Category Archives: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Doing the Opposite: A Christmas Story

Night before last I was in the dumps – just tired of frickin’ everything.  So I threw a party.  I shit you not.

This is the principle we hear of a lot in the rooms – to do the opposite of what we feel like doing.  I’ve been around long enough to know it pays off, and to understand that the loudest voice in my head is usually not the wisest.

Take day before yesterday, I was sitting in my empty house in the same odarknessld chair where I always frickin’ sit, looking out the same damn window at that same damn tree.  I was also looking at the weeks ahead – the darkest of the year (in Seattle, dusk begins to fall around 3:30).  I don’t do well in the dark.  My brain’s amygdala gets its mitts on a little fear-powered megaphone, so it was broadcasting loud and clear like this:

“What is my life, really?  Work.  Pay the damn mortgage – house falling apart.  More work.  Buy groceries, eat ’em, pay the damn sewage bill.  Clean my ever-dirty house.  Exercise to fight getting old.  Get old.  Ach! – how much longer do I have to do this shit?!  I’m 54, so… like… 35 years, and then maybe I’ll get put in a home.  God, I hope I don’t Facebook there!  I am SO sick of EVERYTHING.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 11.55.41 AMAt that point, some little alarm light tripped in a different part of my brain.  It said, as god often does, “BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! Re-examine!  Spot inventory!”

Scanning myself, I realized I was angry – unconsciously hurt and angry.  I’d been planning a weekend with my boyfriend on the beautiful island where he lives, even rearranged clients so I could catch an early ferry, then he texted that he was being sent to Copenhagen.  Boom.  Empty weekend.  My son would be at his other mom’s.  I’d be alone.

Somehow, the part of my brain that’s been paying attention in Al-Anon kicked in, letitbeginwithme1saying: “Let it begin with me!  Your happiness does not depend on what Grayson does.  Your life is rich and you are loved by many.  Be grateful!  Spend time with friends!”

Jesus, what bunch of goodie two-shoes platitudes!

Here, dear reader, is where one has to have eaten one’s spiritual Wheaties.  Because it takes a huge surge of faith to hoist yourself out from that dark groove fear has carved, turn away, and begin to do the thing you least feel like doing.  I know that loving other alcoholics helps me.  I know my house is very near my homegroup.  So I reached for my phone.  The dark voice threw everything in arm’s reach at my head as I texted a homegroup friend.

ME: If I have a game night tomorrow after the meeting will you bring games?  I don’t have any fucking games.

ROB: Sounds great.

ME: Should I do it?  I’m depressed so it seems like a huge deal.  I just want to sleep.

ROB: Me every day.

ME:  But will you come over even if nobody else does?  We can just play hangman or tic tac toe.

ROB: I’ll bring Suspend.

I took that as a Yes.  That’s all I needed – just one friend who understood.  Forcing myself, and with the dreariest look on my face, I created an Event entitled, “Post-Meeting Games and Shit” in our local Facebook AA group, which promptly invited all 97 members.  By the next day, my best friend, a sponsee, and one other person had accepted.  The dark voice gloated about my pathetic neediness, how I should just watch TV alone like normal people.  It buzzed in the background like a big zizzy fly while I cleaned my house and bought four jugs of spiced apple cider.  Just getting the dining room table cleared of clutter for games took literally hours!

After the meeting I checked in with some non-Facebook friends, who had other plans.  A few said they might be over.  So I went home and plugged in the Christmas tree.  I turned on Pandora carols and set a big pot of cider on the stove.  My dog looked at me.  I got down a bunch of cups while the voice warned, “You’re going to feel so stupid putting these away again!”  No one came.  I added a bunch of wood to the fire.  The carols played on.  My dog scratched himself.

Then, finally, he barked.  The doorbell.  One or two at a time, a dozen homegroup friends plus two newcomers climbed those freshly swept steps with food in their arms and light in their eyes, and they brought… god.  That’s the only way I can say it.  Because I loved them!  All ages; all walks of life; all sober.  Each had overcome their own dark voice to show up.  Rob unpacked Suspend on the shining wood table where people gathered talking about how Bing Crosby beat his kids or how expensive that bakery up the street is, and, wait, what are the rules again?  Before long we were ooing and ah-ing at daring Suspend feats.

Human voices, their teasing, their laughter filled up my lonely house – and I remembered what life is, saw it like a forgiven lover.  I am so in love with my life!  We went through the cider.  We ate the food.  My party2sponsee’s gift was an updated Trivial Pursuit that a bunch of us played in the living room, awarding pie slices that people hadn’t even won because fuck it!  That question was dumb!  I saw the goodness, the vulnerability of the new people joining in, and the beauty of my friends in ever-more subtle colors.

The dark voice shriveled, its megaphone dead.

Last night rekindled something in me – Love – enough to carry me through the darkest days ahead.  Once again I remember that all my difficulties – my loneliness, my endless bills, my sorrow at getting older, and stings of life’s disappointments – are not mine.  They’re ours.  We do this thing together.

.

“We know what you are thinking.  You are saying to yourself, ‘I’m jittery and alone.  I couldn’t do that.’ But you can.  You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself.” (A Vision for You, 163)

Life is yours.  Go n’ git it!

CAM00419

Left by one of the smokers on my front step. To me it reads, “I love love”

 

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Filed under AA, Al-Anon, Alcoholism, Recovery, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Sobriety, Spirituality

When the Darkness Comes…

Ways to stay chipper

I’m resolved to be happy, to enjoy life.  In the summer months, happiness comes easily.  I’m active, whether alone or with friends, and never short of energy or enthusiasm.  But when fall comes I start to feel the tides of darkness encroaching, dragging me down.  Now’s the time I have to make a note: candleDepression Alert!  Because I’m prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder and live in Seattle, because I suffered depression throughout my 30s and my brain chemistry still teeters on that brink, and because I’m a damn complex and moody alcoholic in recovery, I need to be careful.

I once read that depression evolved as a survival strategy to prevent us from doggedly pursuing unrealistic goals or otherwise squandering energy without a high return.  I envision some primitive humans all gung-ho to build a tower to the gods despite all setbacks; some kind of “fuck this!” switch had to evolve somewhere along the line.  primitive2-1024x681More practically, in fall and winter there’s just not as much food out there for a hunter-gatherer to net, so we developed the impulse to hunker by the home-fires to avoid fruitless expenditures of energy.

The trouble comes when my brain decides to categorize the entire enterprise of living as a fruitless expenditure of energy.  I look around: the house will never stay clean; dishes and laundry never stay done.  My bank account acts like a storage tank with a gaping hole at the bottom.  I gleefully deposit checks only to see that some damn auto-deduction – the gym, car insurance, internet – has slurped up half of it before I even drive home.  I keep getting older and ricketier plus people seem to forget about me if I don’t keep showing up for social stuff.  Doesn’t that make all of these unattainable goals?  Shouldn’t I just give up and hunker by the home-fire?

I choose not to take prescription antidepressant drugs because, lucky for me, my depression is only seasonal and not debilitating. It’s just the daily challenge of my emotional weather. I want to learn to navigate life in stormy as well as in clear sailing.  Wisdom, I believe, gets pounded out in that struggle. I don’t mean to poop on meds or those whose brain chemistry leaves them no other option. Chemistry is chemistry.  For myself, though, I envision my depression as a pit of darkness I have to circle until spring, walking a narrow, angled, and slippery path on its perimeter.  The tactics below help me pick my steps.  But if I were to fall in (become clinically depressed) none of them would do any good.

THE SIGNS

  • I filled with a low-level dread but have no clue what it’s about.
  • I may or may not decide I’m scared of finding myself broke and alone.
  • The prospect of socializing seems an Olympic event, demanding coherent remark after coherent remark like a series of hurdles I barely clear.
  • The prospect of going to work feels like storming a hostile dagwood napempire of steel, concrete, and synthetics, where nothing natural or charming can survive.
  • The world’s goin’ to hell in a handbasket.
  • All I want to do is to eat cookies and nap peacefully.

What to do?  I fuckin’ pray.  I don’t want to, but I do.  I ask god to help me remember how to live.  God, I have found, is all about can-do and positive action.  It doesn’t empathize with lackadaisical whining, but counters, What can you do now?  It tells me I already know the answer.  And I sort of do.

THE CURES

Whether I feel like it or not, I have to FORCE myself to…

  • Exercise – take a ballet class, go for a run, something
  • Make coffee/pho dates and go to more meetings
  • Go outside and do SOMETHING – anything!  Rake leaves, walk the dog
  • Practice gratitude; love others; be of service
  • Meditate more
  • Eat healthy, for god’s sake!
  • If it gets really bad, bust out the Happy Light, St. John’s wort and/or 5 hydroxytryptophan

All these tactics help a little.  But I also have a secret list of unofficial aids that help me – things I’ve never seen in magazines.

 UNOFFICIAL AIDS

  • Make something – bake, draw a picture, knit
  • Light candles to an impractical degree, maybe even in daylightmusicnote
  • Play happy music
  • Smile and yawn more – both give your brain a lift
  • String up indoor Xmas lights irrespective of Xmas
  • Watch no TV; avoid pop-culture magazines; limit social networking
  • Practice mindfulness, focusing on loving what I am doing now

Here’s my thing with mindfulness: sometimes, it can get boring.  I mean, obviously, it’s a discipline, so if I’m getting bored, that means I’m not practicing well.  Still, I’ve developed some tweaks to make it more interesting – and most of them involve pretending.  Recreational pretending, in my opinion, is vastly underrated. My brain chemistry doesn’t seem to distinguish much between real and imagined sources of happy, cozy thoughts.   In fact, pretending, if executed skillfully, can feel like a little uplifting,  drug-free trip to another place.

Bourges-Fiji

MINDFULNESS TWEAKS

  • I pretend…
    • that I live in a charming, romantic country or exotic tropical place.  My home is in some village of France or on the island of Fiji.  I can smell the odors of baguettes or tropical flowers.  This can work when you’re driving if you pretend you’re touring quaint vistas.
    • that I’m super rich but eccentric and choose to live exactly as I do
    • that I live in an amazing dollhouse.  I was once on a ladder fixing a small window that looks in on my living room.  Inside, the evening sun was lighting the space with a warm yellow, and it looked to me like a weirdly classic doll’s house with every detail delightfully realistic.  I can still call up that feeling which changes mess to fantastic precision.
    • that I’m a 14th century monk used to abjuring all physical comforts, but just for today, I’m cheating!

The goal of all these quirky imaginings is actually to practice love and acceptance.  The act of assenting to the circumstances of our lives – calling them good – is what brings contentment.  I’ve developed these roundabout means of doing what you can practice directly: loving everything your senses bring you, loving being alive.rainbow_heart

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Filed under Recovery, SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, sober, Sobriety, Spirituality