Here is my depression. Let me show you it.

“Wear a smile on my face, but there’s a demon inside.”

–from “Jekyll and Hyde” by Five Finger Death Punch

Don’t Google or YouTube that. (No, seriously. Don’t.)

I don’t for a moment think it’s a literal demon. Let’s just get that out of the way right from the start. I haven’t invited anything in, I haven’t been messing around with Ouja boards, I haven’t opened any metaphysical doors I can’t close. When I talk about having a demon, I’m not talking about being possessed. Because I’m not.

The “demon” is a metaphor.

So is the dark cave. So are: the quicksand, the black dog, the She-Hulk, the dark cloud of doom, the shadows closing in, the sludgy ocean. All of these are metaphors for the thing I’ve been dealing with that’s called depression.

This has been a long time coming

(and the cards are stacked…).

I’ve been disgnosed with depression, and I am now ready to talk about it.

Depressive Tendencies

As a teenager, I suffered depressive episodes during which I just wanted to curl up and stop everything. There was a lot of crying in the bathroom. I chalked it up to academic difficulties in school, relationship difficulties with friends, relationship difficulties with parents. Hormones. When I was 14, a psychiatrist told my parents I was “well-adjusted.” I took that to mean I could rest on my psychological laurels. Turns out I was just a good enough actress to fool a therapist.

In my 20s, I struggled through a long depressive bout that (I believe) resulted from my inability to say “no” and give myself the alone time I needed to recharge and recenter myself. Self-care has never come naturally to me; it’s always been Put Others’ Needs First, Second, and Third. Things improved when I learned to respect my need for solitude — and when I learned to require others to respect my need, too. Peace entered in when I listened to my spirit saying gently, “It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to take care of you. It’s okay. They’ll be just fine without you. Go do you for a while.”

I got better. I made the life choices I needed to make when I needed to make them. I became a full-time writer. I changed my eating habits and turned myself into a runner. It’s amazing what writing and exercise do for my spirit. There’s really no comparison.

Family History: Depression’s Descendant?

I won’t overshare here, because some things are not mine to share in public. Suffice it to say that there’s a family history of depression and anxiety. Nature or nurture? I believe it’s both, and that both get passed down through the generations. I have a great-great-grandmother who tried twice to stab her husband to death. Her daughter beat my grandfather. And so on and so forth.

Whatever it is, it goes back at least a hundred years. It gets diluted with each successive generation…like a poison poured into a glass of water, poured into the next generation’s glass, and the next, and the next. It’s diluted — I’d venture to say we can’t quite taste it anymore — but it still sickens us ever so slightly.

I fear for my daughter. I want her glass of water to run clear and fresh and pure. I know I can’t protect her fully. And yet, I refuse to give in to fear. “There is still hope,” as the elf-saying goes. I haven’t lost that.

Or rather, I lost hope for a while, but I’ve regained it.

The Demon Called Depression

On Death

I’ve never been suicidal.

Oh, there have been times when I wanted to be dead. The pain was great, and I wanted it to stop. I didn’t want to kill myself, never even pondered methods. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to be dead because I wanted the pain to stop. And because I’m a Jesus-follower, I knew that part of what Jesus promises is “no tears” after this life. I desperately yearned for the “no tears” part. The “no pain” promise was for me, and if ever someone wanted it, I did.

So I prayed for God to take me — in a painless way, preferably while I slept, so I wouldn’t have a clue what was happening. I prayed he would comfort my family and friends after I was gone but reassure them they’d see me again. In the meantime, I would enjoy the lack of pain and sorrow.

But never once did I consider ending my own life. Was I still suicidal, since I was asking God to end it? I don’t know what the professionals would say, but I don’t think I was a danger to myself. I thought of myself in the light of the apostle Paul, who said, “If I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really donโ€™t know which is better. Iโ€™m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live” (Philippians 1:22-23).

If Paul could talk about wanting to rest with Christ, why couldn’t I?

Downward Spiral

From 2012-2015, I plodded on through a rough pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum recovery:

  • Mentally and emotionally, I was a mess because I spent most of the 9 months terrified I would miscarry. (I suffered a miscarriage in 2006; looking back, I have no doubt that a major depressive episode followed, possibly outright depression.)
  • During my first trimester one of our cats died unexpectedly and in a shocking way. (A botched spaying basically led to internal bleed-out and heart stopping). I grieved her loss as only a terrified, exhausted pregnant woman can. I haven’t really gotten over it yet.
  • I only threw up once the whole pregnancy, but from 10 weeks on I spent every moment feeling nauseated. Eating and drinking were anathema (unless I felt ravenous). Somehow, I managed not to get dehydrated.
  • During labor and delivery in September 2012, my tailbone broke. Thankfully, I had an epidural, so I didn’t feel it. But I heard it. And after the epidural wore off, I felt it. I felt it until, oh, April 2015 or thereabouts.
  • Four days after delivery, I visited the ER for ultrasounds on both legs to make sure I didn’t have blood clots. (I didn’t.)
  • Six days after delivery, I visited the ER again for an impacted bowel. I swear, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a cute little 20-something girl pump soapsuds up your–
  • Well, you get the picture.
  • Somewhere in there was a UTI.
  • Two months after delivery, I discovered that my toenails had died and gotten infected. Apparently this can happen as a result of physical trauma, because the body pulls resources from non-essential systems. They took a year to grow back normal.
  • Hair loss.
  • Baby weight that still hasn’t come off.
  • (Percocet for broken tailbone post-partum) + (sleep deprivation while caring for newborn) = hallucinations
  • Re-injury of back (torqued sacrum, to be specific) in June 2014.
  • 11 months total of physical therapy for spine injuries.
  • All the stress, frustration, worry, and guilt that go along with being a (new) mother.

And the stress, frustration, worry, and guilt refused to let up. Instead of decreasing, they increased. They turned into anxiety and anger. By January/February 2015, I was pretty sure something was seriously wrong.

Duh, you might say.

But have you ever been so close to a situation that you couldn’t see the truth of it? That’s a rhetorical question, because I know the answer is “yes”; not seeing the forest for the trees is pretty much a constant of the human condition. With everything I dealt with from 2012-2014, maybe it should’ve been a logical conclusion that I’d spiral into a major depression. But you know what? Maybe not. Maybe it wasn’t so obvious.

Maybe I’m just a good enough actress to fool myself in addition to fooling a lot of people around me.

Maybe my smile looked genuine enough in the mirror to fool even me into believing thatย a demon hadn’t taken up residence inside me.

Decision

About six months ago, I realized I felt angry pretty much all the time. I also cried a lot. I had no desire whatsoever to be around people. I didn’t want to leave the house for anything. I couldn’t get to sleep. I couldn’t stay asleep. I couldn’t wake up in the morning.

My thoughts were not normal for me:

“I can’t do this (read: anything, really).”

“I didn’t sign up for this kind of life.”

And, most telling:

“My daughter deserves a better mother than this pathetic one she has. I can’t do anything right by her.”

“God made a mistake when he made *me* a mother.”

Without getting deeply into theology, I’ll tell you this: the idea that “God Commits Errors” is not part of my belief system. If God chose to make me a mother (which I believe he did), then his choice was not an error. Intellectually, I was confident in this as Truth.

Emotionally, I railed at him for inflicting me upon this beautiful, innocent child.

My anger increased. And, to make a long story short (too late), most of that anger was nonsensically turning in the direction of that beautiful, innocent child.

That, my dear friends and neighbors, is unacceptable.

For her sake, if not for my own or my longsuffering husband’s, I had to change.

In May 2015, I saw my general practitioner, who agreed with my self-diagnosis of depression and prescribed Zoloft.

Defining Depression

Depression is sitting in a dark cave, curled with with your knees to your chest and your arms wrapped around your legs. You’re terrified to move, because if you move, Things Will Get Worse. You don’t know how or why, you just know that they will. You’re curled up in this dark, dank, miserable place, and you cannot see an exit. Your eyes are wild and wide, but you cannot see even the faintest hint of light. You are incapable of movement. You are incapable of reaching out or calling out for help. Somewhere deep inside, you hope that someone will reach in and wrap their fingers around yours and tug gently. If that happened, maybe you could follow that gentle encouragement back to its source, back to the light and the warmth and the real. But very few people know how to reach in like that. And even if they do, you find that all you can do is twitch in response. You can’t actually move enough to follow them anywhere.

Depression is a dark cloud of doom that hangs slightly behind you and overhead, always just out of sight no matter how quickly you turn to confront it. It never goes away. It follows you everywhere. It blocks out warmth and light. It is an invisible, intangible jailer, and it mocks you.

Depression is like you’re trying to use one potato to peel another potato. *If* someone offers help and you accept, you find that they’ve handed you another potato.

Depression is Sisyphus.

Depression is running through a dark, foggy forest full of pitfalls and sharp rocks and trees that reach out to grab you. A black dog with blood in his teeth is chasing you. You can’t outrun him. You can’t outsmart him. You can’t hide from him. Every time you throw a terrified glance over your shoulder, HE IS RIGHT THERE, tearing at your heels. You scream, and he howls in triumph. You can feel his damp breath and smell the rot that follows him everywhere. And no one can keep him off you.

Depression is a sweet voice pulling you further into the darkness with seductive whispers.

Depression is a rough, gravelly voice that beats you down with the “truth” that you’re not good enough, you’re a terrible person, if people really knew you, they would hate you, you’re worthless.

Depression is the She-Hulk, a rage always boilling beneath the surface, and once she breaks her bonds, you can do nothing to stop her. She takes over, grows to insane proportions, and destroys whatever is in her path.

Depression is quicksand grabbing you around the knees and pulling you into its suffocating embrace, and you can’t apply the anecdotal “fix” of stretching out flat on top of it and “swimming” to safety.

Depression is a vast, sludgy ocean that sucks you down and contains no life, and you can’t see a shore or lifeline anywhere.

Depression is dark shadows overlaying everything you see. (For some people, this is literal.)

Depression is a demon that lives inside you, an invisible disease of your will and emotions. The demon makes you smile when you don’t feel like it. The demon makes you participate in activities you don’t want any part of. The demon uses your body and your face like a meatsuit, playing at human life with the goal of keeping up appearances. The demon doesn’t want anyone else to know it’s inside you. The demon acts human so that no one will find out that it’s devouring your internal organs, eating you from the inside out. Only sometimes does the demon show its true face — and then only when it knows that the witnesses can’t (or won’t) do anything to cast the demon out.

“Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.

“More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply ‘snap out’ of.

“A variety of factors may be involved, such as: biological differences, brain chemistry (neurotransmitters), hormones, thyroid problems, inherited traits, [and] life events.”

–Mayo Clinic

Dealing with the Demon

The day I got the prescription, I started taking Zoloft. My doctor warned that it would be weeks before I felt a difference, if I felt one at all. It could be months.

Maybe wishful thinking or psychosoma took over, but I swear I felt an effect within two-and-a-half weeks. There came a weekend where I looked back on the foregoing week and realized that I hadn’t cried or even felt like crying. Another week, and I found myself putting on real clothes and washing my hair and taking the toddler to playgrounds. By June, I wanted to be around people. In July, I found myself more active in our house church, and the sudden influx of family for a reunion didn’t send me into the fetal position.

Best of all, I was exercising patience with my child.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors “increase the extracellular level of the neurotransmitter serotonin by limiting its reabsorption into the presynaptic cell, increasing the level of serotonin in the synaptic cleft available to bind to the postsynaptic receptor.”

–Wikipedia

Zoloft is an SSRI: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.

I remember learning about those in college psych classes. On exams, I never had trouble recalling anything I’d learned about them — because they sounded so poetic. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The words flow off the tongue in perfect sibilants and labials, consonants forming a lovely rhythm. The “reup-” diphthong encourages a perky, upward motion of the head as you speak, as though the word itself on your lips is part of the treatment. The entire phrase is a poem of the soul, designed to move forward, move along, move on, get past this, leave behind all the dullness and lack of melody.

These drugs I’m now taking, I used to think they were poetry.

I’m not a professional counselor, but I’ve had counseling training, and I’ve been in a position (by necessity) in which I’ve counseled others. Some of those others have suffered from depression. I took care not to offer anything in the way of “professional” advice; I always pointed those individuals toward the fully trained, the licensed, the practiced.

Still, I sat only on one side of the “desk.” I settled myself in the “chair” instead of on the “couch.” I functioned as counselor, not client. I was the listening ear and the shoulder to cry on — not the one to speak or to weep.

Now, suddenly, *I* am the one with the disease.

It is a weird and humbling experience, and I don’t like it.

It isn’t poetic or perky at all.

Suffering from depression represents yet one more fracture in my illusion of control. (All sense of control is an illusion; if you don’t believe this, you’re still in illusion’s grip. I recommend the red pill.) Maybe I didn’t offer advice…but as long as I sat in the chair instead of lying on the couch, I could at least fool myself into believing I was master of my situation. That belief, though ever tenuous, has now crumbled. I’m not adrift, as I remain in possession of my firm foundation, but I’m still at a loss to reconcile Who I Think I Am with this ill person who requires anti-depressants in order to function.

Like I said. It’s humbling.

Which isn’t a bad thing. Humility is never a bad thing. And through this whole experience, I am learning greater sympathy and empathy toward others who experience depression. That’s not a bad thing, either.

It’s just such a strange thing to acknowledge consciously and intentionally that I have a mental illness.

I have a mental illness.

I have a mental illness.

Decision

I do not say that I’m mentally ill.

Mental illness is not something I am, it’s something I *have*.

Just like I *have* neurocardiogenic syncope, premature ventricular contractions, a milk allergy, arthritis, scoliosis, hypermobility, and chronic sinusitis.

I am not these (mostly invisible) diseases and conditions. I have them, but they do not define who I am. I must deal with them on a daily basis, but they do not determine the nature of my person. And they certainly do not decide what direction my life goes.

(Speaking of those other conditions, though, I’ve noticed a pleasant “side effect” to the anti-depressants: I haven’t been experiencing nearly as many premature ventricular contrations since I started taking Zoloft. Instead of three per day, I’ve been feeling maybe three per week. This lovely development has led my cardiologist and me to cut my beta-blocker in half, with the goal of eliminating it altogether within the next few months. Since beta-blockers have some fairly onerous side effects, I am all in on getting rid of them.)

So. I’m not mentally ill. I have a mentall illness. It’s more than just a semantic difference to me. It represents my acceptance of this but also my determination not to let it rule me. I am not subject to depression. I do not belong to depression.

The demon does not own me.

Direction

I am aimed at and headed toward healthy.

When my doctor gave me the Zoloft prescription, she said, “We do not call these your ‘happy pills.’ If anything, we call these your ‘normal pills’ — because we’re trying to get you back to what’s normal for you.”

With her help, I came to realize that I’ve dealt with depression for at least three years, likely longer. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I haven’t had some form of depression since the miscarriage in 2006.

When you’re just just trying to live your life from one day to the next, it’s difficult to step back and see the big picture (see: Forest for the Trees Syndrome again). It’s even easier to tell yourself this is just a temporary setback, I’ll get past this, it’ll be fine, tomorrow is another day, ad infinitum. But finally, I am seeing more of that picture and realizing that I’ve been treading water, close to drowning, for a lot longer than I’d realized.

The good news is, the dark cloud no longer hangs over my head.

The black dog no longer nips at my heels.

I have a potato peeler.

My organs are regenerating, and the demon’s presence has weakened.

I still have bad moments, bad days. In fact, as I write this, I am coming out of a particularly bad week. I missed some exercise days, and that has contributed to the lows. I also just published a novel 20 years in the making, and it took a lot of extra oomph I really didn’t have. But I gave it anyway, and then I crashed*.

The dark cloud no longer hangs over me, but I know it lurks beyond the horizon.

The black dog no longer nips at my heels, but sometimes I can still hear his howl.

My potato peeler isn’t always sharp.

The demon has weakened, but it’s still there.

I can hear it waiting.

And so, I do what I must to take care of myself.

I take time for me. Alone time. Writing time. Workout time. Friends time. These are all separate times, and I take them. It means being away from my family. So be it. I am a better mother and wife when I take time away from them.

I take my exercise. I run. I zumba. I don’t yoga as much as I’d like, but I’m working back up to it.

I take my meds. I’ve always had an aversion to taking pills. But I don’t mind taking these little blue ones at all. They make me feel that much better.

I take a step back. When emotions start to get the better of me, I take a step back and ask myself what I’m doing and whether I need to step out of the room. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Either way is okay.

I take these healthful resources because I need them.

This is where I am. No guilt.

I’ll stay here for as long as I need to.

PicsArt_1436986271278

*Vegging in front of the TV, watching “my boys“. They’re great therapy.
; )

P.S. I will see a therapist at some point, but I’m not quite there, yet. In time.

The world I want to live in

I want to live in a world where I can be unrestrained, passionate, an artist, a writer, a poet, a sci-fi/fantasy/superheroes geek, a quantum physics dabbler, a Jesus-follower, a wife, mother, a daughter, a friend, a sister, a photographer, a foodie, a singer, a collector of ridiculous junk, a lover of everything about the cramazing human body, a tinkerer, a plotpantser, an advocate of even the most difficult truths, a ray of sunshine.

I want to live in a world where it’s okay that in addition to most of those roles, I’ve also been a mentor, a counselor, a mediator of conflicts, an innkeeper, an events organizer, a language instructor, a treasurer, a dollmaker, a carpenter, a construction worker, an archivist, an historian, an editor, a vice president, a genealogist, a hair stylist, a caterer.

I want to live in a world where functioning in all of these ways does *not* mean I’m “indecisive,” “rootless,” “aimless,” “absent-minded,” “careless.”

I want to live in a world where it’s okay to be whomever the spirit leads me to be at any given time.

I want to live in a world where it’s okay to be me.

I want to live.

On Censorship

“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.”

~Henry Steele Commager

“Anytime you censor people, you are deliberately breeding weak people.”

~Aaron Pogue

This is really a propos nothing in particular; I happened to stumble across the Commager quote, and it reminded me of the Aaron quote. Both are worth sharing, and since blogs tend to be good places to share things and my blog has remained neglected of late, I decided to do my sharing here and now. : )

I’ve never been suicidal. Not really. But.

The title of this post might serve as adequate warning. But. In case it isn’t, please note that this post concerns suicide. If reading about suicide is a trigger for you for suicidal thoughts, please don’t read this. Instead, call someone you consider a friend. Or call 800-273-TALK. Or click here for resources.

On the blog of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, I read this morning that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The goal is to raise awareness of suicide, reach out to those who are suicidal (which we all should be doing anyway!), and possibly help prevent more suicides from taking place.

In honor of this, Take 5 To Save Lives is asking everyone to light a candle near a window at 8:00pm, Monday, September 10th (today). The site also encourages us to read their warning signs of suicidal behavior — and to have the courage not to ignore it.

I can’t claim to know or understand what it’s like to feel suicidal. Certainly, when I was a teenager and miserable and felt as though the entire universe were aligned against me, I had moments of thinking, “I wish I were dead!” But those moments resulted only in bathroom crying jags and passive-aggressive behavior toward my parents.

For me, the I-wish-I-were-deads never led to thoughts of how I could go about killing myself. I never even used poetry, my avenue of most intense emotional expression (still), to delineate my frustrated misery.

Because that’s all it was: frustration and misery. Through it all, somewhere in the back of my mind and in the depths of my heart, I continued in faith and in hope. I knew — whether I felt it or not, I knew — that life would change (it did), things would get better (they did), and these feelings wouldn’t last forever (they didn’t).

As an adult, I haven’t had the I-wish-I-were-deads per se…but there have been times during which I looked around and saw the pain other were going through, and I thought, “God, I can’t bear to see this anymore. Help them…and if their pain doesn’t stop, then please, just take me so I don’t have to see this anymore.” And yes, I do recognize the hypocrisy and selfishness inherent in that prayer.

This, too, passed.

Depression lies. Through faith, in spite of the cloud of doubt and fear and sadness, I’ve always had that assurance and held on to it.

Suicidal people don’t have that assurance.

I can’t know how it feels not to have that.

I can’t know how it feels not to have hold of that faith. I can’t ever say to a suicidal person, “I know how you feel.” I can’t even say, “I understand,” because how can I understand an emotion I don’t have? It would insult you and invalidate your emotions if I claimed to know something about your feelings that I can’t possibly know.

All I can say is that, even though I don’t understand how you feel, I do understand that you feel this way.

I’ll never be the saving light at the end of someone’s tunnel; I’m not created to be that. (No human is.) But I can be a way station, a guidepost, a mirror that reflects the true Light. We can all be that for someone else at some point, I believe. We can all brighten the world by lighting our tiny corner of it.

Sometimes, that little tiny light, reflection of the true Light, is all a suicidal person needs to hold on for one more moment. And then one more. And then one more. Until they can see the Light that guides them out of the darkness.

Shine a little light into the darkness today.

Humans, Yeah…But Love Them Anyway

A fellow blogger recently reminded me of the following: a “poem” that circulates around the intarwebz under the title “Anyway” and is generally attributed to Mother Teresa. After doing some research, I discovered that the original was penned by one Kent M. Keith and entitled “The Paradoxical Commandments.”

It seems worth reblogging.

The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

~ Kent M. Keith

(A version of these was made famous by Mother Teresa.)

The last two “commandments” stir up a lot of thoughts and mixed emotions in me. On one hand, every one of these resonates with me, and I want to shout, “YES! The world would be a glorious place if every one of us believed these things and acted on them!”

On the other hand, I struggle with setting healthy boundaries. The fight is not as tough as it once was, but there are still areas of my life in which I know my boundaries are ridiculously shoddy. (And I have a hard time not beating myself up about this.) So, to someone who has difficulty with drawing a firm line in a healthy place, Mr. Keith’s final two “commandments” can feel intimidating.

At what point do I withdraw (not my love but my self)? Where do I need to draw the line so that I’m not enabling instead of helping? For I know that there are, indeed, situations in which loving someone means not giving them my all. How do I know when I’m approaching the need to set that boundary? How do I know when I’m right on the line?

How do I know when I’ve crossed it?

These aren’t questions anyone can answer for me. The answers depend on the situation, on the people involved, and on my level of comfort (which, again, also corresponds to situation and persons). Relativity strikes again, I suppose. I just have to keep reminding myself to be patient — with me. It’s frustrating to have come so far in learning these boundary-setting skills…and then discover that I still have so much to learn.

But. In the meantime, “The Paradoxical Commandments” are good ones to live by, and I stand by the truth of that statement. Even the final two will, I think, lead one into a more meaningful and intentional life.

And that, really, is the kind of life I want: one that’s deliberate, intentional, infused with meaning. I don’t want to look back at my life and see a woman who has let fear or complacency or apathy rule her. I don’t want a life in which individuals or society have determined my choice, my direction, my goal.

Every one of Keith’s commandments resonates with my desire and my passion to brighten the corner where I am.

Every one of Keith’s commandments resonates with my desire and my passion…

“…to live deliberately…to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,
To put to rout all that [is] not life and not when I…come to die
Discover that I [have] not lived.โ€

~ Henry David Thoreau
(adapted)

Loving people “anyway” — not giving up on them, not casting them aside — seems like a good way to do that.

Good days aren’t easy.

So.

There are “good” days, and there are “bad” days.

It seems to me that we humans tend to define a “good” day as: day in which life proceeds as I’d prefer.

It seems to me that we humans tend to define a “bad” day as: day in which life does not proceed as I’d prefer.

Maybe in my today, life has proceeded as I’d prefer.

But in your today, life has proceeded straight into a pile of crap.

I’d call today “good.” But you would call today “bad.”

And we would both be right.

Considering this, I posit that there’s no such thing as a good day or bad day.

All there is is a day.

And what we choose to do with it.

Today, not all of life proceeded quite how I’d prefer.

Some of the Not-Like-I’d-Prefer was emotionally draining.

Someone might choose to dwell on this tiredness and, as a result, call today a “bad” day.

Me, I choose to dwell on the overwhelming beauty of witnessing a whole kaboodle of other people choosing to do something good with today.

Even though not every moment of today was easy, I feel like I, too, did something good with today.

So.

It’s been a hard day.

But it’s been a really good one.

O Failure! Thou Art Glorious

Hey there, dearly beloved,

I have no idea when I first ran across the two sites (links are below) that inspired and informed this blogpost. I only know that both resonated with me enough that I tucked them away for future reference. Their content is of the Things That Make You Go Hmmm variety, so my subconscious needed to ruminate on them for awhile.

Humiliating Failures

The first inspiration came from blogger Lachlan Cotter, who listed his many humiliating failures in chronological order, beginning with his being 3 weeks late to his own birth.

Mr. Cotter’s tongue-in-cheek rendition is entertaining. I’m not certain I could infuse my own list of failures with a tone that would keep you reading without wholly depressing you, my dears, so I’ll spare you that. But Cotter’s list does bring to mind plenty of my own failures…and the things I learned from them.

Or didn’t learn.

Because sometimes, I don’t get it in the first round.

Or the second.

*sigh* Or the third.

So, there are two of my failures already:

1. Not being able to craft a List of Humiliating Failures well enough to entertain you.

2. Repeatedly not learning from my own failures.

Concerning #1, I promise that my reluctance does not stem from not wanting to out myself. I could tell you about the time I, at age 11, beat up Sven, who was 10 and scrawny — and I later found out he was an abused kid. Go, me. Or the time I bragged to a classmate that I would never EVER name a kid “Ingeborg” because it’s such a terrible name, and he turned to me and said, “That’s my mom’s name” (which, if you recall that I grew up in Germany, is not far-fetched at all). Go, me. Then there was the time in 8th grade when I, the opera singer’s naturally talented daughter, got the German equivalent of an “F” on a music test.

Go, me.

Honestly…even though I know it’s deadly to compare myself, good or ill, to other people…honestly, the only thing that keeps me going sometimes is the knowledge that other people screw up just as much as I do.

Okay, not the only thing. As I mentioned above, The Learning of Things from Failure has quite a bit going for it, too.

I learned to protect instead of attack those smaller than I (and, later on, I figured out that “smaller” didn’t just apply to physical size).

I learned to find out where others are coming from before spouting off my own opinions (Rule #214. Meet them where they are.)

I learned that natural talent doesn’t mean squat if you don’t couple it with hard work.

From other failures, I learned to stand up for my artist self — the part of me that’s created to be creative. I learned that when I defend that part, I am a happier, more wholesome, more giving, more forgiving person. I learned that when I defend my artist self, other people are happier around me*.

From further failures, I haven’t yet learned just where my personal boundaries should be in interacting with certain people. And since I don’t know the exact location and definition of these particular boundaries, I haven’t learned how to set and defend them yet. But, as I fail over and over (andoverandoverandoverandover…) again, I’m figuring out the wheres and hows one little bit at a time.

But the one thing I have learned from NOT learning from my failures is that figuring it out one bit at a time is perfectly okay.

Let me restate, because this is important:

You don’t have to figure it all out in one go. Screwing up over and over and learning a little bit at a time is perfectly okay.

I wouldn’t understand this if I hadn’t already made a total idiot of myself. Lotsa times.

Morphing from Mistakes

This learning-from-failures stuff relates quite well to an article I found to go with Lachlan Cotter’s Failures List: “Goalar Energy” by Marney Makridakis. Here are the quotes that particularly resonated with me:

“Instead of ‘measuring by milestones,’ I found great relief in ‘morphing from mistakes.'”

You do this task first. Once you complete it, you can move on to the next task. Finish that one, then on to the next. And so on. I suspect that’s the message most of us get from society, from our inner circles, and from ourselves. It’s likely the message many of us preach to others: Take it day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute, if you have to.

A few paragraphs ago, I was talking about learning from my failures one step at a time. But maybe it’s not a step-by-step thing? Maybe it’s a process of transformation — in which change occurs one step at a time, yes, but at such a slow pace that one “step” is indistinguishable from the next.

Maybe the process of “learning” from humiliating failure is simply to let it all be an amorphous, unattractive blob for however long it takes until something glorious coalesces from it.

“Maybe all I needed to do was simply shine…and trust that forces greater than myself would take care of exactly where the light fell.”

I operate from the assumption that forces greater than I are reality and that they are trustworthy. Thia doesn’t mean that I’m always able to trust them — which says far more about me than it does about them. Yeah, yeah, I am Eternal Optimist Woman and all that (have you heard me roar?), but verily and forsooth, I do believe that the universe operates by benign principles. And one of those principles, I believe, is “let there be light” just where it needs to be.

So, I’ve screwed up. I know that if I “brighten the corner where I am, I will light the world” (Dean Koontz)…but I also know that when I screw up and darken my corner, the darkness has a ripple effect into the lives of others. I’ve failed in some way, and now the darkness is spreading. I can watch it. I can see what it’s doing as it ripples along. How can I trust that the light will ever dispel the darkness again?

But I do trust. I do believe. And I do believe that the light is always stronger and farther-reaching than the darkness.

“Whereas the old books had instructed me to ‘be direct’ as I focused on a goal, I found that ‘be dreamlike’ worked better for me.”

When I consider my worst failures, I see that they all involved my causing someone else pain. That’s what made these failures so humiliating: not that I made a fool of myself in a slapstick way, but that I hurt someone else and damaged (or ruined) a relationship.

Unfortunately, I had to go through quite a few such humiliating failures before I learned to go with the dreamlike instead of the goal-oriented. Morphing from these failures meant recognizing that it’s not my job to fix things for others — or to fix others, period. I can dream with them even as I dream with myself…but I must give up this idea that I have the answers they need.

Does “being dreamlike” help me avoid failure? Maybe. Maybe a better question is: Should I even try to avoid failure by being dreamlike?

What I’m getting at (and what I have to remind myself of again and again) is that failure is not by nature a bad thing. It’s only a bad thing if I don’t use it as a tool for transformation. If I’m going to be dreamlike and allow my mind and heart to follow what-ifs, I have to accept that some of those what-ifs will lead me to screw up again.

And when that happens, the best thing I can do is facepalm and carry on: admit the failure, make amends if possible and where necessary, and morph from the mistake.

After all, I have a corner to brighten.

_______

*NOTE: It is not my job to make other people happy. Others’ happiness or unhappiness depends entirely on their own emotional choices. However, when I am more authentically me — when I am what customer-delight specialist El Edwards calls “more youier” or “me-ier,” I guess — a side benefit is that my happiness spills over to others. Conversely, when I am not authentically me, my resulting unhappiness spills over to others as well.

We are all connected, y’know. : )

On Sarcasm: How Much Flesh Will You Eat?

Earlier today, I read and commented on Twitter Angst and the 2012 Olympics by blogger Ben Howard**.

Notably, my comment did not concern my aversion to the American usage of the word “Angst,” which in German has no aura of mental-emotional weirdness about it but, instead, simply means “fear.”

*ahem* But I digress. ; )

No, my comment was in reference to what Ben writes about the apparent increase of snarkiness, negativity, and cynicism on the Internet. What I said was this:

As time goes on, I watch the attitude of the masses with growing concern. When did pithiest and snarkiest and most cynical become the ideal to which we should all aspire? It seems like if you don’t infuse your every word with the utmost of sarcasm, then you’re not worth listening to.

What’s frightening about that is that the Greek root of “sarcasm” is the same as “sarcophagus” — which, directly translated, means “eater of flesh.” So basically, if we’re not tearing at each other’s vitals, then we have no right to a voice?

Is it just Ben and me? Or has anyone else noticed this?

eater of flesh


To get attention on the internet (and maybe we should be asking why you would want to), you’ve got to have the snappy, snippy comeback. You’ve got to infuse your every line with passive-aggressive insult aimed at one group or another. In order to make your side look good, you gotta make the other side look bad.

When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, my best friend and I got teased all the time by a couple of boys who were two or three years older than we were. They laughed at us. They made fun of us. (Scarily, they picked us up and swung us around because we were too light-weight to fight back.) They mocked and insulted us at every opportunity.

I told my parents about it and tearfully asked why those boys were treating us this way.

My dad replied, “Honey, it’s because they’re bullies. They feel really bad about themselves. They feel like really small people, and it makes them feel better and bigger when they make others look smaller.”

What he really meant by “smaller” was inferior, but it would be a couple of years before I fully grasped that concept.

So. You get what I’m saying here, right? It seems that in the cyberverse, the best way to get attention is to be a bully: to make yourself look bigger and better by making someone else look smaller. You don’t get to feel superior, you don’t get to have others think you’re superior until you make someone else look inferior.

Is the internet really nothing more than an elementary school playground? Are we all really nothing but a bunch of petty, childish bullies?

I say “we” on purpose, because I know I’ve been guilty of this. When I mentioned “the masses” in my comment on Ben’s post, I mentally included myself. No, I haven’t outright bullied anyone. But I’ve done more than my fair share of sarcastic snarking. In his response to my comment, Ben calls the use of sarcasm “seductive” — and he’s right, it is.

When you’re a writer, you tend to be good with words. When you’re good with words, you tend to know pretty quickly, in any given situation, which words and phrases will cut the deepest. And if you’re in the mood — or if you’re mad about the situation/topic — or if you’re just a bully, you shoot the stealth zingers without hesitation because you know you’re going to hit your mark and feel triumphant…better than you felt before you aimed and fired.

“You.”

…I?

Sarcophagus: eater of flesh.

Sarcasm: ripping the heart and soul out of an adversary.

Or out of a friend?

Out of a beloved?

Are we creating this online culture of negativity, hate, and cruelty? Do we think because it’s not “IRL*” that it doesn’t really matter? We can toss our verbal grenades, let them explode and cause the requisite amount of damage, and then turn off our computers and pretend that we didn’t just maim someone?

No. People, NO. What happens online is real. What we say online is REAL. Words matter, and they do hurt. We don’t get to pretend that our sarcasm doesn’t affect the world IRL. We don’t get to pretend that we’re not gleefully tearing at the flesh of another soul. When we let ourselves speak those words — and yes, you do know the ones I mean — when we indulge in the pithiness, the snark, we make ourselves over into tombs for rotting meat and dead men’s bones.

And we carry that stench into every corner of our lives. Online and offline.

How many pounds of flesh are we going to eat tomorrow?

_____

*In Real Life

**Beneath his post, Ben says of himself:

“When he isn’t channeling Andy Rooney for a post about the Olympics, Ben spends his time in a field with Snoopy waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin,”

which I think is positively cramazing.

10 Free Blog Post Ideas to Use as Thou Wilt

Not only that, but I also got a great new profile pic from Julie V. Photography

Or: In Which I Have Way Too Much Fun Taking Screenshots of Twitter

Apparently, dear inklings, I am in listing mode. By which I do not mean that I am a boat. But I do mean that I’m currently (ha! ha!) about writing lists.

LISTS! YES! Give me list-ery, or give me death!

*ahem*

I don’t know what just happened.

Anyway. Last week, I listed 33 Questions. On Tuesday, I listed 10 Novel-Writing no-nos. (Don’t do those no-nos, or cute things all the way on the other side of the universe will die.) Yesterday on Unstressed Syllables, I listed a googolplex of writing inspirations.

Today, my luvs, I shall list 10 blog post titles. These titles are for you. You may use them however you like. It would mega-cramazing if, when you use them, you’d link back to me so I can come read what you wrote in response to my titles.

If you don’t link back to me, I will send my legion of Evil Elves to tattoo “I’m a nerd” on your forehead.

So here ya go. Have at it, and have fun!

10 Blog Post Ideas for My Readers

(That was the first one.)

The following two titles resulted from a Twittersation with one Dean Carlton (@DinoCarlton), which went something like this:

 
 
 
 
All of which inspired this post you’re reading right now and leads me to the next two blog post title ideas:

5 Ways to Edify the Twitter Kitchen

 

101 Ways to Wok the Twitter-Bird

 
Moving right along… 

The Blogging Habits of 13th-Century Monks

 

How to Please Everyone on the Internet (Even Your Mom)*

 

All Dressed Up and No Place to Blog

 

50 Ways to Leave Your Blogger

 

Why Grocery Shopping Is the 9th Circle of Hell

 

Fruit Flies Like a Banana

Subtitled: And Other Linguistic Shenanigans
 

When Good Velociraptors Go Bad

 

And there you got it, sugar. Ten blog post ideas to vex, befuddle, and inspire you. No substitutions, exchanges, or refunds. And please do let me know how you make use of these!

Ooooh! And if you have some fun blog post titles of your own to share, list ’em in the comments! ;oD

________________
*For the record, I don’t actually believe it’s possible to please everyone, on the Internet or otherwise. But I’d love to see a whopping sarcastic post to go with this title. ; )

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

A Quiz on Virtue — See My Results?

(With many emoticons, for some reason.)

A Goody-Two-Shoes in Recovery

So. Last week, my darlings, we talked faux Virtue, self-sabotage, and other fun stuff like that. A very great many of you were very greatly quiet in the comments. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Actually, I was hoping I’d get some negative responses, simply so I could now digress upon the *ahem* virtue of receiving critiques along with positive feedback.

But I have some Virtue Trap Quiz results to share with you, so I shan’t make you wait for those any longer. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Confession Time

In The Artist’s Way, one of Julia Cameron’s exercises on the Virtue Trap is a complete-the-sentence quiz. Here is how I completed the sentences back in the summer of 2008:

Courtney’s Virtue Trap

1. The biggest lack in my life is … intimacy.
2. The greatest joy in my life is … writing and relationships.
3. My largest time commitment is … writing and The Artist’s Way, currently! ๐Ÿ˜‰
4. As I play more, I work … harder and better.
5. I feel guilty that I am … taking time for me when others aren’t taking time for them.
6. I worry that … my creativity will never generate financial income.
7. If my dreams come true, my family will … be supportive but perplexed.
8. I sabotage myself so people will … think I’m as stressed as they are and accept me more readily.
9. If I let myself feel it, I’m angry that I … sold out to stronger personalities.
10. One reason I get sad sometimes is … I can’t be “like everybody else.”

Looking back nearly three years later, I see that 1 and 10 are directly related. But the most telling numbers to me are 4, 5, 8, and 9 — and I have learned from them.

This Is The Truth

TRUTH on #4
I don’t just want time to myself for artistic play (which looks like “doing nothing”) — I need time for artistic play, which looks like doing nothing! It’s when I’m “doing nothing” that my soul rests and my creative brain taps into the Source of its strength. My creative play infuses me with energy and motivates me to work beyond what I thought were my limits.

TRUTH on #5
I am not responsible for anyone’s choices but my own. If others don’t take time for themselves, that is not my fault. My guilt resulted from an overblown sense of self-important responsibility. (Let’s talk about that in the comments!) I refuse to feel guilty when I take care of my needs.

TRUTH on #8
I sabotaged myself by not getting enough sleep. When others complained about being tired, I could complain along with them, thereby creating a false sense of camaraderie and solidarity.

I sabotaged myself by not eating healthy or exercising. When others complained about being sick and out-of-shape, I could complain along with them, thereby creating a false sense of camaraderie and solidarity.

Yay, we’re all ridiculously exhausted, out-of-shape, and unaccomplished together!

What the…?!?

TRUTH on #9
I was angry when I wrote that list. I am still angry about this part of it. I haven’t yet forgiven myself for selling out. I suspect that’s going to take a long time. So thanks for listening to this part of it, dear readers — telling you about it is part of my therapy!

Foolish — With Enthusiasm!

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

–Colette

Sharing this list on the Internet — making myself this vulnerable — is incredibly foolish. I’m opening myself up to attack from all sides, and it’s scary. But I’m doing it with enthusiasm! Because this is what’s behind the Virtuous shell. This is what’s behind the Acquiescent Good Girl persona.

This is the source of the fear. And I refuse to be subject to it anymore.

Last week, I told you the story of my foolish parents, who pursued a creative dream to the other side of the world. They did it with enthusiasm!

The world told me that its brand of Virtue was wise. But true wisdom — discarding false Virtue in favor of Truth — appears foolish to the world. I’ve read about that concept in the Bible my whole life. Finally, I’m starting to understand what that means.

Finally, I’m starting to live by it. And with enthusiasm!

_____________________

I know you’re out there. I can hear you breathing. ๐Ÿ˜‰

How do you sabotage your creative self?

How have you sold out? What does your Virtue Trap look like?

Do these thoughts make you angry? Why?