Day 247/365 A Bundle of Gratitude

I have always been adamantly opposed to putting up a Christmas tree in November. This year, though, I really wanted to decorate for Christmas early.

“Bring on the shine and the joy!” I thought.

We went and picked out a tree yesterday. As a single woman, lugging the tree off of the top of my car and carrying it into the house myself brings me some perverse satisfaction. It’s really not that hard to do, but it is one of those things, like using the grill and taking out the trash, that somehow always fell into the category of “manly jobs” during my marriage (though that does hold some irony now).

We put the tree up and planned to decorate it today. When it came time to get the decorations out, I found myself holding my breath a bit. Dad collapsed just two days after Christmas last year. It’s hard not to muddy that stress and sadness together with the sights and sounds of Christmas.

I reminded myself of what I’d written just last week on Thanksgiving – this season is going to stir up a lot of feelings – joy, anger, sadness, nostalgia, gratitude…and I have to be okay with honoring them all.

I will welcome them all to the holiday table. 

As the girls and I began to sort through the decorations and ornaments, I couldn’t find the massive tangle of Christmas lights. Every year I pull them out and curse myself for not having a better system for removing and storing them. They look like a massive squirrel’s nest, and it takes me forever to detangle them.

“That’s weird,” I thought. “No lights? What could I have done with them?”

I racked my brain to try to remember where I could have put them. Finally, Ruby pulled out a compact, perfected spooled wreath of Christmas lights.

How the hell did that happen? 

Then I remembered…it was Lynette. One night in early January while I was sleeping in the ICU with dad, she took down Christmas for me. Without a word, she had put away all of the decorations. She had taken down the tree.

She had rolled my Christmas lights into a perfect bundle. 

That’s really all it took to shift my mood….just that little reminder that we are never alone, the girls and I. We have amazing people who love us. People who take care of us without being asked, and sometimes in ways we had never even considered.

Hello Gratitude, welcome to the holiday table.

Day 245/365 Like the Stars at Noon

“Yet that light is always present, like the stars at noon.”

– Peter Matthiessen, “The Snow Leopard”

Depression and grief have been frustrating emotions for me. They are hollowing, damp and heavy emotions, and being IN them is hard in and of itself, but for me the hardest part has been knowing these emotions are not my true nature.

I know the lightness of which I can capable.

Lately Joy has seemed to me like a language in which I was once fluent, but which now comes to me in hazy spurts of words. It is still there within me, for I’ve not lost it completely. Being around others who speak it fluently and regularly helps to bring it all back. Certain people, places, smells, sights and sounds help to open the floodgates of memory…all helping me immensely on the road to reclaiming Joy as my default.

After all, it is my first language.

Day 239/365 The Canary Flies Home and Other Birthday Blessings

It was Friday night and Mom and I had spent the day as we do each week…a few hours at the infusion center followed by dinner together and an overnight. This scheduled time together, though for an entirely shitty reason, has become important to both of us.

Ironically she feels best on the day she receives the infusion.  Aunt Anne and Uncle Ed had planned to join us for dinner as a little pre-birthday celebration for me. What I didn’t know was that Lynette (my favorite canary) was going to surprise me by walking through the door to my mother’s house. (She’d moved to San Diego in August and I was not expecting her to visit until Christmas). Once I processed this vision,  I burst into tears. Oh, I have missed her so much. I couldn’t believe I was wrapping my arms around her. I felt as though if I let go of her, she might vanish.

She had flown across the country, just to be at my birthday party.

Yes, my birthday party.

You see, I haven’t been feeling very social lately. I have begged off on a lot of invitations. With my birthday coming up, I figured the only way to make certain I would follow through with a proper celebration was to throw myself a party. So I did just that. I invited many of my favorite people to my favorite place on Saturday night.  There are so many people who I adore, and whom I just don’t see often enough.

Though I had invited a few new friends, it was mostly my family and my oldest (childhood) friends who ended up filling the room. There is something so indescribably lovely about being surrounded by people who have known and loved you (and you, them) img_4384for what seems like forever.

Thinking of them all now, I just feel so grateful.

Though a few important folks were missed, having us all together in one room was absolutely an elixir for sadness, if ever there was one…

It was a complete infusion of happiness in the form of love and laughter.  img_4395

About twenty-five of my favorites gathered at Miskiania. Ten of us spent the night.

Kala treated us all to a gourmet breakfast, and people left gradually throughout the morning.

Ryan and I were the last ones there for a couple of hours, until he left in the early afternoon. It was nice having that quiet time, just he and I.

After he left I settled in front on the fire with a book, a birthday gift from a friend. I sat there for a couple of hours, reading alone (but not feeling at all alone).

It was dad’s favorite place, and to me, he will always be there. Can’t you just feel that it in this photo?

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It was hard to leave.

This weekend was exactly what I needed to reset myself. I feel ready to move ahead, meet the challenges before me…and perhaps even meet some wonderfully unexpected blessings as well.

Come on 45, let’s do this.

Day 237/365 Who Holds The Spotlight

This blog has felt therapeutic and cathartic to me in my grieving process. I love (and hate) the process of calling out my demons – fear, anxiety, shame, and sadness. By saying,  “I SEE YOU!” and shining light upon them, I feel as though I rob them of some of their power. It doesn’t change the fact that those feelings live within me, but calling them out allows me to take back some control. It feels like calling out a bully.

At the same time I don’t want to keep the spotlight on them – on those bullies.

They are a part of me but they are not me. I am so much more. In fact, looking back at my 44 years, the times I have been ensconced in these weighty emotions is but a blip. These feelings are very much a product of my experiences of late, and not predominantly what lives within me at my core. I know this to be the truth.

I have always had much more joy than angst (believe it or not).

So, my path to healing begins with making peace with the parts of me I do not love.  Calling out the bullies, and perhaps even thanking them for illuminating so many things.  Next, I can show fear, anxiety, shame and sadness that while they may bask in the spotlight now and again, they have never been, nor will they ever be, the stars of the show.

A few cameos, perhaps. That’s all. 

In some ways I don’t get to write my own story. The plot keeps twisting and turning, often without my consent. I don’t always get to choose which characters show up, but…

I can choose who holds the spotlight.

Day 235/365 Do You Remember What The Nothing Was?

You have no idea how desperately I want to write something incredibly hilarious and lighthearted for all of you. I think one of the hardest parts about being depressed is that you become entirely sick of yourself. I can only imagine you are growing weary of my weighty entries as well. Still, if this is to be an authentic way for me to share my life, I have to write from the heart…even when that feels like a dark place.

It is important to me that you know that it isn’t all darkness for me. I have my moments. I smile, I laugh…and I swear to you I am so grateful for my many blessings. Despite knowing this with all of my heart, I still get upset with myself….because how can I possibly be grateful and depressed? It doesn’t compute. This makes me feel weak and selfish. It pulls me in deeper, and I know that is dangerous…because it is simply not true.

I do appreciate what I have, and I do understand things could be so much worse…and still, I struggle sometimes. Let me tell you...

No, let me tell us both...

Gratitude and depression are not mutually exclusive. 

This suddenly seems like an incredibly important point to convey and to emphasize before moving on. Can we let it sink in?

Gratitude and depression are not mutually exclusive. 

Okay then, on to a story…

On Saturday I was at the lowest I have been in a while. I was talking with Monica, and she asked me very sincerely what depression looks like to me when I close my eyes. I described a black hole, one into which I was desperately trying not to be pulled. After a moment I realized it wasn’t a hole at all, not in the sense that it has a bottom and a top, and walls. Instead, it feels like the opposite of something…

A void.

My mind flashed to a movie I watched recently with my girls. It was a favorite from my own childhood, based on the book, “The Never-ending Story” by Michael Ende. In it, a beautiful world full of amazing places and creatures is threatened to be sucked up by “The Nothing”. The Nothing isn’t a who or a what, it is literally nothing, and it is swallowing everything in its path. 

That’s what it feels like.” I said. “It feels like The Nothing“.

“Do you remember what The Nothing actually was?” she asked, pointedly.

Yes! I DO. The Nothing was the absence of imagination.”

And there it was…

I have started to lose sight of what I imagine my future to be. I am not looking hopefully and enthusiastically toward it. I am still standing in the rubble of the life that has tumbled down around me…and I’m afraid to look forward. 

There is no HOPE without imagination.

So, that seems like a good place to start…

Being brave enough to imagine the future. It isn’t just about appreciating what I have, it’s also about believing that there’s beauty and happiness to come. 

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Day 220/365 If Only

Last year at Christmastime I was feeling really low because my children were spending Christmas with their dad, and it was the first year (our third year being divorced) that the four of us did not open presents together on Christmas morning. It seemed like the right direction to go in for us, but it was hard.

I felt sorry for myself.

Two days after Christmas, my dad collapsed.  He never woke up.

As we have begun to adjust to life without him, I’ve thought about the holidays, of course, and how hard it will be to get through them this year, not only because it will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without dad, but also because the anniversary of his death will be looming. We will all be thinking about him and missing him, of course.

Again, I have felt sorry for myself. (Sometimes I really need the lessons crammed down my throat).

Then, the Elephant arrived. Though I still haven’t shared what that is, exactly, I will share that the Harvey family won’t be thinking entirely about missing our dad, because we will be managing the Elephant, too.

And the Elephant sucks, but…

I am not going to feel sorry for myself anymore.

Do you know why? Because it is a waste of precious time and energy.

It hurts me to think that maybe I didn’t enjoy (what ended up being) my last Christmas with my dad as much as I should have, because I was so focused on what was wrong. I was so focused on what I was missing that I didn’t fully appreciate what I had.

Life is hard sometimes…but we have to make the best of it. Whatever it is that you are dealing with right now – the thing that seems really big and horrible – maybe it actually isn’t that bad.

Maybe it IS that bad. It might be.

But…

Either way, is it possible you will look back and realize that you wasted some perfectly good parts of your life because you were feeling sorry for yourself? That you missed some really good and important stuff because you were focused on the wrong thing?

It can be really hard sometimes to find, and focus on, the silver linings. It can take practice to sharpen our focus on the beautiful parts of our lives and to pull our attention away from the painful ones.

To retrain our lens.

I am going to do it though. I don’t want to look back on the holiday season – on ANY part of my life – and think…if only I’d known then what I know now.

If only I’d focused on the love and the gratitude, instead of on the loss and the worry.

If only.

Day 214/365 How ARE you?

Yesterday afternoon I ducked into a clothing & housewares store for a bit.  I was looking for a dog bed, actually, but I ended up with an armful of clothes to try on. I approached the fitting room and there was a woman monitoring it, her job of course being to make sure no one tries to steal any clothes. She counts the clothes going in, and counts the clothes coming out.

“Hi,” she said, not making eye contact, but motioning for me to extended my arm so she could count the items I was carrying.

“Hi. How are you?” I asked.

“Tired,”she replied, sighing.

“Oh…it’s toward the end of your shift, I hope?” I said, sympathetically.

This seemed to catch her completely off guard…that I cared enough to continue the conversation about how she was doing.

“No, I have five hours to go,” she said.

“Oh…sorry.”

“That’s okay.  I don’t know why I am so tired.”

“Hang in there,” I said.

“I will, thanks.” She smiled.

How many times a day do we ask, or are we asked, “How are you?”

How often is it conveyed with a sense that the answer is of any significance?

This woman had probably exchanged the words, “How are you?” a hundred times already on her shift. Yet it seemed like a complete anomaly that I would actually listen to her response or ask a follow up question.

I am always polite, but I don’t always feel like chatting up strangers. I have always marveled at people who do this consistently. My friend, Monica, and my Uncle Ed come to mind when I think of this quality. Either of them could talk to anyone, anytime…and they have the ability to make people feel good everywhere they go.

They listen, they smile, they sympathize and crack jokes. They know how to connect, how to make people feel good. I admire them so much  for this quality.

I have been trying more and more to exercise this muscle. Don’t misunderstand – I am not a rude person. I have always been polite and kind (I hope), but lately I have been making more of an effort to be more gregarious as I interact with people whom I don’t know (and may very well never cross paths with again) while out in the world.

It feels good...making eye contact and smiling at strangers as they pass, saying “How are you?” in such a way that the other person feels that I actually care to hear the response.

Why this sudden desire to connect?

There is so much negativity in the world right now.

So much pain.

So much divisiveness.

So much “Us vs Them”.

So much stress.

It seems more important than ever to propagate the feeling that we are all connected – that we all belong to one another.

One warm exchange may lead to another, and another…having a ripple effect of warmth and kindness in the world...just when we seem to need it most.

Anyway…it’s worth a try. Right?