Posts Tagged ‘depression’

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I Am Not Toast

November 22, 2013

There’s a scene that recurs pretty much every Saturday and Sunday morning at the Rosenberg household in Massachusetts. My father, toeing the line between anal retentive and obsessive compulsive, fiddles with a toaster that he hates. He has not liked a toaster since they dispensed with their ancient one he loved years ago. No toaster since has provided just the right brown. But at some point the machine pops, the bread springs into the air, its transformation complete, and it’s close enough to satisfactory that he can move on to his precision-based coffee preparations.

I was visiting my parents once, shortly after a therapy session where I had overcome one emotional hurdle only to discover another, larger one on the other side.  Watching my father’s ritual I had the sudden, amusing thought, “I am not toast.” I’m never going to be done.

Sometimes I feel like after 7 years of therapy I should be “finished.” Like there’s going to come a point at which I’ve soothed the little kid, dealt with the scars, come to peace with it all, yadda yadda yadda. But then every time I go through a great phase, another rough patch will emerge sooner or later, dredging up unhealed wounds and patterns in the process. There’s always another bottom to hit.

And I know something about bottoms (heh). The first Buddhist dharma talk I ever went to was the result of my depression and anxiety becoming so unmanageable I would try anything to gain some foothold on my mind, even attend some commie, whacked out “meditation” class my therapist suggested. And although I don’t self-identify as an alcoholic, I have always felt I hit a “bottom” – a fateful Last Drunk point of physical and emotional illness from which I would do anything to emerge.

I hit another one recently that was insidious and subtle, and I don’t know that I’d realized what rough shape I was in until I was on my way back up. Two weeks ago I was in bed, in the middle of the night, unable to stop crying. My days were spent feeling exhausted and constantly napping, my depression seemed to be rearing its nasty  head, I was plagued by eczema and vision trouble, and gaining weight no matter how much exercise I did. I felt broken.

If you know anything about nutrition and health, you may guess where I’m headed with this… Now, I’m one of those people who will expressly NOT do something if you tell me I have to. For example, I still refuse to read Harry Potter (even though I’d likely love it), solely because people told me I “had to.”  (I think it has something to do with a general distaste for and discomfort with  Received Ideas.) So when the whole Paleo, Gluten-Free, Whole30 cult started to infiltrate my Facebook feed, I was pretty hell bent against agreeing with it.

But looking at my symptoms, and talking to a few nutritionist pals, it was pretty clear what had to happen.  As painful as that night was, the bottom I hit was vital – I never could have given up dairy, gluten, sugar, grains, and legumes in one day (not to mention simultaneously going off hormonal birth control) if I hadn’t been desperate enough to do anything to feel better.

The result has been rapid and mind-blowing – not just the physical weight loss and inflammation reduction, but I feel like I have mentally and emotionally emerged from years of fog. I’m singing along to my iPod on the streets, I haven’t needed a nap, I feel strong and vital and happy and like I wish I had hit bottom sooner.

Only I couldn’t have. Bottoms come when you’re ready for them – not just in terms of your own desperation, but all the pieces and external factors have to align before you’re ready to witness your own situation.

This remarkable transformation leaves me wondering, though, what my next bottom will be, because with any luck and certainly with my new found health, hopefully I will not be “finished” for decades to come. Figuratively, and, if the “you are what you eat” adage is to be believed, literally…

I am not toast.

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They Say It’s Your…

June 28, 2013

I have to come clean about something. I did not have a good birthday. There. I said it.  Despite the Facebook onslaught, not only did I not have a good birthday, I can’t remember when I have in recent past.

To preface my malcontent, it’s not the aging thing that gets me – I’m quite delighted to be 32. As far as my career as a character actor goes, there are only more parts for me as I age into my type. As far as a biological clock goes I don’t seem to have one.  And as far as maturity goes I’ve always believed if I can look back at a year prior and think I had moments of sheer idiocy, then at least I know I’ve grown. My birthday just makes me sad. I don’t know why. I always seem to get to the day after and feel like I missed something; like something was supposed to happen that didn’t.

[Note: It probably doesn’t help that this year my birthday also marked the beginning of the end of a relationship I just broke up out of.]

I don’t know at what point in my life it was implanted in my head that I was supposed to have a fantastic day on my birthday.  I assume it was in early childhood; it probably was for all of us. Whenever it was, I’m left, in subsequent adulthood, with a dull ache of embarrassment and the feeling of having disappointed someone when I don’t have a particularly good day, which seems to be always. There are plenty of moments of goodness surrounding the day – sometimes picnics, celebratory meals, usually a massage, maybe a baked good or twelve – but come the end of June 18th, for years I have found I’m mostly just sad, dreading the date June 19th, and feeling like I’ve let someone down.

The easy, pop-psychology explanation for who that someone might be is, of course, “myself.” But that doesn’t feel quite right. Another easy response is “my parents,” because that’s always the easy response when dealing with psychology. But that doesn’t seem to fit either.

The only other option I can think of is, “everyone.” Did I, at some point, develop the belief that by not having a good time on my birthday I’ve somehow disappointed everyone?  That is to say, the entirety of cultural expectation?

I decided to test my theory and stop lying when people ask me how my birthday was – to quit serving up the “oh it was great!”s with a side of subject change, and instead answer honestly that it felt mostly like any other somewhat stressful day. The results have been … awkward. At best. There have been some pitying looks, inability to respond, uncomfortable “aawws…” and so forth.  It hasn’t been pleasant.

[I reserved the description of crying in my bathroom at 1 AM while my “boyfriend” took up 75% of my bed, having barely touched me all night, for only my closest friends. I spared my acquaintances unlike I’m not sparing you now.]

I wonder why it is that we want so badly for people to tell us they had a good birthday. Maybe it isn’t just me – maybe we all get a little sad around our birthdays, but no one wants to see it reflected back at them in anyone else’s eyes.

One of my meditation teachers, Sylvia Boorstein, once explained the Buddhist practice of LovingKindness meditation as akin to wishing someone a happy birthday. (More specifically, she appealed to the nerds in the room by describing the phrases as a function of the Hortatory Subjunctive [*glasses push*]).  That is, reciting the mantras, “May you be happy. May I be peaceful,” is not about imploring a person or the self to be free from suffering, but rather wishing it without attachment to outcome. But I guess I feel like the comparison is inaccurate – people do seem attached to outcome when they wish a happy birthday.

This is not to discredit all the lovely people who wished me well on my day, or to downplay the enjoyable things that did happen. Just to acknowledge that I think it’s ok not to have a good birthday, even if you don’t really know why…

[Did I mention I’m single?]