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Depression Sucks

Depression Sucks

 “When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.” Elizabeth Gilbert

My first thought this morning was, depression sucks and can I get up out of bed? Or is my brain weighted down by fog and darkness?  

Now a hot cup of coffee sits on my cluttered desk. My desk that no matter how much I try to put away the stacks of books, the random post it notes reminding me of thoughts I scribbled during a conference call, or pens (lots of those, for whatever reason I like to use a different type of pen for different journals and writing activities), is always a mess.

The door behind me is open to the back yard teeming with bird song and squirrels who run, no leap, through the wet grass in search of little morsels to nibble on. The air is thick and dampness from the thunderstorms last night permeates everything. It is warm, hot really. It seems that mild spring temperatures bypassed Detroit this year. Instead we literally went from snow one weekend in May to 85 degrees and sunny the next. And it has stayed in the 80’s for the last few weeks.

To which I say thank goodness. The warmer weather, the longer days, the sunshine has been a balm for my soul and mental health that I needed. The last 5 months have been a long, slogging drudge for me. Heavy depression snuck in around the holidays and settle in for a visit. I know depression well, and for the most part I am able to work through it, or more like with it. I know I don’t have to listen to it’s siren call to lay on the couch all day watching tv to numb out. I know I will be feel better if I stay in a routine— get up and write in my journal, sit on my meditation cushion, work out, go to work. I know I need to try to stay involved as much as I can with life. This is not always easy.

I know writing in my journal, meditating and working out are my most important and power medicine. For the past 20 years these have worked most of the time. I stay functioning. The darkness stays in the background. Expect this time (well okay also after D died, I fell into the dark vat of depression too but that was different, I could attribute it to the extreme grief that swallowed my life whole).

The last 5 months have been difficult. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the heaviness. I forced myself to rise each morning and write in my journal and sit on my meditation cushion. I often felt these were the only moments of reprieve, but when I had to leave the cocoon of my little office, the darkness still loomed. The loss of interest in anything creative took away my motivation and joy. It was like all my systems powered down and I only had energy for a few essentials and barley those.

I felt panic as I tried to figure out what to do, or how to feel like something matter, or how to feel vitality about something again. It was all I could do to get work (where I was barely productive and my mind a mushy soggy mess) and home to the couch so I could zone out. As I sat in the darkness each morning writing in my journal, I tried to figure out why I was so uninterested, unmotivated, and what I could do to change things. It took me a while to figure out it was depression. I of course blamed myself. In my mind, I was depressed because I didn’t do something right, or I wasn’t thinking something positive. In my mind, no matter what, I was to blame and I had to figure out how to fix it. Unfortunately, I am inclined to blame myself, as if there is something wrong with me, rather than I simply am dealing brain chemistry that is off and inclines me to feel darkness and hopelessness.

Despite my attempts to blame myself, I know that sometimes we are just powerless over this stuff—there is no one to blame. I just happen to have the perfect conditions for depression to rise up and take hold. I come from a seemingly endless line stretching back generations who grappled with depression. My mother, her mother, her father, my great-grandmother and father and I am sure there are more back there. So there’s that. Also, according research, my chaotic childhood created neural pathways (I have an ACE score of 9) which predisposes me to depression and other fun stuff (hello anxiety and panic).

And finally, hormones. Can I say holy shit? My hormones are powerful little devils if you ask me. I am 45 years old and struggling as my hormones shift and wane towards menopause. For whatever reason I am abnormally sensitive to hormone fluctuations. Every micro movement feels more like a 8.9 earthquake in my moods and body. I have learned how to deal with the monthly fluxes of PMS but now things are different—way different. I feel like I am rag doll being tossed around harder and farther than ever before.

If I look back at other pivotal moments when my hormones were in extreme flux—puberty, pregnancy, and postpartum—I can see that I fell into deep depressions also. Only back then I didn’t have tools, wisdom or compassion I now have to deal with it. After these last 5 months I realize I am going to have to be extra mindful as I traverse the journey towards menopause and give myself extra support.

On top of all everything it was the anniversary of D’s death and I had to put my 18-year-old cat Lupe down (that was super hard) last March.

I am beginning to feel better (I am actually writing a blog post). The weather is finally nice and sunny so I am getting out and riding my bike in the woods. Fresh air and nature always help. I am still writing in my journal, mediating and working out most days. I am seeing my therapist to sort out false irrational beliefs and to untangle how I have my self-worth wrapped tight around my doing and busyness. I am going to acupuncture to balance my hormones and taking new herbs to help with the depression. All of this is helping.

I think more important, I am also painting in my studio again, which is really helping. When D died I stopped painting and drawing. Sure I had a few fits and starts over the last 4 years but nothing that stuck. I would start a painting and be stuck, anxiety and negative self-talk overpowering me. As I have been grappling with heavy darkness the last 5 months, I have also been evaluating how I am spending my time, what is it that I really want to be doing, how I am supporting my creative self.

My therapist challenged me to take the summer off. To not teach, to not have goals, to not have projects but rather rest and do nothing. To follow my inner desires. I ask myself, do I want to read a book? Take a nap? Ride my bike? Than go do what I want.

As uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I doing it. I am not teaching writing workshops this summer. I haven’t blogged in over 2 months. I am evaluating my side hustle. I am reading a lot of books, riding my bike and painting. I am learning how to untangle my creative work from proving I am good enough. I have a lot more to say about this but for now, I am adjusting to this slower pace. To not having everything single thing I do be about being helpful to others (another huge insight for me).

Depression does indeed suck and I am not to blame. I need not feel shame about something that I am utterly powerless over. I am doing what I can and there is a lot of support and love out there to help. One awesome thing about this bout of depression is that it is realigning my life. It is slowing me down and getting me back to what I really enjoy, to what my real zone of genius is, painting and drawing. Things are looking up for me and I am grateful.

5

A Good Death to a Good Life

Kira Elliott Lupe

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” – Anatole France

I lost last week. Well, I lost my productivity last week. By choice mind you, but still as I sit here at my cluttered desk in the early gray morning, the furnace still clicking on even though it is early April, I am feeling that slight tug in my belly that says, you suck, you didn’t get all your shit done, you are behind now. I know this voice, it is my habitual taskmaster that keeps me tethered to feeling not good enough. It is the seeds of constant anxiety I battle with everyday to not grow into full on panic. Panic that can paralyze me and render me obsolete on the couch for days at a time.

My choice last week was to choose love. Instead of filling my life space with doing, or as Brene Brown says, performing, perfecting, pleasing, I turned my back on my habitual taskmaster and my never ending quest to prove I am good enough. I put everything I could on hold to be present with my dying cat, Lupe. On Monday, I finally had to call pet hospice to have them come and put Lupe down. I knew this time was coming. Lupe was 18 years old and declining rapidly. She had, what we think was a brain tumor, that finally was too much for her little body to handle.

So I did things differently than I normally do. I stopped and spent every free moment I could last week sitting with her on the couch, gently petting her, bringing her treats and water. I let go of my task list so I could let go of this cat who has been with 14 years. I picked up her frail body and held her close and tight, not wanting to let go but knowing the time was coming. Knowing the kind thing for Lupe was to let her go. On Thursday Lupe died peacefully curled up in her favorite blanket on the couch. It was a good death to a good life.

I adopted Lupe in 2002 from our local shelter. When I went to the shelter I specifically was looking for a cat no one else wanted and was least likely to be adopted. Lupe was 4 years old at the time and was surrendered because her owners had moved. She was a tiny light gray cat with whispers of orange tabby. She was unresponsive sitting in the cold steel cage, a water bowl and some food next to her. In the get acquainted room, she sat on my lap unfazed and unimpressed by my hand gently petting her tiny body. She didn’t seem to care about a single thing. When I brought her home she hide under the bed and in the back reaches of the closet for about 6 months before she started to come out and trust me. I don’t know what happened to Lupe before she came to live with me, but I am so glad I got to make a difference in her life. I was able to give her a warm, loving home in which she thrived. For Lupe, I was always enough.

I woke early this morning startled from a dream. In my dream, I was in a co-worker’s apartment in Brooklyn after a work event. I was hiding in the bathroom because the meeting I was suppose to lead flopped and everyone else took over. I failed at my duties. I was not good enough. As I stood at the sink looking in the mirror, Lupe my cat, jumped up on the vanity and pushed her tiny gray head against my hand for a pet. In the dream I knew Lupe was dead. Just three days before I knew I had carried her limp, still warm, body to the back room so my other cat Riggins could smell her body and know she was dead.

But there in my dream, Lupe was vital, warm and living. I remember all I wanted was to hold her tight to my chest one more time and whisper I love you over and over. I wanted to feel her purring body that was soft as bunny clinging on to mine just one more time. As I picked Lupe up and held her I woke from the dream confused and sad—shrouded in grief.

The dream felt so real, I wanted to linger in that dream space and yet, I also felt betrayed. I had already said good bye. I had already done so much of the hard work of letting go of a loved one. I had buried her in corner of the backyard under the young maple tree. I had wrapped her tiny frail body in a white cotton pillowcase with petite pink flowers, laid her gently in a shoe box and tied it with twine.

I had done some much hard work. I laid in the darkness thinking I didn’t want to have to do it again. I couldn’t do it again. The hardest part of being a loving pet owner is giving them the best gift we can, a good death. If we are lucky enough to have a long life with our furry loved ones, most of us will come to the moment where we will have to give this most selfless gift. We will have to let them go in love and dignity, peacefully to reduce their suffering. It is a honor and privilege—and it is hard.

So no I didn’t get my Open Heart Letter out to my email list, I didn’t answer all of my emails, I didn’t participate in the painting class I am taking. Instead I choose to give myself time to be with my cat in her final days. I choose to love. It is what made last week more than good enough. This is the stuff that really matters and I am thankful I am wise enough to know it.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

8 Ways You Can Survive and Thrive in Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty- So last month I officially enter mid-life, or can we say early mid-life. I find so many things shifting inside about what next and reevaluating every aspect of my life. I love this list of ways to thrive in midlife. It is about slowing down but staying engage. It is about owning limitations and embracing the vitality of life. It is about saying no to striving for more to make room for what I want.

True Story: I’m a Cat by Sarah Von Bargen- Holy crap this is just what I needed to read this week. I was laughing so hard. For anyone who has a cat, you must read this.

Meditation on Loving Kindness by Jack Kornfield- Here are the basic instructions for practicing Metta or loving kindness meditation. This is the first form of meditation I practiced before moving into a vipassana practice and I can say it changed my life. Still is.

Zen Calligraphy: the Creativity of Non-doing by Alok Hsu Kwang-han- A beautiful meditation on creating and non-doing.

Love Obsessive Organization? So Does Austin Radcliffe– Love these photographs. I, on the other hand, am not obsessive about organization but I appreciate it.

And finally, Lap of Love Pet Hospice Service– I can not thank the folks at Lap of Love enough of helping us through this difficult time. Dr. Courtney Brookens Graham, DV came to our home so Lupe was not stressed out by traveling to the vet. Thank you Lap of Love.

P.S. You might also like The Treadmill of Not Good Enough, Accept the Goodness, and Dreams of Good Enough

3

This is My New Normal

Kira Elliott First day spring

“Do not wait for the healing to arrive. It will never come. The holes will never leave or be filled with anything at all. But holes are interesting things.” ― Augusten Burroughs

I am sitting still looking out the window at yet another flat grey day that is reflecting how I feel inside. Fat red belly robbins bounce across the dead grass in the dim morning light. Thick frost covers the roof tops and car windows as the sky turns light grey on this first day of spring. Only spring here in Detroit is slow coming. It unfolds in fits and starts as if it is not quite sure it is ready to leave the hibernation of winter. I too am unsure I am ready for longer days, sunshine and more activity.

My fingertips are cold as they wander over the keyboard typing and deleting, a never ending cycle as I try to pull threads of what I want to say, what I need to say out of the hidden places inside. I have been quiet, too quiet, these last few months. It feels as if something is shifting deep inside and rearranging things. I feel purposeless, not sure what or why I am doing things. Perhaps something is growing inside, taking all my energy to make something new. Maybe all these seeds I’ve planted over the last few years about being good enough are finally taking root. Or maybe it is more simple than that? Maybe it is a simple case of SAD, Seasonal Effective Disorder, that has robbed me of my normal enthusiasm.

Or maybe it is grief, once again holding me underwater, making it hard to breathe. After all the first day of spring is the anniversary of D’s death from lung cancer. I know better than to disrespect grief, even when I tell myself it’s been four years now and I should be fine. The reality is while it is not white searing hot pain like the first few years, it still hurts. The loss was huge. I still think about him everyday. Tears still trickled down my face every morning last week as sat on my meditation cushion each morning.

Last night I sat on the floor in the corner of the living room, wedged between the end of the couch and an old cabinet I painted red about 20 years ago, looking through old pictures for picture of my son Max, D and myself.D max and me train 98 I wanted to find the one of the three us standing in front of a train in Berlin. We were exhausted from over 24 hours of travel on our way to Poland for more physical therapy for Max.

Stashed away in this cabinet in the corner of my living was my life story told in hundreds of snapshots haphazardly stacked and stored in boxes, envelopes and even an old crumpled brown paper bag. I sat there flipping through pictures of my son Max 5 days old coming home from the hospital, a turquoise binky plugged in his mouth, 1-year-old Max sitting on my lap while I read him Dr. Seuss’s ABC’s, 21-year-old me living in Kentucky, tan and tone from working in the tobacco fields, or 30-year-old me in art school, hair dark and curly, looking exhausted but content.

Woven into the very fabric of my story, was D. There he was with 25-year-old me when Max got his first wheelchair. D was the strong one when it came to Max’s Cerebral Palsy. I wanted to wait longer to get the first wheelchair. I wanted to hide the fact my son needed a wheelchair, I didn’t want it to be true. D, said he needs to D Max first wheelchairget around by himself, this is going to be his life. Then there was the one of the two us looking down and laughing on a bright sunny day at Max’s 5th birthday party. A party filled with other kids with disabilities we had met from traveling to a physical therapy clinic in Poland. Poland gave us hope and we looked forward to the future. Or one of my favorites, where we are both standing in his backyard looking down into a hole filled with my ceramics for my first authentic pit fire. He is holding a red gasoline can and a cigarette is hanging out of his mouth. I am holding a fish head I will throw into the fire to flash minerals on to surface of my pots. (He did mind that I dug a six-foot hole in his backyard without asking but he loved helping me make a fire that would burn for days.) He was there at every holiday, significant moment and everyday dinners too even though we had divorced when Max was only one and half years old. D was, no is, part of my life story.

I tend to want to know the why of what I am feeling, so I can do something about it. Especially if I am feeling flat, blue and unenthused as I have been. You know take care of it, make it go away. One thing I have learned from losing D is that somethings are not meant to get over or go away. There is no fixing this. You don’t heal from loss like this. I have a huge hole in my life. The man who I loved and was part of my life for well over 25 years is gone. As Augusten Burroughs says, I am learning to live with my holes and trying to understand how they are interesting.

The missing lives in my bones now. This is my new normal. I am not sure you stop missing what was once so much a part of you.

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

Some Things Just Hurt by Sharon Salzberg- This says it all. It is about learning to feel the hurt. There is no magic or anything. We are human. We are going to hurt.

He Rescued a Dog, Then the Dog Rescued Him– This is a great story and makes me want to get a dog. Well, I think I am happy with my cats for now but animals add so much to our lives.

A Basic Skill We Should Have Learned As Kids via Raptitude- Naming and understanding our basic emotions. It wasn’t until I started a daily journal practice in earnest when I was 25 was I able to start naming my emotions.

Know Your Why by Kate Courageous- Just the simple question of, has your life turned into a personal growth project, stopped me in my tracks. Read this awesome post.

Three Things Grief Taught Me by Anna Oginsky  – Anna is one of the most warm-hearted and genuinely kind person I have ever met. I love her description of grief and how it never goes away but we do gain so much from it, if we let it. I know for myself the loss of D has opened my heart in ways I never thought possible and it lead me to this amazing community online.

P.S. You Might Also Like Grief is Hard Work, Reflections on Grief, and Thank You Loss for Teaching Me to Grow

3

Comparing Diminishes My Authenticity

Kira Elliott Comparing

“Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason and Compare,” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable. ” ― Brenda Ueland

The morning is heavy. The air  thick and damp as blue jays squawk and screech high in the trees. I smell remnants of the neighbors bon fire from a party that went late into the night. Fog hovers low to the ground. Summer is waning. I see the signs as I ride my bike through the woods. Patches of leaves at the far end of branches turning a yellow or orange hue. A single golden oak leaf on the dirt path. Canadian Geese flying in formation high in the sky. Or simply the fact I had to start wearing sweaters and jackets when I left the house each morning last week.

I feel myself shifting too. I took last week off of writing, or really any creating, for the most part. It was not intended. It was as if I needed to recalibrate after a month of intense creative activity. I wrote in my journal but other than that, I was empty and still of words. Even in my meditation practice, my normal bouncing, planning mind was conspicuously quiet and still. I found myself sitting each morning on my black cushion following my breath with relative ease.

Yet lurking in my belly was a nagging anxious feeling. Not my normal anxiety that stomps around and yells loud and clear most days. No this was deep, more primal, almost a low growl. All week I felt uneasy and flat. Like I shut down and was hiding.

On Thursday morning this unease finally came into focus. I caught the edge of this deep low growl in my belly writing in my journal. I heard the fragments of a story I know so well. The weekend before I had co-hosted a Kindred Connection workshop with Jen Lee and Anna Oginsky. It was an intense and awesome day. I met so many brilliant, fiery, creative women making not only beautiful and powerful art but wonderful lives as well. I left inspired and connected. And I left drained and questioning my own validity as a maker.

I hate to admit this but I struggle with comparing my writing and other creative work to others all the time. It is a constant nagging thought. I think it is endemic of my chronic not good enough feelings I acquired growing up. For me, I worry my writing is too messy, not clear, and oh, too many images streaming along not making sense. I worry my visual artwork is just scribbles and crap, that I am deluding myself thinking it is beautiful. I get frustrated that I continually seem to return to images and ideas from my childhood. I tell myself, I must grow up. Make something pretty, simple and clear.

Yet what shows up in my work is somewhat messy, not so mainstream, not so happy most of the time. So I embrace what does show up and I allow it to grow. That is who I am, what is in me. My writing style is not a standard literary style, it is not going to win any great awards, but the point is I love writing, it helps me to clarify. I love the images that pour out of me. Many times these images  and words will stay with me for days. Writing and drawing are almost like dreaming on paper; they me help figure out my insides.

I have found the more I embrace my voice the stronger it becomes and the less I compare. I show up for me first and honestly that feels really good. There are not too many places in my life where I can put me first—on the page or canvas I can. I need to remember that comparing diminishes my authenticity.

It is so easy grab hold of the habit to compare and think we are doing it wrong or have to be different. It is easy to think that who we are or where we came from is not good enough. Letting go of this habit, impulse or whatever you want to call it, is hard. I am not sure the habit ever goes away.

I think we learn how to recognize comparing when it shows up, say hello to it and then tell it not today as we move on with our work. The hard part is we still know it is sitting in the corner of our hearts, just out of sight and we have to muster the courage to forge forward anyways despite the annoying comparison habit still there growling low in our bellies.

 

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart.

Is There a Time and Place for Authenticity? by Claire De Boer- This is a thoughtful post exploring where, when and how much to share about ourselves. This is something I grapple with tremendously. Transparency is important to me and I struggle with being seen as I really am. The habit of hiding in plain sight still lives in my cells.

Meditation on Gratitude and Joy by Jack Kornfield- Strange but gratitude and joy can be difficult emotions for me to sit with. It is through deliberate cultivation I have learned to grow and allow gratitude and joy to flourish in my life. I love this line from this meditation, “Gratitude is confidence in life itself.”

How Painting Can Transform Communities by Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn- This TED talk explores how art empowers and transforms entire neighborhoods.

Make Your Laziness Be Real Rest by Caroline Knox- I love this poem. This is one I would be well served to read everyday as a reminder of how productive rest can be.

Interview with Lidia Yuknavitch on Other People Podcast– Two things about this: 1) Lidia Yuknavitch is beyond an amazing author. Read her now. I had to pull over and take notes while listening to this interview. One of my notes, self-expression is better than self-destruction. Yes, that is why I must show up and write. 2) I know I have said it before but Brad Listi’s Other People podcast is by far one of the best podcasts out there. Engaging and always interesting. Go listen to it.

And finally, Registration for Writing to Open Your Heart is open. Register now and save. We start writing together on September 16, 2015.

Do you have questions about if my writing workshops are right for you? Or any other questions you want to ask?

Join me for Open Office Hours! I am holding open office hours on Wednesday September 2, 2015 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm EST to answer your questions via live video chat (same system I use for workshops). Send me a private message HERE and I will send you the link to join me.

 

 May you find the courage to create what arises this week and kick the habit of comparing to the curb. ~ Kira

4

Five Facts About Me

Kira Elliott Fair

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”  ― May Sarton

I shared these five facts about me on last week in social media as part of Susan Conway’s August Break but I thought I might share here these here on my blog too. This was my favorite prompts because I got to learn so much about others. Things we don’t normally share with folks. Things that unless you are living with me day after day, you wouldn’t know. I think I also I liked this prompt so much because it is in the sharing of details about ourselves we open our hearts.

So here are five facts about me (and ones I have not shared here, at least I don’t think so).

  1. I hate washing my hair. I wash it maybe once a week. This started when I grew my hair long after having it cut in a short pixie cut for about ten years. I think I keep my hair longer now just so I don’t have wash it.
  2. I smell like patchouli and sandalwood. I admit it, in my late teens I was a deadhead. I also admit I was following the drugs and lifestyle more than I was following the music of the Grateful Dead. This is a long complicated story I will one day write about.
  3. If I didn’t get so sick I would still smoke my camel cigarettes ( it’s been 20 years since my last smoke). I mean I loved to smoke. I started smoking when I was 11 years old. I used to smoke 3 packs a day. I quit cold turkey and it was one of the most painful things I have ever done.
  4. Drawing a simple line makes my heart sing. Seriously, there is nothing that makes me swoon more than a strong organic line in a strong composition. My artwork is abstract and reflects the simplicity of early mark making. I am not sure most people get my artwork, it is not mainstream.
  5. Writing has saved my life and continues to do so. (Okay, I have shared this one but it is so fundamental to my being I had to include it.)

Ok, now I feel rather exposed, I am admitting to some of my hoodlum past. These are some of facts about me that make me what I call scrappy but are never the less part of me. I will also admit that I have struggled to embrace and celebrate all of me and I still do sometimes.

What are facts about you that you struggle to embrace and celebrate?

Here is this week’s Inspiration to Open Your Heart

On Books and Unrequited Love by Claire Handscombe – Books are my solace in life. When I finally learned to read at 10 years old (Dyslexia and a bad school system got in the way before that) books became my mother, mentor and guide in life.

Put the Hammer Down by Anna Guest Jelley – So much wisdom in this post. I am guilty of holding a heavy hammer over myself with regards to anything to do with my body, including body acceptance. I agree 100%, it is awareness of what my body needs at the moment.

You Don’t Need Anyone’s Permission To Do What You Want to Do by Valerie Martin- I admit I am a permission junkie. I don’t like this fact and I work to have awareness of when I am looking outside myself for permission to take care of myself or just being my authentic self. For me the root of seeking permission is me wanting to be good enough.

How to Handle Overwhelm by Monica Fauble- I will give you a hint, the key to handling overwhelm is the hardest thing in the world for me to do.

And Finally, Instant Groove by King Curtis- Some soul to inspire you to do your own thing, because everybody’s got a thing.

May you embrace and celebrate all the facts about yourself this week. ~Kira

 

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