Waxing Positive Poetic

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Photo by Van Williams on Unsplash

I’m not sure what this post is about. I just got tired of seeing my poem, The Doldrums, at the top of the list. It’s a good poem, but it is depressing, and I need a break from it. That poem is not how I feel about life, generally speaking, but it was how I felt that one day that I wrote it.

Over the years, I have learned to wait out my emotions. I can start the day feeling lethargic and unmotivated, move on to serene, through energetic, then punch my way through pissed off, and end up feeling grateful I have a family. Then, it’s lunchtime.

I used to try to fix my negative emotions: Why am I feeling this way? Do I need a new job, new relationship, new approach to life? No, odds are, I need a nap, a coffee, a run, or just some time, and it’ll pass. These days, I don’t spend too much time analyzing myself if I wake up feeling irritable or sad. I try to do some things to help my mood, and I know it probably won’t last too long.

There’s this fine balance between acknowledging emotions and wallowing in them, between moving on with life in the face of them and denying them. Wallowing too long can send you tumbling to the bottom of the pit from whence it feels impossible to extract yourself. Denial is like trying to cram silly putty into a too-small container — you can’t get the lid on; it’s going to pop out somewhere and make a mess.

I’ve been both places many times. I’ve been in the pit, where everything seems pointless and terrible, and there are no stairs, no handholds to climb my way out. I’ve been through denial, which is like pretending a volcano is dormant and then it blows half its top off and spews lava over all with the misfortune of being near. I don’t want to be either of those places again if I can help it.

Wrestling with depression and PMDD does make me appreciate the good days, like today, where I can feel the warmth of the goodness of my life. And it has made me stronger, forced me to improve my emotional coping skills.

I do what I call “real self-care” — not expensive spa days or massages, but things like getting enough sleep and allowing myself alone time. I know that the doldrums are not a reality, but the filmy lens through which I see things that particular day. It is a real feeling, and it deserves acknowledgment. It craves its own poem, and I shan’t deny it. (We start talking poetry, and I start saying things like “shan’t.” I’m so pretentious sometimes.) That is what allows me to let it go, to move past it.

The thing is, when I look not just at the doldrums or the shallows but at the whole ocean, there are storms, shipwrecks, beautiful sunsets, pretty shells, calm and choppy waters. There is the rare tsunami and the occasional island paradise. But you don’t get to stay in one place, and if you try, you’ll drift anyway. Or that weather will come to you. Change is inevitable.

That ocean is not just confined to this earth. It is vast and limitless. Who knows what great and terrible things lie within its depths — structures, beings, ideas we can discover, ponder, and some beyond the limits of our human imaginations.

The only sure thing I know we have is our lives on this earth, and the time we have here is too short not to spend it appreciating the full and complex range of human emotion.

Throw Me a Rope ~ Climbing Out of the Depression Hole

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Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Imagine you are running a track.

You know it well because you jog it daily. You see where the cracks and potholes have grown. There’s grass creeping into its edges here and there. It’s weathered, but you still like it. For years it was smooth, but as the imperfections appeared, you learned to navigate them after turning your ankle once or twice. You’ve even gotten good at jumping the large ditch that’s appeared lately, in one particular spot, though you fell in a few times before you got the hang of leaping over it.

You’re running one day, congratulating yourself on avoiding all the small cracks and holes. You leap over the big pit, sail through the air, land on the other side, take a few steps and WHAM!

You’re in a hole.

There’s a brand new one just a few strides from the old one. How did this get here, you wonder? You haven’t actually fallen to the bottom of it but are clinging to a ledge on the far side. You begin to try to climb out, grasping at roots and rocks embedded in the earthen wall, but they all dislodge in your hands and tumble to the bottom, which you’re beginning to realize is very far down indeed.

Fuck. You sit on the ledge, knees to your chest and think. It disturbs you these holes keep appearing. You’re afraid your beloved track is going to completely fall out from under you one day, and there will be nothing left but dark holes.  A few joggers run by, but they don’t notice you down there, and you are too busy worrying to think to call out to them. You stand on your ledge. You look up. You know the sun’s still there, you can see the light, but you can’t feel it’s warmth. It’s cold down here.

This is what PMDD is like.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is menstrual-cycle-related depression. It also comes with fun physical symptoms like sore joints, bloating and fatigue, just to name a few amongst many. PMDD is relatively predictable, usually beginning a week to ten days before a period starts, but like all things hormonal, it’s hard to pin down, especially if your cycle’s not regular because you’re young and not ovulating yet, older and not ovulating regularly, or just because it’s not.

Looking back, I’ve likely had PMDD for most of my adult life. It only got to a point where it couldn’t be ignored seven or eight years ago when being depressed while caring for a toddler and a four-year-old became untenable. I took antidepressants, I learned things about cognitive behavioral therapy, I did a lot of reading and introspection and visiting with other sufferers online. Over the years, I have become intimately knowledgeable about the nuances of my hormonal and emotional cycles, just like you know every bump and cranny of that track you run every day.

A brand new pit of despair

This month, as a gift from perimenopause, the new hole appeared after my period started. I sat crying in my office yesterday, sad and pissed. Sad because no reason, sad because depression. Pissed because it tricked me. Jason said, kindly, “I thought you usually got better now,” mirroring my more caustic mental response, What the fuck? I just shrugged, threw my hands in the air, and continued leaking out of my eyes and nose.

The new hole shows up unannounced. There is no earthquake rumble to warn you it’s developing. You didn’t trip, you didn’t lose your job or your family or your house. It’s a hole with no rhyme, no reason. You know the great job/family/house/life is still there, but it is unreachable from the hole.

Throw me a rope.

Jason doesn’t have a ladder, but luckily he’s got a rope — one woven with hugs, errands, gentle offerings and patience. He secures it, throws it down, and encourages me as I struggle to pull myself up — using arms, legs, the scratchy rope, the crumbling dirt walls — everything at my disposal to get out. And I will get out. I always do. New hole or old one.

If you suffer from depression of any sort, I hope you have someone. Know that sometimes you have to find that person and tell them what you need. And if you have someone in your life who sometimes falls in that hole, know this: you can’t make them feel better any more than you can climb out of the hole for them. But you can throw them a rope.

I’m NOT Fine ~Death to Small Talk

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Copyright : Peter Bernik

I’m in a great mood right now. Surprising, huh? I usually write when I’m depressed, pissed off or at least lethargic. Never fear, because the other day, I wasn’t in a great mood. I was in a horrible mood, but necessity dictated I go out into the world, so I did.

As I went, I was determined not to tell people I felt “fine.” I’ve gone out with this decree in my head before. When people ask, “How’s it going today?” I think, I’ll tell it like it is. Though I fantasize about responding with, “shitty, actually,” I know I’m not confrontational enough to pull it off; I hate making people uncomfortable. But I figured  I could say, “Not great,” or at the very least, “Meh.”

It turns out, it is a physical impossibility for anything other than “fine” to escape my lips. The clerk at the grocery store asked how I was, and I said, “fine.” I didn’t even realize it until thirty seconds later:

Wait, did she ask me how I was? Did I say “fine?” Crap, I did. Damnit!

It’s like breathing. I don’t think about saying “fine,” it just happens; I’m barely aware of it coming out of my mouth. Bottom line is, people use it as a greeting and aren’t actually interested in how you are (unless you are indeed “fine” or “great” or “fabulous.”)

The thing is, though, what are they going to say when I give less than, “Gosh, gee, ain’t it great to be alive?” They will probably…

A. Be sorry they asked.

B. Ask what’s wrong even though they don’t want to know.

C. Be baffled when I shrug my shoulders and say, “Just one of those days, I guess.”

I’d like to be honest about my feelings when people ask, even if it’s a stranger. I don’t want to pour my heart out to them; that’s part of the reason for the knee-jerk “fine.” I just want to be able to use an adjective that actually applies to my mood and/or day. In my ideal world, where everyone admits they’re not “fine” all the time, it would go something like this:

Stranger: How are you today?

Me: Not great, actually.

Stranger: Oh yeah? I’m sorry you’re having a bad day.

Me: Meh. It happens. How are you?

So here’s the question: Have you ever answered “How are you?” with something other than the expected positive affirmation when talking to a stranger? How did it go?

 

Sorry for the Inconvenience

emotionalIt’s been a long time since I felt this low. But such is the nature of the beast known as pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. I can go along fine for six months, and then for no apparent reason start sliding down into that moody hole again. I cope with it a lot better than I used to.

I used to try to repress those feelings — that “I just dropped my keys and it makes me want to cry” sensation. And just like most contents under pressure, it would eventually erupt into a violent, volcanic spew of uncontrollable sobbing and an inability to accomplish anything at all.  I’d go through a good patch and think I had this PMDD thing licked, so I always felt blind-sided when it began its molten rumblings again.

Now, no matter how long it’s been, I’m not surprised when it shows back up — dismayed, yes, but not shocked. I give myself some space to do the things that help a little — journal, meditate, drink ginger tea and cry some. If I do that, let it out a little when I feel it coming on, I can avoid the big eruption that sprays fallout all over my family (mostly Jason).

This is where I am this morning — trying to take care of myself. The hard part is this: there are people who expect things from me today. There are deadlines and things I promised I’d do, and I hate disappointing people. I hate rescheduling things and asking for extensions. And the emotional state I’m in right now makes it even harder to do so because it requires a grand effort to talk to anyone coherently.

I’d like to have a sign:

Temporarily out of order. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Or maybe a more modern,

Website down for maintenance. Please try again later.

If you’re reading this, and you’re my friend, just know, if I don’t text you back today, please excuse me. It’s not you, it’s me…honestly.

It’s a Beautiful Day, F*&% Off

I am sitting on my couch in a sports bra, a bathrobe with no tie, and running socks. How, you might ask, did such an ensemble occur?

This morning, my alarm went off at 6:15am. I hate getting up early, but the kids are tardy at 7:45, so I do it anyway. Sometimes it’s not so bad. This wasn’t one of those mornings, though. Today I dragged myself out of bed, sinuses throbbing. The ragweed is here.

I’d planned to go running after following Gage to school on his bike. I didn’t want to at this point, but I put on running clothes anyway and hoped I’d feel better after coffee. I did follow Gage to school, and I tried to enjoy the cool air. It really was a lovely morning. But, then I went straight back home, stripped off the majority of my exercise clothes and threw on the bathrobe hanging over the stair rail. It just didn’t happen to have it’s belt-tie thingy with it. My skin itched, I felt bloated and I could no longer tolerate spandex, or whatever the hell they’re making sport leggings out of these days, against my skin. But my boobs are sore, so the bra stayed.

I am in a bad mood – irritable, agitated, annoyed…at everything and everyone. I am trying to moderate this mood, which is partially why I am writing this, but there’s another purpose as well.

People have bad days. I have bad days, and my bad days don’t have to be prompted by unfortunate events. Sometimes, I just wake up in a crappy mood and spend the rest of the day managing it. Yes, managing it, not fixing it. If I expect to totally fix it, I’m just setting myself up for failure and a worse mood. So, I settle for things that might make me feel slightly less negative.

If you’re a regular person with normal emotions, this may sound pessimistic, but if you’ve ever dealt with a mood disorder of any kind, you know what I’m talking about. When your f&^ked up brain chemistry is insisting you’re angry or depressed, it’s not something that’s going to be resolved with a hot bath or a walk. That’s not to say we don’t try those things or that they don’t help a little. But don’t expect us to stand outside, sniff the glorious (pollen-laden) air and suddenly declare, “Ain’t life grand?”

The reason I came home and stripped off most of my clothes is because I need to listen to my intuition about what will make me feel better, even if it’s weird. My body was telling me, “This itches, and it doesn’t feel good on the bloated belly.” In the past I would have ignored it, because I hadn’t planned on changing clothes 20 minutes after I put them on and because it didn’t make sense. Fuck sense (oh, did I forget to censor that?)

Here’s the deal: I am actually a pretty positive person. I am grateful for the life I have. I have a supportive, loving family, I have a good career, and I like myself more than I ever did in my 20’s and 30’s. I just want some space to have a crappy day every once in a while. I want some space to complain now and then. Maybe if we were all allowed to do that, we wouldn’t insist on everyone pretending to be so goddamned happy all the time.

I am inclined to end this with “now, fuck off,” but that’s not fair to you. I’ve pretty much had the same sentiment about everything I’ve encountered thus far today, from our dog to the newspaper laying in the driveway. So I’ll try to be better. Thanks for reading, and if you’d like to tell me to “fuck off” when you see me later today, feel free. I’ll totally understand.

Being Dr. Jekyll and Mama Hyde sucks — for everyone

The following is from  drawing hard.com (December 11, 2016.) The text and drawings so accurately describe what it’s like to have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), I had to share it. Thank you to Joanie Oliver, the author and artist-extraordinaire, for giving me permission to repost. Enjoy, and be enlightened:

I’m not typically the kind of person who cries uncontrollably, yells or wishes they could cease to exist, but over the past couple of years a monster has grown in me. And, unfortunately, I’m not alone.

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Like clockwork, it takes control every month and drains your energy. The person you were yesterday, who could run a few miles, today can barely make it through the aisles of the grocery story. The woman who last week met up for drinks with friends is now on the verge of drowning in fear and sadness.

You fight the first tears that threaten, pray to you’ll find a way to keep them at bay.

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But still the dam bursts.

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The sadness pours out uncontrollably, until you are completely clouded in.

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Where once there was confidence and ambition in you, there now brews a dangerous stew of lethargy, self-loathing and rage. You swear you won’t let the feelings boil over and lash out. You resolve to keep calm and wade through it — but it’s only a matter of time until the monster wins.

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Only a matter of time until everything grates on you.

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Only a matter of time until there’s little left of the actual you.

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The cruel monster has taken over. It knows just where to poke.

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It beats you and berates you for days, refusing to let you rest. It wears you down until every bit of life pokes and jabs at your rawness.

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You’re not the kind of parent, wife or friend who’d ever scream and rage if you were standing on solid ground, but Hyde has disintegrated all the good in you. And you snap.

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But because that damn monster isn’t tangible, the rage lands elsewhere.

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Not long after the pressure has been released the monster begins to retreat. Your mind and the skies clear — just in time to see the wreckage you’ve caused.

You’ve screwed up again. Failed to beat the beast. Failed even at being a decent human being.

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That monster isn’t just evil though, it’s also smart. Smart enough to back off completely and let you feel normal again. You make amends, become strong enough and well enough to believe it somehow won’t all happen again next month.

Silly you. Silly me. Poor everybody.

This is what life with PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) feels like.

It’s not just PMS.