Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Where lies despair

"Sorry that you feel that way, the only thing there is to say
Every silver lining's got a touch of grey."

Just a few days late and a few bucks shy, but I'll post my thoughts anyway.

Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain.

Seems like a good time to talk about suicide, no?

I admit I have conflicted feelings about the act of taking one's own life.

When Robin Williams died by his own hand, in 2014, I wrote a very angry post about how committing suicide is giving the ultimate finger to those who love you and are left behind.
I have compassion for his pain, but I feel angry about his action. He had kids. A wife. Friends. So many people who loved him. I can't help thinking that what he did was the ultimate eff-you to all of them.

I won't use labels like cowardice and selfishness, labels bandied about in the news stories about Williams' passing.

But in a way, what he did was akin to saying, my pain is greater than any pain I might cause you, my suffering is more untenable than any suffering my death might cause, my pain is the biggest, most important thing in the world.
I've softened in my views since then.

I think there are some exceptions to my rule.

The most understandable exception is the scenario where you have a debilitating illness, there is no possibility of cure, little quality of life, and only the certainty of decline, loss of control, loss of dignity. That is one circumstance where I can accept someone's choice to take the ending of their life into their own hands.

Having struggled with, and yes, suffered from depression at times in my life, in my estimation gives me some right to have an opinion on the topic at all.

It may also have made me less objective.

I mean, I toughed it out. I fought it with every weapon in my arsenal. I kept going, going to work, going to therapy, going through the motions.

Even at my most desperate points, I made the leap of faith that I would get better, that the black dog would stop dancing and sit pretty.

Ah faith. That's a hard one. How do you have faith when you simply don't? It's like believing in God. You believe or you don't and if you don't you can't just say you do and voila, instant faith.

Some would say that's all there is to it. Just do it, just believe. But it's not that simple. There were times I prayed for faith, but that didn't make me a believer.

Yet somehow I was able to believe that depression was a liar, that my life had worth, that given time life would feel good again.

I acknowledge that I am privileged. I had a job to go to. I had insurance to pay for therapy and medication, I had money to pay my bills, a roof over my head, family members who cared, people who loved me. I had kids who needed me, even if they didn't know it or show it all the time.

Not everyone has that, a network, a safety net. There really was no scenario that had me sleeping under a bridge.

I wonder though, how many people who commit suicide are truly bereft of resources to allow them to keep fighting for their own lives.

It's so sad really, when you think about all those people who died too soon, from illness or accident or in combat, people who wanted life but had it rudely ripped from them. It makes it the more tragic, the more sacrilegious, the more disrespectful, when someone chooses to give their life back.

Here's another name. Hannah Baker.

She's the fictional lead in the Netflix drama, 13 Reasons Why and she's dead.

It's the story of a girl depicted as bullied by her high school classmates, and it's not the sort of thing I usually watch, but I started it and was drawn in.

It's the train wreck you can't look away from.

Hannah is a pretty girl. She's a bit stocky, but fat shaming isn't among the ways she was portrayed as bullied.

And she has a lot going for her. Happily married parents who love her. A good friend who's a bit on the fringe of things, like she is, but both appear to have plenty of confidence and poise.

So what happens to Hannah? She has her picture taken in a couple of awkward moments, and the pictures go viral (in the limited cosmos of Liberty High), earning her an undeserved reputation as a slut. A fellow student circulates a list in which Hannah holds the distinction of "hottest ass." She suffers typical high school ups and downs, friends who let you down, friends who make fucked-up mistakes with tragic consequences. A friend publishes in a school paper (anonymously, and without permission) a dark but heartfelt poem that Hannah wrote.

The worst things that happened to Hannah (who tells her story in a series of audiotapes, dramatized in flashbacks) are that she witnessed the rape of a former girlfriend who drank too much and passed out at a party, and then Hannah herself is later raped by the same person.

In both scenarios, she had an opportunity to make a difference. She is hiding in the room during the first rape, but does nothing to stop it. When she is raped, she says no but doesn't fight or call out for help or struggle to resist. At that point she is already worn down with guilt and maybe at some level she thinks she deserves it as a twisted kind of penance for not intervening in the rape of her friend.

OK, so the culture is painted as clearly hostile, the school is owned by the athletes and popular kids, and anyone outside the pale is mocked and marginalized. In other words, it's every high school.

Yet Hannah is clearly a bright girl, bright enough to see that it is just that, high school, and that there's a whole world out there, waiting. She's smart enough to know how her self-inflicted death will devastate her parents. Still, in a graphic scene that I could only watch between my fingers, she slits her wrists in the bathtub and bleeds to death.

And that in my opinion is a complete waste of a life full of potential, a stupid short-term decision with eternal consequences. She felt so powerless to right the injustices in her small sphere that she decided to make everyone sorry by dying and leaving an oral history that may or may not condemn the guilty, redress the wrongs, or redeem the harmed.

We'll know more after we watch season two. Because yes, they made another series.

I posted this on Facebook and got some push back.


It seems like a no brainer to me, but I had to elaborate for some of my friends.
When I was dancing with the black dog back in 2001-2002, going to a party and cleaning the bathroom were equal. I was just as weary of happy, fun things as I was of drudgery. When you are in the pit, you are weary of life, bad and good, or at least I was. What saved me was knowing that depression lies and believing that I'd get well again.
My friend Jen commented, "So basically, just being weary.... " I responded.
Yes, but more than that. If you know what is causing your suffering, there is a reason, something to blame, something to fight. In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath writes "If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn't have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air."
My friend Wanda commented too.
Wow, it’s no wonder those who suffer from depression don’t share their stories. People can’t grasp the concept that it’s a chemical imbalance, the neurons are firing, but not connecting. It’s not about having no reason to be depressed. And it’s not about being selfish.
I responded again.
I'd never understand it if I hadn't been there. But even having been there, it's hard for me not to wonder why people give up. I try not to judge them, but part of me still sees it as selfish, especially when you have kids, or parents, or siblings, or even friends who love you.
Wanda then said this.
I’m no expert, but I would think that like any disease there’s a spectrum. The despondency Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain suffered must have been, well, obviously was, beyond my comprehension.
And finally, my daughter weighed in.
I have to agree with Wanda. We don't know what lies deeper in the woods until we ourselves go deeper in the woods. Though someone may try to describe it to you, and the descriptions become increasingly worse the deeper they've gone, it really is the most terrible example of having to "see for yourself" to fully understand. In that way, I don't view those who complete suicide as selfish, so much as I'm thankful that our journeys took us only so far into the woods that we were each able to find our ways back out again.
And that's where I left it, and that's where I am going to leave it now.

I concede that there is, indisputably, a level of despondency beyond my comprehension.

The fact that I'm still here makes that hypothesis undeniable.


It must be getting early, clocks are running late
Paint-by-number morning sky looks so phony
Dawn is breaking everywhere, light a candle, curse the glare
Draw the curtains, I don't care 'cause it's alright

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

I see you've got your list out, say your piece and get out
Guess I get the gist of it, but it's alright
Sorry that you feel that way, the only thing there is to say
Every silver lining's got a touch of grey

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

I know the rent is in arrears, the dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears, but it's alright
Cow is giving kerosene, kid can't read at seventeen
The words he knows are all obscene, but it's alright

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

The shoe is on the hand it fits, there's really nothing much to it
Whistle through your teeth and spit 'cause it's alright
Oh well, a touch of grey kinda suits you anyway
And that was all I had to say and it's alright

I will get by
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive

We will get by
We will get by
We will get by
We will survive.


(Jerome J. Garcia / Robert C. Hunter, © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Want not, waist not

And it's a long way down
It's a long way down
It's a long way
Down to the place where we started from.

I may have found something even more boring to talk about than selling/not selling my beads. My weight.

Well, really my shape, since I don't weigh myself.

I really miss my waist.

Except for the Freshman fifteen, I've been naturally slim for most of my life. Wait, I take that back. I got a little pudgy around second grade. Once my doctor pointed it out to my mom, she cut back on portions. One and a half sandwiches for lunch, not two. Dessert at dinner but not at lunch.

I was a skinny teenager. In college, dorm food and a fourth meal of pizza or subs late at night caused my weight to creep up. It took me until the end of the year to figure out that I wasn't shrinking my jeans every time I washed them.

I starved myself all summer and went back to college thin and anorexic. I continued to starve myself for a long time, with occasional binges. It took a few years for my relationship with food to normalize.

For many years after that, my size was not an issue. I gained about 25 pounds with each pregnancy, then lost them afterwards, fairly effortlessly.

I inherited my mom's healthy metabolism and also her discipline. My mom weighed herself every day and the minute she gained a few ounces, she dieted until she was back to her goal weight. Dieting for her meant a lot of cottage cheese and fruit, half portions, dessert only on weekends.

I know a lot about food, calories and carbs and fats and proteins, but I've never been on a diet, per se. My saving graces have been that I don't like to eat unless I'm hungry and, as a rule, I don't snack. I dislike feeling full and I prefer plain food to fancy. I eat very little meat, I avoid fried foods, I scrape butter on bread. I order salads with the dressing on the side instead of potatoes.

I love carbs. Whole grain breads, rice, pasta, bagels, tortillas, potatoes. Cake sure, cookies yes, pie, yum. I do have a sweet tooth and I crave sweets, especially in the evenings, but I'm reasonable about the portions I allow myself.

Lately lots of people tout some version of low-carb, gluten-free, and keto-type diets, and swear they have more energy, better complexions, fewer aches and pains. I just can't imagine life without breakfast cereal. And fruit. And ice cream.

For many years I went to some form of aerobics classes. I did Jazzercise in my 20s, until I had my first baby. Then for a long time I took lunchtime workout classes in my company's fitness center. When that fell by the wayside, I started walking on my lunch hour with work cohorts. It wasn't a real workout but it was something. It was enough to keep me fitting in my wardrobe at least.

After I retired and started spending my days making beads, my body mass started to expand. I still resisted the scale but I stopped fitting into my size 8s and 10s. Neil never criticized my appearance, but when I bewailed the fact that I felt as large as I was when I was 9 months pregnant, he made the comment that I was morbidly inactive.

And it was true. I had developed what is known in my field as "beadmakers' butt."

As I mentioned, I inherited my mom's discipline. And since I already ate a diet where there was little "fattening" food to cut out, for the first time in a long time, I undertook an exercise regime.

I started going to the community fitness center almost every day. I worked up to walking at least 3 miles on the treadmill at 3 degrees elevation. I did this religiously for at least a couple of years and I found myself buying pants in smaller sizes again. I'm sure I lost those 25 pounds of "baby weight" again.

A friend gave me a treadmill that she wasn't using and I continued to walk at home at least four times a week. I still do. One of my first purchases after we moved here was a new treadmill. I've increased the elevation to 3.5 degrees and I generally walk for 50 minutes at 2.7 miles. I'm tired when I'm done and I can't seem to step it up any more without feeling exhausted.

Yes I know exercise is supposed to increase endorphins and give us a sense of well being and more energy, but it's never worked that way for me. I've never had a "runners high." At best I feel a sense of relief from guilt when I'm done. Beyond that I just feel more tired.

I'm not saying it isn't worth doing and I don't plan to quit, but over time my body has rebounded to that pregnancy shape and I'm pretty sure that I've found those lost 25 pounds.

I wage an internal battle. I want to forgive myself for aging, for the effects of gravity. I've lost 2 inches of height too. Maybe it just got compressed around my midriff. I want to love myself as I am. I want to throw out the beauty-magazine model of emaciated models. I want to say, it's OK to be the size your body wants you to be, as long as you aren't being a ridiculous glutton living a morbidly inactive lifestyle.

But I realized this week that I'm not comfortable in my body. Even in my generous size 14 elastic-waist skirt and cute loose summery over blouse, I don't feel relaxed or at ease. I feel stuffed, yet at the very same time I feel hungry, because all I've eaten today is some blueberries, half a banana, and half a yogurt.

I feel like I've swallowed a basketball. I feel like there is a melon-sized tumor in my tummy. I feel like there is a steel band around my middle, approximately where my waistline would be if I still had one.

What I can do about it is the question. I hate feeling hungry. I get hangry. Hungry angry. Hunger messes with my neurotransmitters and feels a lot like depression.

We all know that diets fail, especially fad diets, because you don't change your eating habits. But what do you do when your eating habits are pretty good to start with?

Honestly, I'm not sure that I can lose the inches. Neil says it's all a matter of calorie intake and calories expended, but I'm not sure I could starve myself enough to make a difference without risking my emotional well being. I'm not sure I can drive myself to work out more, harder, longer, without risking my physical well being.

Still, I'm not going to give up and write it off as a lost cause. For now, I'm going to be more mindful about what I eat and try to figure out where I can improve. I'm going to give thought to how I can beef up my workouts without wearing myself out unduly.

And I'm going to scale back on the ice cream ritual.

Neil asked me if I wanted to go get frozen custard. I said, maybe not today. He said, I guess I'm on a diet too.

It was a low blow, but it worked, and to keep our happy marriage happy, I made the sacrifice.

One scoop of salted caramel custard in a cup, please.

I'll scale back another time.


Your love
Is better than ice cream.
Better than anything else that I've tried
And your love
Is better than ice cream
Everyone here knows how to cry

And it's a long way down
It's a long way down
It's a long way
Down to the place where we started from

Your love
Is better than chocolate
Better than anything else that I've tried
And oh love is better than chocolate.
Everyone here knows how to fight

And it's a long way down
It's a long way down
It's a long way
Down to the place where we started from.


(Timothy Watson,Timothy Wild, © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)