Monthly Archives: November 2016

Just Exactly How Am I Supposed to Feel?

In the two years that Magda and I been writing this blog, we have devoted multiple posts to conveying the message that it’s okay if you’re not feeling joyful during the holiday season. This blog was more or less founded to address the challenge of facing depression amid the pressure to feel happy at Christmas.

We remain firmly committed to the idea that there is no way you’re supposed to feel at Christmas. In fact, there is no way you’re supposed to feel at any given time of the year. To that end, I try to apply the following three guiding principles to my life:

  1. It’s okay to not be okay.
  2. It’s okay to be okay.
  3. However you feel is okay.

Denying your feelings is a dangerous activity. Any expert in mindfulness will tell you that you should just accept a feeling without opinion or judgment of that feeling. I felt sad just now. That’s a feeling, and it will pass. End of story. Any further thought will not only compound the feeling, it will invite a whole bunch of other negative feelings in.

However you feel is okay. And that goes for the holiday season and every day of the year. 

Except, this year with the country in a major upheaval, I’m feeling more pressure than ever to feel a certain way. Just exactly how I’m supposed to feel depends on context. I went to a meeting of my local Pantsuit Nation chapter, and the leader said it was time to move past feeling sad about the election and move on to feeling angry, specifically the kind of angry that spurs you to action. Many of the posts on various political action Facebook groups chide people who are stuck in the paralyzing state of sadness—it was time to get up and do something, dammit.

So then I attempt to take action when I can. That becomes overwhelming almost immediately, as everybody and their sister has an opinion about how we’re supposed to fight back in Trump’s America. Call this person. Write this person. Sign this petition. Recounts. Donations.

I do my best. I do a few things and then I get overwhelmed. I wonder, what good am I doing anyway? And then I feel helpless and ineffective, which bring me right back to feeling sad again.

No, say the politically active people of the world. You mustn’t give up. Complacency will be our downfall. 

Further complicating matters, there seems to be some new bit of devastating news about the Trump transition every single day. Every person appointed as a leader or cabinet member seems to have the worst possible opinion on whatever it is they’re in charge of. I see ideas and institutions I hold sacred under severe threat, to say nothing of the hatred and discrimination being encouraged by the upcoming administration.

Each piece of news is like a gut-punch, a reliving of that devastating moment when America as we knew it seemed to die. How can I move on from sadness when there’s something new to be sad about every single day?

Is the solution to ignore the news? NO, you imagine the activist people yell in your head. Ignore? Give up? That’s how [reference to very dark event in history] happened. PAY ATTENTION!

But I’m sad. I’m mourning, I argue.

There’s no time for your feelings, say the imaginary activists.

Then there’s the guilt at feeling so sad about political events, when I’m not actually even part of a population most vulnerable to the actions of Trump and his Team of Deplorables. I’m a financially comfortable, educated, heterosexual, white woman. I have no right to be so sad.

You can see how I’m not exactly following my own rules about accepting any feeling that comes along. The pressure to feel and do and act a certain way feels stronger than ever.

Which brings me back to Christmas. Am I supposed to feel joyful this holiday season? Am I supposed to give in to the magic of the lights and the songs and the smell of gingerbread? Is that betraying the cause if I stop for something as frivolous as holiday merriment? And what if I can’t enjoy this merriment because I’m still so upset—should I try harder this year to be merry because we could all use a morale boost?

Obviously I have more questions than answers. We’re all forging our paths in this unknown new world. We’re doing what we can do, when we can do it. We’re doing what we need to do to get through it, just as we always have.

I remain right alongside you as we forge our paths.

Love,

Shannon

With you

I have been thinking about my depression and sadness and loneliness of the past few Advent and Christmas seasons and what a luxury it was. It was so personal–I was sad, I was scared, I felt alone.

There was comfort in knowing that other people were happy and were enjoying the sparkle and the busyness and the satisfaction. Even if I didn’t see myself ever having that, knowing that other people did made me feel better.

But this year we’re all scared and worried and sad. Even people who aren’t depressed are scared and sad, and even people who haven’t been depressed before are depressed now (and scared and sad), and those of us who are usually depressed are extra-depressed (and extra scared and sad). There’s more happening every day. More bad news, more people and systems and machines trying to hurt us and other people. It’s like a nightmare in which we can watch the tornado coming but can’t move out of the way or yell out to warn anyone else.

I don’t have any answer. I think it’s really, really important to admit that we’re scared and sad, all together. And then we keep fighting, all together, for each other. Knowing that we might not win, and that things can get a whole lot worse. But there’s no answer, and there’s no other choice.

You are not alone. Even at 3 am. We’re all here, scared and sad and depressed. With you.

Love,

Magda

 

Double Whammy

I’m a person who firmly believes that the Christmas season doesn’t officially start until the day after Thanksgiving, so it was altogether fitting and proper that my holiday funk would start that day, too.

Truth be told, I have been pretty bummed out since the election. Let me be clear that I remain firmly committed to my goal not to give Donald Trump the power of ruining my mental health. But it’s hard not to get angry about the fresh hell that comes every day with news of appointments to Trump’s team, and of all the hate-based activity that seems to have been encouraged by Trump’s election victory.

I guess the preparations, cooking, cleaning, and eating that come with Thanksgiving provided a temporary distraction from my full-time anger. I was still focusing on recounts and postcards and calls to representatives, but part of the time I was thinking about the timeline of thawing, brining, and cooking a turkey.

And then Friday came. Holed up in my house with freshly-vacuumed carpets and plastic containers of carb-laden leftovers, I looked out the window at the dreary day and just felt defeated. It was time to start focusing on all the Christmas-related tasks, but I just couldn’t. I just wanted to take a nap.

Our nation’s pain was back at the forefront of my mind. And now my election-related woes were compounded by the holiday season.

It’s hard to know how to feel about Christmas this year. Maybe the songs and lights and cookies are a much-needed balm for our souls. On the other hand, will the myriad tasks of Christmas distract us from focusing on our fight? And as a person who felt ambivalent about all the trappings and traditions of Christmas before, I feel extra challenged to muster up the enthusiasm for Christmas activities this year.

I have no words of wisdom or advice for you today. I just want you to know that, if you feel like you’re fighting for your mental health on two fronts this year, you’re not alone.

And make no mistake, I’m fighting. I’m going to the gym, and I’ve made more frequent therapy appointments. I’m taking deep breaths. I’m giving myself a break.

Give yourself a break, too. We’ll get through this together.

All my love,
Shannon

There’s nothing wrong with waiting

One of the tortures of being depressed is that it feels like we’re always waiting. Waiting to feel better, waiting to feel worse, waiting for time to elapse so we can go to bed, waiting for anything to happen that changes things even a little.

It begins to feel like waiting is all we have and it’s not enough. Depression steals our agency. How can we ever change anything if we can’t even get it together to put on our shoes? And we watch the normals doing all kinds of things we’d be able to do if only we could, and feel even worse about not being able to move.

But here we are on the first day of Advent, and the entire purpose of Advent is waiting. We spend these four weeks waiting for Christmas to come, for Jesus to be born. It’s not a time of self-improvement to make ourselves worthy of Jesus. It’s not a challenge and if we do well enough Jesus comes and we get to open our presents. There’s nothing actionable about it. And that’s difficult. It’s especially difficult for a people who are used to feeling guilty about waiting and who long constantly to be different than we are.

But here’s the thing: Jesus, by his very existence, tells us that we’re enough exactly as we are. And that’s why we celebrate his birth (at the wrong time of year) so vigorously. His birth certainly isn’t the most important part of this story–his death and resurrection are–but it is the first sign that God is watching us and loves us and sends this person to bring justice to the whole world, even as flawed and compromised as we are.

Especially as flawed and compromised and depressed as we are.

It’s jarring and it’s hard to believe, that we could be actually enough. So we get this four-week period of Advent to do nothing but wait and get used to being worth it. And then Jesus is born to take away the pain of the world.

You are enough, even in pain and depressed.

You are enough, even when you don’t earn it.

You are enough, even while you’re waiting.

This is Advent again.

Love,

Magda

 

(You might also enjoy the Advent devotional #fuckthisshit. Day 1 is here.)

My Post-Election Manifesto

Given the early date, this post is obviously not for Advent. It is, however, for people with depression and/or anxiety. Right now in America, there are a lot of people with both. 

When I was in fifth grade, I was having one of my frequent arguments with a girl I’ll call Public Frenemy Number One. I was in my room on the night of this argument, fuming and stewing and just generally cursing Public Frenemy’s name. My dad came into my room and, through sobs and snorts, I managed to convey my anger toward Public Frenemy.

“So,” said my dad, “look how awful she’s making you feel. Don’t give her that kind of power over your emotions.”

That idea of not giving anyone power over my emotions has stuck with me to this day.

And on this day, we are dealing with a president-elect who is stirring up a lot of negative emotions for a lot of people.

We’re angry. We’re stunned. We cry. We worry.

I’ve been on this terrifying emotional rollercoaster since the election, and it’s likely you have, too. One minute you’re in shock, the next you start to feel a little hopeful about the idea that we’ll get through this with love and fighting and loving fighting … and then you read something on social media or hear some bit of breaking news, and you’re right back to angry and hopeless again.

So many of us, myself included, are extremely emotional right now. But throughout it all, I cling to one manifesto:

I will be angry. I will be sad. I will experience a wide variety of negative emotions. But, above all else, no matter what, I will not give Donald Trump the power of ruining my mental health. 

Notice I did not say that I wouldn’t feel any emotions about the election of Donald Trump. It is never a healthy practice to deny your emotions.

But I am going to fight like hell to keep my negative emotions from driving me to full-blown depression. Donald Trump doesn’t get the power to make me depressed.

This kind of mind-over-matter goal is challenging to achieve. If I sit around feeling sad long enough, I will become officially depressed. And, make no mistake, I am sad right now (and also angry, anxious, and insert-negative-emotion-here).

But, I understand, perhaps for the first time ever, the importance of self-care. It isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. What good are you to anybody if you’re incapacitated by depression and/or anxiety? What good are you to your family, to your community, to the cause at large?

I can’t tell you how to stave off depression. We all have our own coping mechanisms.

For most of us, those coping mechanisms differ day-by-day or minute-by-minute. Sometimes I need to escape: I go for a walk, I pet my cats, I watch mindless TV, or I play games on my phone. Sometimes my coping mechanisms are far less constructive, and usually involve eating a lot of sugar and carbohydrates. Sometimes I have to turn away from Facebook and news media. As I say, it is wrong to bury your head in the sand, but it is also wrong to stare directly at the sun.

Sometimes I feel like fighting. I fight the way we are told to—with phone calls and letters to my elected officials—and sometimes I fight by injecting just a little more kindness into the world. I give to charity. I pick up litter. I try to be nicer to everyone I encounter, even though recent events make me feel angry at the whole world.

And sometimes I let myself wallow in it. I cry. I get angry. And I tell myself it’s okay to feel everything I’m feeling.

Some of us will need to cope through those more conventional mental health care methods we’re all so familiar with—we’ll need to see doctors and therapists, to combat our emotions with exercise and adequate sleep. Those who recognize the need for these interventions are to be commended. However you fight mental illness, you FIGHT.

But my hope is that we will all keep fighting. Don’t give Donald Trump the power of ruining your mental health.

All my love,

Shannon