Not So Happy Holidays

Well, we have made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas, now all eyes are looking toward the New Year and the promise of new beginnings. Some will look upon the end of the holiday season with a sadness, a realization that the magic of the season has left along with the clearance-priced ornaments, Christmas cards and the ever-present box of chocolates. Others will welcome an end to the forced cheerfulness, the endless demands of the holiday season, including but not limited to Black Friday shopping, the unspoken expectation that everything must be FESTIVE and everyone should be DELIRIOUS WITH HAPPINESS. You must get the perfect gift, sit alongside family members you haven’t spoken to all year and do your best imitation of a happy, loving family. I think more effort is spent each year acting like we are happy, not alone or lonely; pretending we are immersed in the joy of the season, when in reality, we are immersed in a sadness that colors all the holiday lights a brighter shade of grey because everything and everyone is grey. For those of us who feel this way during the holidays, there doesn’t seem to be a place where we can just be what we are, which ultimately is some degree of depressed. Maybe it’s the forced merriment, maybe it’s the manic pace of the season, the never-ending demands of shopping, decorating, attending parties, kisses under the mistletoe and boatloads of eggnog or the over abundance of alcohol and sugar-laden foods or maybe it’s just the fact that we can’t be with the one we want, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because the holidays always make us think of family members who are no longer with us, loved ones who maybe don’t love us like they used to, family that isn’t quite family any more. Maybe it’s because the real message of Christmas has been drowned out by the crass commercialism and unrealistic expectations set forth by some ad folks in some corporation somewhere. Whatever the reason, no matter how many, those of us who struggle through the holidays don’t stop struggling when the holiday season comes to a close. If anything, we may experience some tiny measure of relief when they pass, but depression is not a seasonal disorder; it is a year-round, take no holidays, 24/7 kind of condition.

My wish is for the spirit of Christmas (the real spirit) to burn brightly within my heart, be shown in my actions and be shared with all I encounter, this New Year and all throughout the years. Just because the calendar says January and the Christmas tree and decorations have been taken down, the Christmas music has (FINALLY) stopped playing in the stores doesn’t mean that goodwill towards your fellow man has to be put away, too. Keep those thoughts in the fore front of your mind, keep the love alive in your heart and above all else, love yourself, celebrate everything that makes you who you are, even if you’re not crazy about those traits. I personally am not overjoyed when my mood takes a trip on the Rocky Roller Coaster ride that only bipolar disorder could design but it’s a part of me; it’s not a curse nor is it a blessing, just a part of me as much as my curly hair and hazel eyes. It has taken me a long time to accept it, not rage against the unfairness of it all, wishing things could be different while doing nothing to change anything. For the best gift we can give is love; to oneself first and foremost and from that self-love, we can send it out to others.

If there is someone you haven’t connected with in a while and they’ve been on your mind, pick up the phone, give them a call and reach out. Chances are that they are thinking of you, too. We don’t know how many Christmases we will have, how many opportunities to say we love them, we are sorry or we just miss them. The smallest gesture can make the biggest difference to someone who is starved for kindness.

Thank you for your support, your encouragement and your love. You continue to make a difference in my life and I appreciate you tremendously.

Happy New Year to you, my friends.

School Daze

“Two great gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts, mutilated monkey meat, itty-bitty birdy feet; two big eyeballs rolling down a dirty street and me without a spoon…”

Out of all of the things I could remember from grade school, this is the one thing that just instantly pops in my head when I think of those early days of being a kid in the 70’s. I know there are different versions, depending on where in the world you grew up and so there are variations on the theme, but in general, it’s just plain silliness and I love it.

Whenever I think of school, the first thing that comes to mind is the crisp Autumn air, the leaves turning color and the back to school shopping, which was hands-down my favorite part of it all. Some kids want new shoes, new clothes and backpacks. I, on the other hand, looked forward to new pens and fresh, unmarked notebooks and piles of binder paper, just waiting to be filled with the endless stream of thoughts and ideas I always seem to find whenever faced with a blank page. I loved the new beginning, fresh start and endless possibilities that awaited me with each new school year; it was like New Year’s except without the hangover and the pressure to make resolutions. It was a chance to learn, to strengthen existing friendships, make some new ones and exercise my brain, while learning new concepts and discovering new worlds that I had not previously known. It was an escape from an unquiet, chaotic household to a world of order, clearly defined rules of behavior and expectations. It was a world of learning and because I was (and still am) a huge fan of learning, I received a great deal of praise and encouragement in those classrooms. It was a place that I felt I truly belonged to and some of my most formative lessons growing up took place at school.

As an adult, of course, things are a little different, but I still love learning. I have to work harder than I did as a kid because 5o is just around the proverbial corner and because (as you all know) my mood swings around like dancers doing the Lindy Hop.

But there are rewards that by far outweigh the effort put forth; the sense of accomplishment, of facing challenges and overcoming obstacles that you just don’t get when you run away or quit. It reinforces the belief that I am capable, intelligent and have some serious moxie.

mox·ie
noun NORTH AMERICAN informal
force of character, determination, or nerve.

I love that word, moxie. It’s so cool. Makes me think of old school gangster movies with Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and Bogey.

Sorry. Shiny thing distracted me.

At any rate, school will always be a place that I love. I may not like the teacher, the subject matter or other miscellaneous things, it is a happy place for me and the memories of playing dodgeball and hopscotch will always be some of my all-time favorites. My first slumber party, becoming a song leader (cooler dancing sister to the cheerleader) and playing volleyball are some of milestones that made me the woman I am today and the teachers who were endlessly patient with my endless supply of questions nurtured the desire to learn in me and allowed me to explore my intellect and question what others called the truth.

Doodles. That’s another thing I love about school. Doodles are awesome.

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Retail Therapy vs. Real Therapy

When I was in my last huge manic episode, I was completely unable to resist the urge impulse and ended up maxing out seven credit cards to the tune of around $2,500. I was actually lucky that I didn’t have more because I am certain I would have maxed out 100 credit cards. I would shop if I was happy to celebrate whatever had made me happy; if someone made me (you notice the “made me” in that sentence?) angry or hurt my feelings, I would shop. If the sky was blue and the day ended with “day” I would shop. I would buy anything from pink parachute pants to Wonder Bras; ceramic masks to luggage sets. It didn’t matter what I was buying, it was just the whole experience of retail therapy. I thought that by going with these impulses, I would find a way to happiness. Never mind that I was setting up a financial nightmare for my future, non-manic self. Why think about tomorrow when you can spend freely today? Besides, I had to buy these things. The world would stop spinning, I would stop breathing and all would turn to darkness if I didn’t. After all, that’s what the voice inside my head was telling me and if you can’t trust that voice inside of your head, who can you trust? 

Of course, nothing lasts forever and thank God for that. After the madness had passed and I had returned to the reality of debt, I was deeply depressed. How would I ever be able to pay off all those cards? What did I have to show for all those thousands of dollars? Well, the parachute pants had long since gone out of style, the Wonder bras surely didn’t add up to a couple thousand and change. Oh and the other thing I loved to do was give things away. Almost as soon as I had purchased something, the impulse to give it away usually followed. Sometimes I could bargain with myself and give away something that old, that I had already bought months or years ago. That’s also why I had nothing to show for it. But, as my dad used to say, the hardest lessons are the ones we most need to learn. Or something like that.

Today, I still have that urge to go shopping and buy whatever catches my eye or my fancy. However, I have no credit cards and if I overspend, I go hungry. This makes it much easier to put things down and walk out of the store empty-handed and not feel cheated. Also, since people aren’t making me anything, I can’t use that excuse. If I have made choices that lead to me being angry, I now understand that no amount of retail therapy will make that anger go away. I now understand the difference between therapy that helps me to deal with difficulties and therapy that enables me in avoiding them. One doesn’t have to be manic to be a slave to impulses or to engage in behavior with no limits, no boundaries. I am constantly working on disciplining myself against those behaviors that hold me back from realizing my True Self and exercising those actions that bring me closer. I will go shopping and if I find something that interests me, I will put it in my basket or carry it around with me for a while to see if my desire for it can last more than 15 minutes or so. You’d be surprised at how many things actually leave the store with me. It’s little tactics and tricks like that I use to save me from myself. So far, it seems to be working. 

Now I’m off for some Friend Talk Therapy over coffee and to celebrate my independence from credit cards, mountains of debt and the end result – debilitating depression.

Happy Independence Day!