Day Eight of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

In the Words of…Del Shannon

As a kid, I was blessed with a record player and my parents’ and siblings’ 45s. One of those was Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” I loved that song and still sing it.

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Carpet salesman Shannon (Charles Westover) started playing in his native Michigan. “Runaway” hit number one in April 1961 and he no longer needed to sell carpets. Other hits Shannon is known for include “Hats Off to Larry” and “I Go to Pieces,” which he reportedly gave to British duo Peter and Gordon after touring with them.

Had he not killed himself in 1990 and continued to live, he’d be 82 today.

Nobody thinks mystery writers go around killing people, but they always seem to assume singers are singing about themselves, especially if you write melancholy songs like me.

There were times in my career when I would try to write songs like Bob Dylan… Artists get hooked up in that. To be a follower, you lose.

I usually write when I’m in a great place. When I’m depressed, I don’t usually write. So I take all of when I’m depressed and throw it into when I’m feeling good. Weird, I guess.

No, Mr. Shannon, not weird at all. RIP.

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Day Two of Forty

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split between. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

Accelerated Medicine for an Accelerated Year

Our negative emotions are not meant to be maligned, but rather to push us toward how we’d like to spend more of our time feeling—joyful, peaceful, calm or elated, with a sense that all is as it should be. But when sadness, anger that morphs into simmering frustration, or depression come on, they can feel hard to dislodge.

The best antidote is free: To shift back into feeling well, express gratitude—quite literally, in your head, aloud or on paper, state those things and people for which or for whom you feel grateful. This can be small or grand—from gratitude for the mother who gave birth to you to, or, if you are adopted, the one who raised you…or, if you have a troubled relationship with your mother, other women who’ve helped support you along the way; for the father who’s been there for you when times have been tough—or, if you don’t know your father or don’t have a good relationship with him, other men in your life who have been there for you; for your overall well being; for having a roof over your head, food to eat and clothing; maybe you feel grateful for a skill you’ve developed over many years—or for a talent you came in with and have continued to nurture. Or maybe, it’s just the sun itself, knowing that it’s there, even behind those clouds.

If this feels hard, the truth is it can be. Sometimes—this is true for me—some prep is needed before turning on the gratitude. For me, the preparation is sometimes singing and dancing to a favorite song, taking a shower, or going for a walk and admiring the trees and laughing at the squirrels. Just something to dislodge doomist thoughts that too often seem to be on a continuous loop.

Once you get the gratitude going, it may be necessary to stay off social media and avoid the news—not altogether, but long enough for you to truly feel appreciation, so that you might, unlike Hansel and Gretel, lay smooth, bright stones along your path so that you find your way back easily.

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Keeping a gratitude jar is a simple way to cue up appreciation. (Photo by Leigh Glenn.)

Barriers to Self-Care, Continued

This is the second of a two-part article. The first can be found here.

Seasonal depression—or plain old depression. This is a tough one, because it touches on all levels of a person’s being, not just the emotional/mental, but the body’s physiologic processes, the spirit and sexuality. If not addressed quickly, one ends up in a vicious circle where there’s no physical energy to do much of anything. Then, that lack of motivation feeds back into the other aspects of oneself, further depressing the body, etc. Aside from standard treatment—which may involve overprescribed meds that don’t really address the underlying causes—what can one do?

I can speak only for me in this. When I get the blues, my go-to is often music—listening and singing, sometimes dancing. Sound is a vibration powerful enough to shift our perspective, and some people practice sound healing and music therapy, both of which may include the use of singing bowls. I don’t have singing bowls—though they are lovely!—nor am I a music therapist. What I have found that works for me runs the gamut from Jimi Hendrix’s Drivin’ South to songs by Heart. If I have the energy to get up and listen to these and to dance or sing, then I am generally all right. (I listen to sad songs if I feel I need the catharsis of tears—Poulenc or Janacek, or the Duke Ellington/Mahalia Jackson version of “Come Sunday.”)

If I can make it out the door, my other go-to’s are walking and observing nature. The latter I do most of the time, anyway, and it seldom fails that I don’t see something that lifts my spirits…usually in the form of winged creatures: turkey vultures riding thermals, robins running, wrens picking at berries, cardinals cleaning themselves.

The kinds of distractions I love include watching the interaction between insects (honeybees, in this case) and plants like this meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).

The kinds of “distractions” I love include watching the interaction between insects (honeybees, in this case) and plants like this meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).

When I stay indoors, whatever pall I may be working under also tends to stay put.

Sometimes having commitments to others also helps to pull us out of our funk, so having regular activities can be helpful in combating the blues.

But now and then, we just need to feel sad and to know that that is all right. The pain often moves us in a direction different from the one we were going. Giving ourselves the space to feel down can be part of good self-care.

Distractions. Funny, I was distracted by something when writing this post, something I can’t remember that seduced my attention away from the screen (maybe another screen?). It’s easy to be hard on ourselves when it comes to this one, but let’s put this in perspective: Our ancestors would not know what to do with all the things that demand our attention. This is something we need to evolve through, to choose between what we allow ourselves to be distracted by and what we don’t. Not easy. Especially if it’s one of those, “Oh, this will just take a minute” kinds of things: answering a text or e-mail or taking on a chore that we think will only take a few minutes.

Maybe the best thing to do here would be to give regular attention to our self-care. Maybe it’s a small thing: Washing and cutting up leafy greens for supper the next night, or taking five minutes to clean up part of our space. But the point is to just do one thing toward our self-care every day.

“I’ll start tomorrow.” Why wait? You are worth starting today. This is one that has stumped me from the standpoint of concern that I will fail—that tomorrow will come and I won’t be able to continue something I started today. But this sort of thinking gets us in trouble, because we could also start something that would feel so good to us—a bath or a foot soak—that we’ll want to make sure we do it again, if not the next day, then soon. Any care we show ourselves, our body appreciates.

Sometimes, things cannot wait. I don't mind sharing some figs with ants, but it seems somehow disrespectful not to pick them and eat them. They are such a gift! This, too, can be an example of good self-care.

Sometimes, things cannot wait. I don’t mind sharing some figs with ants, but it seems somehow disrespectful not to pick them and eat them. They are such a gift! Harvesting and enjoying them can be an example of good self-care.

“I don’t know how.” This one gets back to self-intimacy. But if you really don’t know, look to people and resources in your community, for they are there. Annapolis has people who can teach you to meditate, people who can show you how to care for your skin, how to eat well, get movement into your life, laugh and have fun.

Inability to ask. As a former reporter, I take for granted my ability to ask questions. But asking for help? That never has come easily. Most of this is pride, no doubt: If I can’t handle something myself, doesn’t that make me weak? Lesser, somehow? There’s also a “pride of ownership” involved in trying to do everything oneself.

It often takes greater self-assuredness and self-knowledge to know when we need help and to be able to ask. We truly have only so much time, so asking someone for help with something they are skilled in and we are not helps us become more integrated, both into our communities but also with ourselves.

Ultimately, self-care arises, I believe, from healthy self-love, and it is through acts of self-care that we grow our love for ourselves. Like a depression spiral, developing the process of caring for ourselves and loving ourselves is self-reinforcing. It often goes against all the imagery we see around us, but the images—whether of elite athletes or supermodels—are false. Our bodies are not machines, to be used up, then taken in for some work, then put back “on the road.” It is for us to learn to work with our bodies—and all they contain—not to override them until they wear out.