Category Archives: Essay

No Approval Needed

It is a cold reality to face that I deeply care what peoples’ opinions of me are. I’ve cultivated this concern since childhood, when severe judgment was a regular occurrence. Not from my parents–in fact, I grew up in an extremely supportive household; one that taught tolerance, equality and love.  It was the world outside that was rampant with judgement and those who were not shy in vocalizing their thoughts about me. When my high school girlfriend became pregnant, the judgement intensified tenfold.  A few of my friends were even told not to hang out with me because I might get them pregnant.  Through osmosis, we presumed.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that cesspool of judgment.

My depressed mind is masterful at building scenarios that push irrational thoughts along, which in turn makes me shrink back and second guess myself.  This keeps me from speaking my mind and worse, cramming myself into a box of perceived acceptance in an attempt to feel like I am doing the right thing. The more fixated on this I become, the more rigid my thinking becomes, turning me into a dictator determined to force the boys into acting in ways I believe society feels is the right way to act.

When I step back and allow my rational mind to take the lead, I am ashamed and frustrated, because, with all this worry about being judged by others, I am disregarding all the love and encouragement my parents showed me as a child. They understood that I would stumble and I would make mistakes but as long as I gave it my all, respected others, was aware of the needs around me and lived each day with kindness everything would work out.  In trying so hard to win approval from others, whose approval does not matter I’ve, lost sight of this. I have also come to realize that since my father died, I have been trying to be him.  Yet, in doing so I’ve been working off only a few select memories, so afraid of being judged for my parenting I’ve never taken into account the full man my father was.   A man of sound moral character and good manners; a man who literally had a “bad jokes” folder. I am not my father, and that is ok. He would tell me as much if he were still alive. He would tell me I am doing a great job raising the boys. He would tell me to be me and to let the boys do the same.

 

Sanitized For Your Enjoyment

I’ve never posted a picture to Instagram that betrays my darkest thoughts–one of a bucolic glade of pine trees, the earth soft with fallen needles, whose caption would read: “This would be a peaceful place to lie down and die.” Nor have I posted a picture of tears streaming down my face with a caption telling how I am feeling completely and utterly alone, that I am berating myself for being a failure to my family while sitting at a picnic table in a completely full campground with Erin and the boys only feet away. Yet, both of these scenes have played out in my life, the former more than once.

 Many share every aspect of their sanitized lives on social media, from the food they eat to the hangnail they had on Tuesday. But we gloss over the struggle, or more often leave it out entirely. Recently I’ve felt that the Lord is leading me to change my narrative to one that stirs emotion; and contemplation and encourages people to slow down and see the nuances of life. Too often, we are not true to ourselves and thus we are not authentic with the world at large. I am no different, only depicting, in images and words, what does not betray the turmoil I have roiling inside me, leaving the authenticity out because I felt utterly alone in my struggle and how can you bring hope, joy and encouragement when you are talking about the darker aspects of life? Until recently, I did not understand that in standing up and saying, “This is me. I have depression, and this is how I am learning to live with it,” I was showing courage and thus could encourage others.

If I were to post a picture of the spot I’d picked out to lie down and die and said as much in the caption, would that be wrong? Horrifying, certainly, but not wrong. After all, it is about being as genuine as I possibly can. That can mean posting a strange bug the cat found that fascinates me, a sign that made me laugh out loud, or tears streaming down my face because on that day the darkness grabbed ahold of me so tightly that despite my best efforts I just could not get off the couch. Knowing others know my genuine joys and struggles, I hope, opens up a needed conversation in their lives or at least brings a small bit of understanding. Being authentic helps me to know that I am not alone, and that small seed of hope can grow mighty.

Breathe Organize Act

With the boys–off at school and Erin at work, the silence of the house wraps around me and the loneliness sets in. Every flat surface is a wasteland of clutter, the to-do list in my head grows by the minute. How will I get everything done today?

Overwhelmed, I pour myself the last of the coffee and sink onto the couch. Before I know it I’ve squandered an hour doing nothing that involves the list in my head. The critic in me jumps up and begins berating me for wasting time, for feeling this way, for not being able to handle things like I once did. Now, the critic tells me, you don’t have time to get everything done. I’m a failure, I think, and the with that the darkness takes a firm hold of me. I might as well just give up.

With therapy, I have been able to make an about-face in my perspective and now find that I can harness time, corral projects–both household and creative, and prioritize for maximum effect. In the past I would hyper-focus on the seven hours the kids were in school as the only time I had to get things done. Now I look at the 168 hours the week has to offer. Accounting for the 56 hours of sleep that still leaves me over 100 hours to be productive. Therapy has also taught me that what I fire, I wire. When I tell myself that I don’t have enough time, then I won’t have enough time. The podcast Before Breakfast introduced me to the 168-hour view and also to the idea that it is not that we don’t have enough time; it is that we don’t make things a priority and thus squander the time we do have. If I want to start running three days a week, then I need to make that a priority and tell myself I have the time.

Keeping a list in my head only allows anxiety to take route and the dark parts of me to run the day. Therefore, I write everything down on a master list. Each day I look at this list and choose three things to prioritize for the day. Trying to work off the full list would be as foolhardy as working off it in my head. I’ve already decided to make writing an hour a day and running three days a week priorities so those don’t go on either list. Everything else does, no matter how simple the task.

With a plan and some organization, it is time for action. I know what I want to get done today, but first I need to get the kitchen cleaned up from breakfast so that the mess does not surprise me later, which happens more than you’d think. A messy kitchen late in the day is a sure way to rouse the critic or the other surly parts of me that are more than happy to commence with disparaging self-talk.

Some days go sideways and I don’t get everything done. Some days I get more done than I planned. Either way, I celebrate the victories of what did get done. If I don’t get to something, I put an arrow next to it so know to do it tomorrow. This is another change for me. I used to beat myself up over not getting everything done. Nothing like feeling like a failure just because you didn’t get to all the laundry folded

Backpack Lust

Your husband desperately wants a new and slightly larger backpack, one to replace the others.  Despite his most fervent efforts, he cannot come up with even the simplest reason to justify such a purchase. But, by god, he is still at it.  He might slowly be slipping into madness. At least he thinks he is.  His mental state is ping-ponging with so many tumultuous thoughts that the thought of replacing the backpacks he uses and does not use with just one seems incredibly freeing and completely logical.

What about the seemingly suitable backpack you got last year you ask?  Well, yes, that is a good one, but it could be just a little bigger and have a few more pockets. Wait. Selling a bunch of perfectly useful backpacks seems foolish.

That, my dear, is the plague of our consumeristic society which clearly has wormed its way into your husband’s brain telling him that this new shinier thing will make him feel better, subdue his depression.  His rational mind knows this is a basket of lies. But will you look! It has an integrated rain cover.   It is simplicity that drives this lust. Now that makes sense. Less is more!

Because the pack is larger, he figures that it is big enough for him to fit at least the top half of his body into it. This, to him, seems very useful for he can hide from the world when it all seems like too much. Which, he would like to add, is a regular occurrence as of late.   He really does feel as if he is going batty and thus is worried that all this talk about a new backpack is probably driving you batty as well. For heaven’s sake, he is writing in the third person, that alone has to be some sort of red flag. You should probably check to make sure it is not someone else writing this. Like another personality. That would be bad.

Now he has begun to barter and promises never to ask for another backpack as long as you both shall live.  Unless the bottom falls out of this one. But the company says they’ll replace or repair it even if it happened when you are both 90, well you’d be 91, and by then all he would be carrying in the backpack would be all of the pills you will both probably have to take, along with directions on how to get home, just in case. Perhaps some Ensure, hopefully not Depends, and a spare pair of agile dress socks.  Which he plans to wear pulled up to his knees with white Velcro sneakers, shorts, and his Indiana Jones Fedora simply because he can.

Ingredients of a Dream

You believe the lies you’ve told yourself. Now that dream you held long ago has been pushed down, buried so deep that much of the time you forget that you ever had it.  When it rises to the surface, you release the excuses: I have no time, I don’t have the proper equipment or skills, I don’t have space, I live in the wrong part of the country or the world. When I’ve saved more, when the children are older, the list goes on.   It is easier this way, you tell yourself, as you continue to create a false narrative.

 

It’s all a load of malarkey.

 

What are your dreams? Big, small, simple or complex it does not matter.

A mohawk at forty, to walk to the end of the block, an Indiana Jones fedora, warrior chief tattoo, a camper van or a beach house. A job in a completely different field. To live abroad, to move out of your parents’ basement, to move into your parents’ basement.  Whatever the dream, no matter how big it is or how crazy your loved ones, friends or your second cousin Buck thinks it is, it does not matter.  It only matters that you stop dreaming, make a plan, and then make that plan a priority.

You don’t need to know every detail; a rough plan will do. Once you make it a priority take small steps. Do not decide after reading this that next week you are going to quit your job, sublet your apartment and move into your Yaris so that you can create your version of an Endless Summer.  You’ve hit the priority mark but you seem to have skipped over the planning and small steps piece.

It is going to be harder than you think. You’ve got to have determination, chutzpah. There are no overnight success stories. We just wish there were because we like instant gratification and overnight successes make for catchier news headlines.  There will be setbacks and failures, but you’ll need to keep going.

My father was fond of passing out No Whining mugs to people he worked with. He saw them as a reminder to buckle down and work hard. I have the one he kept at his office and I’ve been using it a lot lately as I once again work at my dream of making writing a priority. I also pull it out when the darkness of depression greets me first thing in the morning. A silent shot of encouragement.