I’ve been depressed for a while now. It didn’t seem like depression because it was a process, an extenuation and worsening of the negative side of normal. I would have caught it sooner, I think, if it hadn’t been for my inner Pollyanna and her relentless cheerleading. She works hard to keep me going, but part of her snappy patter is refusing to believe things are That Bad. Well, sometimes they are, and finding the upside of a crummy situation results in continuing the crummy situation rather than saying WHOA, this is fucked up, time to start changing things. It dovetails nicely with the Puritan farmer mentality I grew up with – but unfortunately, both of those are geared to help you ENDURE hard times rather than solve the problem. In short, it helps you put up with shit rather than fix it.
My attempts to get back on track have all failed. This is probably due to not addressing the cause of the problem. Pressuring myself to do better is just adding pressure if there is zero motivation for change. Add shame to the mix. Sometimes I would have a balanced moment and acknowledge that I wasn’t trying to change right now but that I recognized the need to take better care of myself. But most of the time, all I could do was chide myself and hate myself and concoct schemes to jump start my motivation. Unfortunately, false starts and dead ends and restarts get me down – way down. Failure might light a fire under some fannies, but not mine. It drains me of motivation and makes me hate myself more when I try and fail and try again and fail again, despite the well-known quote from Samuel Beckett, as seen in a thousand earnest tattoos.
Over the holidays it got worse – more food, more drink, more escapism. I got fatter, and that made me sad, even though I had applied myself so diligently to those activities that make me fat. After the new year, the depression didn’t get worse, but things happened that made me turn to my recently cultivated Bad Habits™ to cope. Alan Rickman died, David Bowie died. My favorite patient, the person I’ve worked with longest, died, as did another patient a few days later. These things did not help. One of my aunts is still dying, and that’s sad enough without factoring in the effects on her brother and childhood best friend, who happens to be my father. The three-year mark passed since my husband had a job. My own work stress accrued. A new boss started at my work, and the change stressed me. She seems very nice, but there are perhaps a dozen reasons why I can’t stand her. The capper: because I have Teacher’s Pet Syndrome, I need to please her and I can’t seem to, ever (only another Teacher’s Pet will understand how vexing this is.) And then there is the SCA. Stopped playing before Thanksgiving, so no breaks, no socializing, no dressing up, no letting off steam. It’s for the best, given the local crowd, but like work, it’s one more coping tool that’s not working for me, while food and beer and Netflix are.
And then there was the PMS. And the perimenopause. And the hideous problems that come from stuffing myself like a Strasbourg goose: constipation, skin breakouts, lower libido, snoring loud enough to wake the neighbors, hormone changes, headaches, poor sleep, and other effects from clogging my system with excess matter. I have been eating so much that it has overwhelmed my magical machine for processing and filtering and fueling and eliminating. Poor old wagon, overloaded, and trying so hard to keep me going.
My house is dirty. This says more than anything else. And I’m hairy: hairy pits, hairy legs, unpolished toes and fingernails. These are all signs, for those who know me. And Honey knows me better than anyone, but he accepts me wholly and without judgment. If I want hairy legs, he supports me in that. The problem is that I don’t – but I have zero motivation to shave. All I can do is lie here, hating myself, and occasionally wondering what that rustling-leaves sensation is between my calves when I walk. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I realized it was the fluffy leggings I grew myself. I have known gorgeous brunette girls with dark, straight body hair that looks sleek and strong and which lies flat against the legs. Mine is sparse and nearly invisible and sticks straight out every which way. My legs look downy, like a baby bald eagle’s. Now I can laugh, but there was great disappointment in myself when I realized that this was yet another one of the ten thousand things I was neglecting, wrecking, or half-assing.
Sunday was my iron wedding anniversary with my darling man, and this summer will mark 15 years together. All in all, this is delightful, although my pleasure was dampened severely by my feeling more and more certain that I am a worthless sack of shit as a human being. On Sunday I called home to talk to Mom — it had been longer than usual, maybe a lot longer — and after chatting a bit, I asked if she was feeling well because she sounded kind of croaky. Mom said that was a little bit of news: she was done fasting.
Ten years ago January, my grandmother died, after a long and painful deterioration. Her birthday is coming up in a few days, and I always try to be extra supportive of Mom from Jan to March. When Grandma was dying, I had no idea what was happening. Long distance bills were still a thing and I was earning too little to call. And Mom was too busy to talk. She was working with Grandma’s husband in shifts to perform personal care during her final weeks. Round the clock feeding and cleaning and soothing and medicating, and the emotional attrition wore them both down, and out. They would have qualified for respite care if they had put her in a home, but they sacrificed their time and health and well-being to help Grandma die at home. This is everything to me, since I remember my Great-Grandma begging to die at home and her children not allowing it. I like to think they were hoping for a miracle, but she knew, and I am still horrified to think of her dying in a sterile ward instead of in the home she and her brothers built by hand just after World War I.
Mom, in the process of caring for Grandma, neglected herself; and having no time to prepare her own food, relied on nutritional supplements for all those skipped meals. Then Grandma died. Mom still couldn’t eat more than supplements, couldn’t sleep more than an hour at a time. Mom had to put Grandma’s house in order, make all the funeral arrangements, deal with the insurance and banking and paperwork and wills and deeds and titles and taxes. Weeks passed and still no solid food. I came for the funeral and stayed a month – but I had to retreat to my aunt’s house for part of the visit. I don’t know if it was dust or stress or pet dander or constantly being choked up, but I literally could not breathe. I had never had an asthma attack or shortness of breath and it was terrifying.
Mom took this personally and wanted to fight about it all the time. She accused me of everything from giving place to demons to hating her so much that I couldn’t stand to be around her. Every word hurt like hell, but I was too busy gasping for breath to fight or defend. In retrospect I feel it might have been Mom blaming herself for Grandma dying, Mom taking her grieving anger out on me, but I know my gasping scared her and my moving out wounded her and made her feel abandoned all over again. By the time I returned to my own home in February, Mom still hadn’t resumed eating food — she would drink coffee but nothing else hot. No solid food. No broth or real food liquefied, either. The Lord told her not to; the Lord told her to fast. The Lord told her to rely on nothing other than the little jars of nutritional supplements she had been living on since Christmas.
At one point, some months later, my sister called me outside of Mom’s hearing, to talk about the fights they had about it. There were even larger fights in following years. My sister and I spoke with a different aunt about an intervention, even calling the county to do a wellness check. It never came to pass. Eventually we just accepted it.
Last week Mom asked the Lord what to do about this cold that’s been plaguing her, and asked a peer to pray for her. Her throat was so bad that she couldn’t swallow her nutritional supplements and she was getting weaker. The peer told Mom out of the blue that God told her that Mom’s fast would be done when she could no longer drink “those things”, but she didn’t know what that meant. Mom did. She started with a little chicken soup and the next day she had a poached egg on toast. She said it was the most delicious thing she’d ever eaten.
Just writing this makes me weepy, and I was choked up on the phone. This didn’t last long, of course, because our joyful chatter turned into a bigger argument than we’ve had in months (catharsis?) and a period of banal conversation to normalize things afterward. I was still upset and stayed upset for many hours, taking refuge as I usually do, in eating too much, drinking too much, and planting ass firmly in cushion. I figured I felt terrible because of the argument, and the physical symptoms of my PMS. It didn’t occur to me to consider that I might be getting sick, too. But I was freezing and aching and my throat was sore, and my weeping was also mucky eyes. Not exactly typical for Hormone Hell Week.
Woke up at three a.m. drenched in sweat, but weirdly euphoric. I took a shower and tried to rally for work, but still felt another wave of miseries coming on and breaking over me. Between the continued symptoms (especially the fever) and the VERY short night, I felt justified in calling in. But despite the physical horridness, I still felt peaceful, even cheerful; as if a burden had been lifted. I felt free to make good choices because I actually wanted the better choice and wanted the better outcome for myself, rather than knowing the right answer and not wanting it but choosing right out of guilt or shame or “should”.
I felt like I wanted to take care of myself again, not because I had to (and *need* to — I have neglected myself for ages, really given up) but because I felt, deep in my bones, that I was worth caring for and doing maintenance on and even nurturing. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that way. And I didn’t feel hungry! Didn’t feel the desperate urge to go fill myself with food. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that way, either. For ages now, I’ve been an insatiable glutton, all binge and no purge. And it’s not that I don’t have a larder full of tasty treats. It’s just that I didn’t feel that anxious and urgent need to eat myself tranquil.
Other strange feelings: I wanted to take out my earrings. Three steel hoops in each ear, and I’ve not taken them out since having them pierced four years ago, almost to the day. I didn’t, but I keep feeling the urge. I would do it right now, but I don’t have a place to put them to keep them separate, keep them safe. (If I didn’t organize them properly, I’d never be able to put them back in due to screw direction and so forth. But once I find the wee bags, out they go.) One thing I did really want to do was cut my hair. So I took off over 12 inches of it. I weighed myself and have hit a record high that I recognize as needing to be addressed sometime, like remembering to take an old suit to the cleaners. I feel light as a feather.
The reason why Honey and I chose 3/20 as our wedding date was because it’s Nowruz, Persian New Year, as well as the first day of spring. Fresh start. I will celebrate any new year designated on the calendar and deeply feel that every day is a new opportunity to change. But this morning I didn’t wake up thinking I needed to change. I woke up feeling that I already had.
I am just doing what I feel supports the change. I don’t want that feeling to go away.