The Slough of Despond

The Swamp of Despair. The Pit of Gloom. The Dismal Abyss.

You get the idea, yes?

John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond was a place where his protagonist (a rather obviously named “Christian”) wallowed in the weight of his sins and his sense of guilt.

My personal Slough is more to do with my feelings of failure.

What Brings It On

It’s hard to say what brings on these episodes. I find myself sinking into a gloom, as if the weight of something is sitting on my chest.

The smallest tasks become overwhelming. The slightest things become major irritants.

It’s a debilitatingly contradictory combination of numbness and hyper-sensitivity. It fixes me in a gloomy funk and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, or in extreme cases, a few weeks or even months.

Focusing on Failures

This gloomy mood happens to all of us. Many people are feeling it more with the isolation that the pandemic has brought.

When it descends on me I tend to focus on my perceived failures. Which particular failures change from spell to spell.

This time my brain seems fixated on how I have failed to be as well-informed, well-read, thoughtful, spiritual, generous with my time as…

My Mother.

This is not a new way I have devised to punish myself. I’ve compared myself to her often enough in the past.

The comparison has also been made by others, and often times the expectation for me to be like her is very real. I’ve been told of it outright.

It’s unfair. It’s unfair for me to do this to myself. It’s also unfair for others to do it to me.

My mother was an extraordinary woman. There is no doubt about that.

I am also extraordinary in my own way. I’m a woman of remarkable abilities. However…

I am not my mother.

I’m not even all that much like her. I think that’s part of why we got along so well.

While she was alive, I felt no pressure to be like her (at least not from her). We shared the joy of our mutual love, our admiration and our capacity to push each other out of our different comfort zones.

Since her death, however, both I and others seem to have transferred a lot of what she was to me.

A spiritual mentor of hers writing to me as he would have to her. A friend of hers expecting me to share all my mother’s knowledge of literature. A family member expressing dismay that I do not take the same joy from cooking as my mother did.

And then there are my own feelings of failure at not being such an active participant in my community as she was in hers.

The list goes on.

Gloom or Grief?

It’s almost as if I knew better who I was and what my place was before my mother died.

Losing her, I have lost some of my sense of self.

It’s hard to say if what I’m feeling is a “depressive episode” or simply grief. More than three years on, it can still sneak up on me.

I miss her. I also miss who she helped me to be.

Check On Your Extroverts

This morning my very dearest friend sent me a quick Whatsapp message.

“Hey, I’m free. Do you want to talk?”

“Do I want to talk??” I thought.

IS THE POPE CATHOLIC?!

DO BEARS DO THEIR BUSINESS IN THE WOODS?!?!

Yes. Absolutely. Yes I want to talk.

Her Spider Senses

My friend has a sixth sense for these kinds of things. She just seems to know instinctively when she’s needed.

Something must have told her that a little chat wouldn’t go amiss, and despite being in the office and having plenty of work to do, she gave me a call on her lunch break.

She’s a doctor. She’s done a residency in psychiatry. Psychology is a large part of her job. She has an idea of how different kinds of people are handling the pandemic.

She also knows me very well, and knows that I’m an incorrigible extrovert.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Hearing her voice was a breath of fresh air for me.

I’m very much a people person. If I cannot get social contact, if I cannot meet with other people, whether they be dear friends or even other parents on the playground, I wilt.

Seriously. I wilt.

I feel a hollowing out inside me, I feel a crushing loneliness, and I retreat to a gloomy place in my head.

That’s not to say that I can’t be alone. I very much enjoy my alone time. But I need it balanced with social time.

So when I got on the phone with my friend, though I had so many questions to ask her, and so much I wanted to catch up on with her, I proceeded to talk her ear off.

Kicking Myself

It was, necessarily, a quick call. My friend had to get back to work and I had to get my day started.

When we rang off, I stopped and thought, “Gah! I wanted to ask her about _____. I didn’t ask how _____ went!”

I had been so busy gabbing like a goose that I forgot to listen. It happens sometimes.

I regretted instantly how I had squandered our short call on seemingly unimportant blather. I ached to get her back on the phone and say, “Your turn!”

Sadly, it will have to wait until the next time we have a free moment.

Check On Your Extroverts

What my friend did today was a good deed.

That’s not to say that I was the only one who derived any pleasure from our talk. We enjoy chatting and listening to each other in equal measure. I know that it’s a pleasure for me to sit and listen to her when she needs it, and I have no doubt she feels the same way.

But she thought to herself, “I know an extremely extroverted person who is in social isolation right now. She probably needs a call.” And that was a Very Nice Thing.

A friend on Facebook posted this the other day:

Check on your extroverts, after 8 months of this, we are not ok. I miss people. Zoom is not a replacement.

K.M. ON FACEBOOK

PREACH, SISTER.

An Invitation

I invite you all to do as my friend did this morning and check in on someone you think might need it.

I call my Dad daily. If I’m seriously extroverted, I get it from somewhere. That somewhere is most definitely my Dad.

He and I alternate chatting and listening, and while we can drive each other nuts, we also get a lot of joy out of our talks.

Even if you’re handling this situation just fine, and you don’t feel the need to reach out, do it.

Think of that friend, that relative you know to be struggling with the isolation. It could be an irrepressibly bubbly friend, or it could be an elderly relation who misses contact with family.

Extroverts tend to have the highest highs and the lowest lows. It happens to anyone who is slightly off an even keel.

A call from you may just be the high the extrovert in your life needs.

Have You Had Your Dance Party?

Guys, have you had your Friday dance party?

What? No?? What are you waiting for??

A Friday dance party is a way to shake off the stress of the week and kick-start your weekend. No matter if your dance moves are shockingly bad! Just GET MOVING!

The weather turned this week here in Virginia. We were having warm, sunny days until the temperature dropped and it started to pour rain. Today, the sun came out again, and we were grateful to get outside this afternoon.

But even an afternoon of running (aaaaaand accidentally rolling in dog poop–LOOOOOVELY) couldn’t get out all the pent-up energy from a rainy week in lockdown.

Enter: Dance Party!

Our kids LOVE a Friday dance party. Our current favorites are the Day of the Diesels from Thomas and Friends and (*shudder*) Crazy Frog.

But really, any song that gets you moving will do. We’ve also gone through some World Cup songs (hello Shakira!) and some old school dance hits. The boys do love to do a Twist.

We put on the little Bose bluetooth speaker, pull something up on Spotify, YouTube or whatever and GET MOVING.

Mostly, we’re just running around like fools in the living room. Sometimes we attempt some real dance moves, but mostly we’re just being silly. And that’s the beauty of the Friday dance party.

It does not matter how well you dance or how cool you look. You’re sharing an unguarded moment of silliness, fun and joy with your family.

Put It In Your Calendar

Schedule it. Put it in your calendar. Make your Friday dance party a weekly event.

Pull up your favorite dance tunes (no, it doesn’t have to be Crazy Frog). Crank up the volume. A bit of boogieing before bedtime is definitely in order.

2020 has been a hard, and sucky year. Lighten it up. Add a dance party to your routine.

Things I Did Today

I hauled myself out of bed and (miraculously) got on the exercise bike. It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost mechanical now. The day isn’t right if I don’t do it.

I epilated for the first time in far more weeks than I care to say. I did this while sitting stark naked in our bathtub with a three-year-old playing with the Paw Patrol on the bathroom floor next to me, constantly complaining that my “machine” made “too much noise.”

I piled the threenager into the car and went to the grocery store. Found some Spanish jamon serrano which I’d forgotten about until now and now I desperately want to pull out of the fridge.

I put some laundry into the washer. Then moved it to the dryer. Then left it there.

I obsessed over why, despite eating meals heavy in proteins and veggies and some carefully chosen carbohydrates, I’m still feeling hungry after my meals? Is this all in my head?

I ate four cookies (and wrote it down–though first I only counted it as two because two of them were really small, but then I thought the point of writing it all down is to really write it down).

I glanced at the clean and dry bedsheets hanging over our bar stools (to avoid wrinkles) and considered folding them. Then didn’t.

I finished a book.

I took the boys to the playground where I continually shooed them away from me and told them to go play, no, Mama is not “safe”, stop jumping on me, ouch, please go play, we are at the playground, there’s a jungle gym, you guys can climb on me at home. Finally, I fended them off with my knitting needles.

We saw a really really really big snake crawling through the playground. I managed to scoop it up onto a long stick and toss it into the bushes. It was kinda scary and cool. My boys weren’t impressed.

I cooked one meal for the Chico and me and another for the boys. I couldn’t face their complaints, meltdowns and grossed-out faces. The Chico devoured his meal and had seconds. God bless him.

I played the piano. I wrote to friends. I’m writing here.

It’s been a busy day.

And Yet…

When I think about some Big Important Things I should probably be doing, it seems like I have been wasting my time.

At least I finished a book. Time to start another.

Waiting, waiting, waiting

I went.

I listened to my mother’s voice nagging in my ear. I listened to the kind and concerned advice from family and friends.

I went to the gynecologist.

The Diagnosis

Well there wasn’t really anything to diagnose, but the doctor did have a couple of concerns.

His first priority was that I schedule a mammogram (my first). From now on, I will have to do them every year.

His second priority, upon looking at my family history, was to recommend the genetic test for the mutation of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

Luckily, my insurance covers the test and they were able to take a blood sample right there in their lab.

What This Means

First off, I have to wait three weeks to know the result. That’s hard.

And secondly, the result terrifies me.

If the test is negative…

It could mean very little. My mother tested negative, and she still got breast cancer.

Her cousin had it, and she also tested negative for the gene mutations.

According to the CDC, “most breast and ovarian cancer is not caused by genetic mutations” anyway. So getting a negative result doesn’t mean I won’t get breast cancer.

Hardly comforting.

If the test is positive…

I guess if it’s positive at least we’ll know, right?

If the test is positive, then we can start looking into options and discussing possibilities.

Maybe it would just be easier if the test came back positive. It might make things more straightforward.

A Terrifying Emotional Load

A friend very eloquently said that all this comes with a terrifying emotional load.

I couldn’t have described it better.

Knowing my family history as I do, it almost feels like there’s an expiration date stamped on my butt.

Use by June 2050

Feeling that way can sometimes spur me into action (Life is short! Grab the bull by the horns!) or freeze me into depression (Is my life already more than half-way over?).

And I can go back and forth between the two (and be anywhere in between) several times in one day.

Talk about a rollercoaster.

Is this what a mid-life crisis looks like?

Is It Okay to Feel Like Crap?

We all have those days, right?

It might be an isolated day, or it might be a couple of them back-to-back.

Where you just feel crappy.

Sometimes you feel physically crappy, like when you’re sick or injured. Sometimes you’re just mentally pooped: tired of everything.

And let’s not even talk about how emotionally drained we all feel with this pandemic.

Unproductive Thoughts

When I have days like this, I often feel like I should “snap out of it.” Like my failure to make myself feel better is somehow a personal failing.

I also start to make a mountain out of a molehill. If I feel this bad more than one day, what does this mean? Am I always going to feel this way? Will I ever feel better?

These thoughts, as you can imagine, do not help.

So… What to do?

Why do I have to do anything?

Why do I need to change the fact that I feel like crap?

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to just let yourself feel crappy for a day or two. Usually, for me, it passes soon enough. (If it doesn’t pass, that’s another kettle of fish.)

After a couple of days, I’ll wake up and feel like getting out of bed. Maybe I’ll even feel motivated to do something I know will help me feel better.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember in the fog of a bad day, but when the fog starts to clear, I try to remind myself:

This too shall pass.