care of myself first. You can repeat that blasted “secure your own oxygen mask before securing that of another person” metaphor a million times over. You can even tell me that Depression preys on people who don’t take care of themselves, and I’m still going to tell you that I’m a pointless waste of space if I take a nap.

I wish I could say that I’ve come to some great revelation or that I’m preparing to turn over a new leaf when it comes to self-care. But change usually doesn’t come that quickly. I am, however, looking toward a whole new source of inspiration when it comes to self-care.

Cats.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love cats. I even have an entire Christmas tree decorated solely with cat ornaments. My sweet kitties Yoda and Holly are my only co-workers in my office, and I kind of like it that way. Besides, cats have kind of taken over the Internet, which is kind of the next-best thing to taking over the world, so we should pay attention to them.

Cats have no problem with self-care. They are the most selfish creatures on earth. I’m more important than you is the mantra of every single cat on the planet. And thus they have no problem carving out a lot of time for napping.

Further, cats know their limits when it comes to tolerance for other people. Every cat I’ve ever had can snap from I’m your best friend pet me pet me pet me to Leave me alone or I’ll scratch your eyes out in a matter of minutes. And when they want to be alone, they find a place to be alone. When they want to nap, they nap.

Now, a person could very reasonably argue that humans have a lot more responsibilities than cats do, and we probably shouldn’t be looking to cats for inspiration. But here’s how I see it: Humans, theoretically, are supposed to be responsible during approximately 16 non-sleeping hours a day. Cats’ responsibilities (which include licking themselves, eating, and possibly scaring away rodents) amount to about an hour a day. Then they sleep like 15 hours a day. (What they do with the other 8 hours is unclear, but it’s possibly when they’re plotting to overthrow humankind.) So, if cats can work for 1 hour a day and sleep for 15 hours, certainly a human is entitled to do the opposite and work 15 hours a day while taking a 1-hour nap. Oh, and those hours roll over; if you don’t get your hour nap in one day, you get two hours the next day.

And if anybody comments, Wow, I wish I had the luxury of a one-hour nap every day, I will promptly scratch their eyes out.

Nothing ventured and nothing gained

This week feels like suspended time to me. Not close enough to Christmas to feel like I have to rush to get everything done, but not far enough away to think of much else besides Christmas. It almost feels like a waste of time, like there isn’t anything that actually can be done this week except think about how far away from Christmas Day we still are.

And I don’t have much of anything else today, and certainly nothing brilliant or insightful. I’ve been feeling sick since I woke up this morning and am going to bed early, having done nothing much except just showing up.

If you’re having a day or a week or a few weeks like that, when you are feeling like you’re contributing bupkis, know that a) you’re not the only one, and b) it’ll pass. Maybe just go take a nap, and when you wake up things will look a little different and you might have more to say.

 

 

White Wine in the Sun

A few years ago my friend Katie posted this video on Facebook, with a note about how this song really captures the mixed emotions associated with the holiday season.

I’m mostly going to let the song speak for itself, but I’d like to say a few things.

It’s okay if you like Christmas. It’s okay if you don’t like Christmas. It’s okay if you have a lot of problems with Christmas, but you still like some of the traditions.

Most importantly, find the people who make you feel safe in this world. Surround yourself with these people as much as possible, and hold on to the feelings they bring out in you.

Beautiful failure or plain success

One of the things that makes me feel most despondent about having depression is knowing that I’d accomplish so much more if I didn’t have it. That’s I’d have the energy and clarity and drive to really do things that people need and Make Progress and do worthwhile things. Instead I feel like I spend a lot of time just trying to struggle through a fog to do daily activities of living and keep things on an even keel for my kids. That makes me angry. And it demoralizes me.

When Shannon and I were standing inside the SC Johnson Company Research Tower on Saturday, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, I had this blinding flash that FLW is revered worldwide but is actually a failure, by my standards.

(If you want a recap of our whole trip with some of Shannon’s observations about the buildings, check out yesterday’s post “Waxing.” I agree with Shannon that the tour is definitely worth doing and the buildings and entire campus are gorgeous.)

HF Johnson (grandson of SC Johnson, grandfather of current CEO Fisk Johnson) hired FLW to design the company’s Administration Building. He’d already hired someone to design the building, but stopped mid-construction and hired FLW to design something that would inspire his workers to do great things. From that mandate, FLW designed a building that looked inspiring, but was designed with a bunch of small details that made it uncomfortable to work in–open plan (which we know through peer-reviewed research is bad for humans to work in), uncomfortable physical surroundings (the three-legged desks), leaking ceilings and no windows to look out, etc. He took the form and made it anti-functional for the humans who were supposed to use it. And then he did the same thing to the Research Tower. A tightly-enclosed space that was too bright and utterly confined, with no private space. Inspiring to look at, but difficult and dangerous to work in.

I know Shannon thinks FLW may have had depression himself, but I think he had Narcissistic Personality Disorder, because so much of what he did was designed to bring glory to himself at the expense of the people it was intended to serve. And he’d do things almost the way the client wanted them, but then not quite, but tell the client it was better that way and they should be grateful (and pay him more). His buildings are the embodiment of gaslighting. Monuments to his misanthropy.

So my flash on Saturday was a big moment for me. I am happy to be doing what I am doing–even when I don’t feel like I’m doing enough–because I know that what I do helps other people. It’s what they need, and it allows them to have a better work life, a better life with their kids. It makes them more comfortable and confident. It lets them see more, instead of less. Sometimes what I tell clients hurts, but once they process it I help them move forward. And that’s better than being antagonistic to the people who’ve hired you to create something beautiful for them, like FLW was.

 

Waxing

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Despite everything I’m about to say in this post, the free tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed S.C. Johnson Headquarters was fabulous. Magda and I loved the bus ride from Chicago, the special stop at O&H Danish Bakery for sandwiches and kringle, and the tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings on the S.C. Johnson campus and in the private Johnson home known as Wingspread. Magda decided her interest in Frank Lloyd Wright’s work was based on determining how Frank’s inherent misanthropy informed his cruel architectural features, an interest I labeled “hate tourism.” I think she’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

I need to pause here and note that indoor photography was prohibited at the S.C. Johnson Headquarters, and we weren’t given a whole lot of time for exterior photography. So a lot of my pictures are from Google Images.

Here’s a wide-angle view of the S.C. Johnson headquarters campus in Racine, Wisconsin.

campus exterior

As that label on the random Internet photo so clearly indicates, these are the buildings on the campus that were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The tall building on the left is the now-defunct research tower, and on the right you see the administration building.

They have a newer building that was not designed by Frank or any of his people, which is called Fortaleza Hall. It was designed to hold a replica of an airplane that Sam Johnson flew down to Fortaleza, Brazil in the 1930s to get wax off the carnauba palms for his floor waxes.

Fortaleza Hall

And here’s a selfie of Magda and me outside Fortaleza Hall:

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And now I will get to my point.

As I alluded to in my reference to Magda’s “hate tourism,” it was very clear that many features of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs were incredibly unpleasant for the actual human beings who had to inhabit his buildings. For example, the research tower had very narrow spiral staircases, claustrophobic workspaces, and windows you couldn’t actually see through. Everything was designed to make workers feel removed from the outside world, and at the same time give them no privacy from their coworkers. The only place a lab employee could be alone was in the microscopic airplane-sized bathrooms, which, by the way, were all men’s rooms. lab outsidelabcolor

The administration building didn’t look much more pleasant to work in. The first floor of the building was called The Great Workroom, and was an open-plan office (blech) that was once largely occupied by female secretaries sitting at rows and rows of special Frank Lloyd Wright-designed desks. And although the ceiling was made of glass tubing designed to let in natural light, there were no actual windows in the building that employees could look through. Great_workroom_from_floor

desk

Frank even designed special desk chairs, which looked really neat but were very easy to fall out of if you crossed your legs. Also the chair backs were stiff to allow for absolutely zero leaning. (I sat in one. It was not your ergonomic desk chair of today. The stiffness was actually quite a shock.) The tour guide told us that at one point point an S.C. Johnson executive complained to Frank Lloyd Wright that employees kept falling out of their chairs, and Frank’s response was that the employees just didn’t know how to sit properly.

chair

So I got to thinking that employees working in Frank’s world had to endure a lot of unpleasantries. Then I got to thinking, What would it be like to work in such an awful space and be depressed? 

Now, let me clarify that my use of the term awful space includes both actual, physical space, as well as a point in time. The S.C. Johnson administration building opened in 1939, and the research tower opened in 1950. So I’m thinking specifically of employees in the 40s and 50s here.

It was a time when you weren’t allowed to admit you were depressed. And imagine if you were a young woman, living in the sometimes brutal climate of Racine, Wisconsin, coming to work every day as a secretary for the S.C. Johnson Company. You’re dressed in the confining wardrobe of a girdle, pencil skirt, belt, pantyhose, and high heels, and forced to sit bolt upright in an uncomfortable and tippy chair. You never get any privacy. And you’re going through a horribly dark depression, but you can’t do anything except soldier on, show up to work, fake a smile, and type up memos all day like the hundreds of other women sitting all around you. You would just have to suffer in silence, being miserable every single day of your life and wondering how you’d make it through.

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Someone in this picture was suffering from depression.

Or imagine if you’re working in the laboratory, unable to see outside at all, elbow-to-elbow with every other employee, and never getting a moment’s peace because of the strange acoustics of the building. Maybe you’re depressed and just can’t see the point of life, and being confined to an isolated two-foot-by-two-foot workspace with a bunch of beakers isn’t exactly lifting your spirits.

Lab Life Magazine

While I was thinking about how awful depression sufferers of previous generations had it, my thoughts drifted to the people of those generations who consumed the S.C. Johnson products. These were largely housewives, given few choices in life, feeling trapped at home and forced by advertising to believe that all your problems would be solved if you just had shinier floors in your home. ad4ad1ad3

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Just smile and nod and keep on waxing, you have no right to be depressed when your home is this sparkly. ad5Nobody is depressed when he’s waxing a beautiful car outside of a sprawling suburban home. 

My point is this: While we seldom think of gratitude when it comes to depression, I myself am grateful that I suffer from depression today instead of 60 or 70 years ago. Today we have better medications to treat depression. Today doctors and your more enlightened friends know that depression is an actual medical condition with an actual physiological cause, rather than a sign of weakness. Today you may feel like you’re always falling out of your metaphorical tippy chair, but at least the world doesn’t tell you it’s because of your poor sitting skills.

And yes, of course we still have a long way to go. There is still a stigma attached to mental illness that prevents many people from seeking help. Antidepressant medications still have a lot of room for improvement. Most of us feel some level of shame about being depressed, no matter how many times somebody tells you that being depressed is no different from being diabetic. All of us know that even though there’s a road out, it’s a long and steep one with a lot of detours.

It would be nice if someday people with depression could just tell anybody who’s interested about their mental health conditions. Someday maybe you can “call in depressed” to work and have your co-workers understand. Someday maybe antidepressants will be available over-the-counter, and they’ll be fast-acting and long-lasting.

But for today, I’m grateful I can at least tell somebody I’m depressed. I’m grateful that I’m being treated with non-barbaric medical interventions that are covered by insurance. I’m grateful that the medical professionals who dispense these treatments do so without being condescending, and that the friends who offer support tell me I’m strong instead of weak.

Because today you may be in a deep, dark hole, but at least the modern world offers windows to help you see a way out of it.