All I want for Christmas is two serotonin molecules.

Do you remember when you found out that there was no such thing as Santa Claus? Some parents don’t even bother with that bit of chicanery any more and I say good for them. It’s exhausting to lie to your children. I got out of it as soon as I could. 

I remember when it happened to me, though. I came to the realization on my own, very organically, when I recognized my mother’s artwork on a bag of gifts “from Santa”. Once I confirmed that myth had fallen, the rest fell like dominoes. “So I guess there’s no tooth fairy, either? No Easter Bunny?” I was a little sad but mostly took it in stride, as I recall. 

That’s what this Christmas feels like. Depression landed like a big ominous alien ship last month, casting a weird shadow on literally everything. Have you ever experienced a full solar eclipse? Things get dim, but not truly dark. Birds and insects go quiet and it sort of feels like holding your breath in a dream – where you’re not breathing but there’s no panic. That’s my brand of depression. 

What I imagine my subconscious looks like under a microscope.

My depression is a bummer, a shuffling, slouching slob. It has neither drama nor comedy. It is thoroughly stupid, and a wet blanket. It doesn’t play well for audiences. I have a complicated relationship with my depression because as bland and greige as it is, it’s heavy enough to keep out my anxiety, which is my other constant and unwelcome companion. My anxiety is hardwired into my brain, an essential component of what gets me up in the morning. If I wasn’t worried/scared/in constant survival mode, I wouldn’t do anything that normal grown ups do, like shower and go to work. Depression, when it moves into the driver’s seat, squeezes out the anxiety, and suddenly I don’t give a shit about being a normal grown up. I mean, I still behave like one but mostly out of habit. Everything is dim and breathing seems optional. On the one hand the relief from anxiety is wonderful, but I’m too tired and heavy to appreciate it. There’s typically a pain component that goes along with depression that really fucking sucks, too. 

Oh, Christmas! Right. So last summer I moved to a new city, a new job, joined a new social group – just really went full bore on a new life. The holidays have been complicated for me since the break up of my marriage, so I was excited to dive back into festive cheer with a new perspective. If my depression was a sitcom, this would be where the awkward and obnoxious neighbor barges in. It’s only funny because of a trite irony trope and gets cheap laughs from people who still eat boxed macaroni and cheese with cut up hot dogs in their 40s. (Speaking of which, I think I know what’s for dinner tonight.) 

I want to be really angry about depression preempting my Christmas spirit. I want to, but depression preempts anger, too. That’s sort of the point of depression – literally nothing matters. Kind of like when you find out that Santa isn’t real and wonder what’s the point of Christmas, then?

I mentioned on Facebook that I’m in a holding pattern of “fake it til you make it” and a friend pointed out that’s a valid and perhaps even preferred option. You go through the motions until you remember what the motions mean. And honestly, what’s the alternative? Lay in bed and stare at the walls? (Speaking of which, I know what’s on my calendar for every day off for the foreseeable future.) 

So. On goes the Muppet Christmas album with John Denver, out come the baking supplies, up goes the garland and maybe before the twinkling lights burn out, there will be a Christmas miracle in my brain.

Health Stuff

Authorized steps to new, improved, over-40 life.

Step 1: get a full time career with benefits.

Step 2: use benefits to go to the doctor for first check up in 3 years.

Unauthorized steps to “new”, “improved”, over-40 life.

Step 3: let the nurse practitioner scare the bejeezus out of you with horror stories about your high risk factors for the number 1 health risk for women, heart attacks, and blood clots and stroke.

Dear Dairy, we have to break up. Yes, yes, I will probably still drunk dial you on occasion for what will undoubtedly be a totally regrettable booty call. But I don’t actually see Alcohol that often any more, so don’t count on it.

Meanwhile, me and a food/exercise journal are about to get to know each other really well.

A Christmas Story

Did you give yourself anything this Christmas? I gave myself a reverse telling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

 I’m happy to say that I mostly gave time and money to others which is satisfying, but I also gave support to local project. I’m not much of a “joiner” but it turns out that I’m not a half bad organizer, especially when supported by engaged, passionate people who want the same goal. This year, it was a small “secret Santa” type fundraiser for some under-served families in my community. Part of the skill I demonstrated was forming a committee of smart, active people and letting them contribute their own strengths to the endeavor. Honestly I may be most proud of that, because everything that followed was largely a result of the cooperative effort.

So, we began with benevolence and hope; the ghost of future Christmas a cheery, red-cheeked optimist who happily typed away on social media.

Then began the process of organizing the goods for delivery. This was a somewhat less cheery prospect, because it involved moving couches up and down staircases and storing boxes and driving all over town. Nevertheless, the ghost of Christmas present smiled through backaches and happily played its part.

The ghost of Christmas past hit me like a ton of bricks after I made the first round of deliveries. Its icy hand clasped mine and took me back to times where I, too, felt the unimaginable bounty of an unexpected $50 at Christmastime, and at the same time the utter despair that it won’t mean a damn in the long run. Times when December’s rent check bounced and there was no tree, let alone presents to put under it. Further back even than that, when I accidentally became the “real meaning of Christmas” lesson to a childhood friend who realized that the prize of my Christmas morning was going to be a $20 vanity item while she was complaining about not getting the exact leather jacket she wanted. Poverty is the breeding ground of shame, especially for children and especially in this country. The ghost of Christmas past was making me sick with it.

I’m sure I’ve become an interminable bore to most of my casual friends on Facebook with my incessant social and economic reform posts. I mean, I post about my dogs and my lunch, too, but I’m also consistently pushing a narrative of justice for those who’ve been most victimized by capitalism. Christmas is a spotlight on those issues, and my well-intentioned involvement was a thousand watt boost.

Some people might take from this experience the idea that coming together as a community is the best part of the holiday, or doing for others is really a gift to oneself. And you’re welcome to internalize that message if it makes you feel good. But if it stops there, you might be missing the point. Because you may take your “feel good” message to bed at night and sleep soundly, but all of the families that I had a hand in helping are going to go right back to square one after the holiday. The generosity and good will that is in such abundance during Christmas will have disappeared into credit card bills, buyer’s remorse and tax season. I may be on a low economic rung, but others are being crushed under the foot of the ladder.

Scrooge, it was said, “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge” at the end of his tale. I don’t know what will be said at the end of mine, but this year the addendum will be a lot more posts about systemic equality and our responsibilities to each other.  

Camp Fire Victims

The link below is to a GoFundMe page set up for my aunt and my grandmother, who lost literally everything but their lives in the fire that decimated Paradise, CA. I wouldn’t normally drag my family’s identity into my blog, but a few of you asked me after “Lava” what you could do for me, personally.

This. You can do this. If you can’t donate (and I understand that so few can), boost the signal in your own shere of influence. Nobody in my family has money, and none of us can step in and rescue them. I’m over 1500 miles away, and literally gave the last $35 in my bank account until payday.

Be safe, oh ye vast and unknowable internet. Be kind, dark void into which I pour all my most personal thoughts. Be human.

https://www.gofundme.com/camp-fire-relief-fund-for-paula-tarrant

Shame

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I’m not processing this very well right now, so I apologize in advance for sounding scattered.

This is my face from 20 minutes ago when I read that the government is asking the military to house immigrant detainees. This is my reckoning. 20 years from now when our grandchildren ask (accuse) us when our moment of realization was, I’ll show them this. For me, it’s right now. Right now is the moment I’ll never come back from. For me, right now is when I realized the promise of our nation is irrevocably broken.

I’m not even sure why. I keep seeing my memories of the memorial at Dachau, the bone deep cold I felt there, and the shame. Oh Christ, the shame.

This is our shame, yours and mine. Not in the abstract – not Democrats or Republicans or religious or secular – it’s our personal, individual shame. I have to live with it now. So do you.

I don’t know what to tell you about your moment. I can barely sit here in mine. The slow horror build up of the last several weeks – months – did nothing to prepare me. I’m shaking. I’m crying. I’m dying in my soul. We let this happen. We cried and we raved and we fucking posted on facebook and WE LET THIS HAPPEN. The kindest thing history will say about me was that I cried. I’m so disgusted I will throw up and it won’t come close to what I deserve. You, too.

When I can open my mouth without screaming, I’ll call my representatives. I’ll call and I’ll call and I’ll add it to the useless emails and the useless shame and I’ll die some more and it will all pile up on the trash heap that is the state of our government and clearly, our citizens.

This is my reckoning, my owning of the shame. Where’s yours?

Fuck this.

Jesus fucking christ when is this going to be over. For a year I’ve been waiting for the right time to move on. Trying to do what is best for everyone, trying to hold on to the things that matter. My marriage has been dead for a long while now, and we’re just now starting the process of burying it. Life, man. It was full of complications. Helpless things I made promises to, plans that look right in any equation.

They are right, you know. Let the child finish school, pick the program that has the likeliest outcome of success, move and file and do all the things according to the right schedule. I checked all the boxes. I made the right decisions.

And now, here I am, in the midst of plans that were made a long time ago, and my body refuses to move forward. I can’t breathe. I weight two tons. There is an ocean of pressure in my ears and every cell struggles through its function. Fuuuuuuck me. It’s not even the loss of the husband. That blew away in ashes months and months ago. It’s all this STUFF. Papers, boxes, printers, dishes – all this stuff has to be packed and organized and sold and I am just. So. Very. Fucking. Tired.

Tomorrow I have to get the oil changed in my car and take a test in anatomy and I want to cry. The idea of maintaining an upright, hominid position makes me want to sob, except that would take energy I just don’t have. My ears are constantly ringing, my chest is constantly tight, my legs feel like articulated lead bricks.

This was supposed to be MY time. Finally, my time for moving forward, for cleansing, for changing and reclaiming. And all I want to do is crawl in a hole until its over. How the hell did I do this when I was in my 20s and chasing better ideas over state lines and jobs and all of that nonsense?? Where is THAT person? I need her to go through my filing cabinet. I need her to google how to start a fire in a burn barrel. I need her to do the dishes. And pack them. And take the dogs for a walk. And cry, because I’m too tired for any of that. I can’t breathe. I literally can’t take those deep, calming breaths everyone is always saying work the best. My lungs are full of cement.

Did that 20 something whine this much? Or is that a “fun” thing about my 40s, too? How early is too early to go to bed?

Mine

There are many ways to measure milestones in personal growth. My favorite is the one where you stop caring about other people’s expectations. It’s then that you truly find yourself, that you truly realize what it is you care about.

It’s hard to do that when you don’t feel safe. That’s why it’s so important to cultivate your family if you’re not lucky enough to be born into one that fits just right. I’ve cultivated my herd – we’re a mismatched lot, with baggage and foibles and handicaps and little glimpses of greatness. But we know how to build support. We know how to dump outside the circle. We know how to be honest. And we know how to love. Some of us took the circuitous route to get here, but being in this place with these people… it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. For the first time in my life I feel safe. Safe.

Letting go of old expectations was hard, but ultimately the most beautiful gift I’ve ever given myself. I am responsible only to me. I carry no one’s weight but my own. It only took me half my life to reach this particular milestone, but I am determined to hang onto it with all the stubbornness I’ve developed, too.