Sometimes you push through. Sometimes you pull back. I’m doing a little of both to get through this slump.
I want to make it clear I recognize the difference between clinical and situational depression, and this is the latter. It’s not unusual to have a letdown after a major life change, even a happy one.
Four months of adrenalin-fueled hard work take a toll. I feel like I’ve aged a couple of years through this move.
But I’m English–stiff upper lip, pull up your socks and carry on. Here’s my plan:
- Self-care! Acupuncture. Chiropractor. Naps. I have to stop dinging myself–small cuts, burns and bruises. No falls.
- Stop giving myself artificial deadlines. Unpacked boxes, annoying and unsightly as they are, will eventually be gone. We are gradually sorting and hanging art. (Half-awake one night, I imagined the bedroom was full of dark boxes closing in on me.)
- Get out: a river walk, a play, a visit to the library or art center, a browse through a thrift shop.
- Plant things. I’ve never been much of a gardener. After leaving most of the container plants at the condo, I’m rebuilding–herbs and other container plants for now, but I’m eyeing a spot for a meditation garden, and I’m going to look in thrift and antique shops for a bench.
- Read. I don’t remember the title of the last book I read. I keep up with periodicals: the New York Times (online), the New Yorker, the local daily, and now that we have cable TV for the first time in 20 years there are overwhelming choices of news and movies. Books are unpacked and I’ve started a fascinating biography of a pioneering Texas women doctor who reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, except her story is true.
- Make friends. This is a big challenge. We’ve met a few neighbors and dog-walkers, and I have some connections through Austin friends. I attended a Democratic women’s mixer. I have joined the Arts Center and plan on checking out a knitting group and a poetry group. When the Hill Country Chorale starts rehearsals in September I plan to join. We will soon start attending the local UU church. I must remember it takes time to establish friendships.
- Create art, knit. Art is satisfying, knitting is meditative and calming.
Most important of all is gratitude. I am so grateful for the good life we are able to have, that we have the resources (physical, financial, emotional) to care for the granddaughter. When I check out of the grocery story with a full basket, it’s such a relief to pop in the debit card and not worry about whether there’s enough money in the account to cover it.
Gratitude, patience, knowing when to push ahead and when to pull back. There are no deadlines.
It was inevitable. We decided to move in March and found our dream home on March 18. Since then it’s been an adrenalin-fueled four months of selling the condo, financing the new house so we didn’t have to wait to sell the condo, booking movers, packing, finishing the school year, and Gary doing a one-man show on Clarence Darrow. Then, after June 2, it was unpack, find services, find our way around and try to get settled.
Lest you think there are second thoughts, there are not. No regrets. I love our new home and I know we will find out communities here.
But Sunday morning I woke up so depressed I could hardly get out of bed. That’s why I wrote the rodeo piece, to focus my mind on something good and positive.
Being the self-analytical person I am, I think I’ve figured out the reasons for the funk. I lay awake Sunday night, and here are my conclusions:
- Before we moved, my problems were time over energy. There was never enough time regardless of my energy levels, which were pretty good. Now the equation is reversed: there is plenty of time–the days are long, there’s no school and few deadlines. But I’m exhausted. I just don’t have enough energy and stamina.
- Heat. One of the reasons I’m flagging is that it’s Texas and it’s hot. It’s less humid up here and if there’s a breeze it’s not too bad. But I try to do errands early in the day, and even walking the dog before sunset can be uncomfortable.
- No matter how hard I work I can’t seem to finish unpacking. It goes in fits and starts, and some days feel like we’ve made enormous progress, then there’ll be days when it seems like nothing happens. We’re spending time shopping for things we need–a bed and desk for the granddaughter’s room, patio furniture, a composting system, items that need to be assembled. That stresses the three of us, trying to figure out which allen wrench and which bolt goes where.
- Speaking of the three of us: that’s it. There are three people, a dog and two guinea pigs in this house, and for the most part that’s our daily contact. We’re getting on each others’ nerves. I would love to get Chloe to a day camp, a class, or something. Even a neighbor’s house. But she balks at any suggestions. I may have to just register for a class or a camp and insist that she go.
- And I’ m lonely. Other than husband, granddaughter and dog, the only other people I talk to are my acupuncturist and random checkout clerks and neighbors. I miss my communities: my dog-walking friends, Travis Heights Elementary friends, condo neighbors, church friends, poetry friends and singing friends. I did appreciate them but I don’t think I realized how much I’d miss them.
I’m not complaining. I know it takes time to find new communities. And I will be proactive. I am not bashful and I already have some contacts here to get me started.
Next: getting out of the valley.
Moving is never pretty. This one was especially ugly. Short version: it was a comedy of a too-small truck, surly crew, items left behind, plumbing problems at both houses.
Then there’s the pool (a white elephant, an extra pet, another child?). It was sick, and it took many phone calls, waiting, draining, refilling to get it sparkling and inviting. We now have reliable service. Yard care is another matter, but I leave that to Gary.
One thing we’re finding in our new home town is how hard it is to get services. Businesses take days to return calls, if they do at all. It must be small-town standard time.
We still need the basics of everyday living. My mantra has been “EAT. SLEEP. BATHE.” As long as we can get food, have beds and have a bathroom, we’re fine. But being surrounded by boxes gets old, and we still have a lot of unpacking to do (art, books and knickknacks–unnecessary items you wonder why you have so many of).
These are of course so-called first-world problems, and we love it here. We have met neighbors while walking the dog; some have knocked on our door. One neighbor helped us hook up the washer, another has offered iris plants when she splits them. People everywhere give me tips on local shopping, swimming holes and other treasures.
Some of my Austin friends connected me to people they know here in Kerrville, so I already feel like we have friends here. One invited me to a Pink Power Democratic Women’s mixer, which I really enjoyed. On the next street we met a couple whose daughter goes to our UU church in Austin. They are into theater and we’ve already had them over for drinks.
The best thing is that, despite the slower and quieter pace, there is a wealth of things to do here. The beautiful Guadalupe River provides walks and swimming spots. There are several art venues and theater companies and a small UU congregation. I’m finding poets and knitters. When we can pull ourselves away from home, there’s a multitude of choices.
We have small mall, a large regional medical center, two H-E-B groceries, a Wal-Mart (to which I have made more visits in the last three weeks than my previous lifetime total–it’s five minutes away). If Wal-Mart or H-E-B doesn’t have it, Gibson‘s, a local hardware-hunting-fishing-dimestore-discount place probably does. And I won’t miss Michael’s, because Home Town Crafts has everything–it’s Michael’s, Hobby Lobby and JoAnn’s mashed together. There are Home Depot, Lowes, and local home and garden supply stores. About the only thing missing is a Target, which I can manage without.
Even though most of the art remains boxed, we have hung curtains in our bedrooms, acquired (and assembled) dining room and patio furniture, and have functioning spaces to eat, sleep and bathe.
My studio is the last thing to be unpacked and set up before we hang art. I want to get back to doing art, but I’m having trouble. I have broken it into stages: unpacking, sorting, organizing and putting away. I’m still in sorting phase, and it’s so overwhelming (why do I have so much STUFF?) that I have to break that up too.
We had to go to Austin last week to close on the condo, and we went to San Antonio yesterday. Each time I couldn’t wait to get back home. I’ve told my kids my next move will be to either the nursing home or the funeral home.
When we have our coffee on the patio in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening, or when I float in our private pool surrounded by pecan trees, I feel like we won the lottery.
Christmas 1989, Austin, a southern city that does not handle cold well, had an extended hard freeze. Pipes froze and burst, rooms were flooded, water was turned off. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment with my younger daughter, then a teen. Pipes in the next apartment burst, flooding my daughter’s walk-in closet. We moved everything into the living room, hauled water in buckets from neighboring buildings that still had water, and made the best of it during the holiday break.
After a few days of living in the mess, I got my paints out. I had graduated from St. Ed’s the previous spring with my art degree, but I was working a full-time administrative job and sharing space with the daughter, not an arrangement conducive to making art. But I set up an easel on the dining table and painted away.
This move has again proven what I learned then: I’m an obsessive control freak who feels a constant need for order, yet when everything falls apart I tend to fall into the flow and let creativity take over. It seems like a paradox, but it really isn’t: when control becomes simply impossible, I relinquish the need for control.
Last week I had some panic: “There is no way we’ll ever get all this stuff cleared out and packed.” But things got moving, a friend offered to help me pack art, and now, just over two weeks before Moving Day, I’m relaxed enough to sit here blogging. This afternoon I’m having a massage and acupuncture.
Tomorrow is my birthday and we’re having our traditional lunch at Chez Zee with an old friend, with whom I share a birthday, and her husband.
Three weeks before the end of school I decided to knit washcloths for my granddaughter’s teachers; they make nice gifts wrapped around a bar of fancy soap.
As I turn 72, I am so grateful for good health, family, friends, and our new adventure.
Several months before we decided to move, I told my therapist I wanted to destroy my old journals. “Burn ’em,” was her response. I burned a few outside in the grill, and quite a few more in the fireplace during the winter, but shredding was more efficient and environmentally friendly. I’m finally done shredding about 20 years’ worth of spiral binders.
Some were writing journals and many had dreams, so I tried to salvage poems, writing ideas and dreams for future use, especially for a long-planned (but sidelined) book of dream poems, titled either “Nightly Visits to Other Worlds” or “Skating Under the Aurora.”
I couldn’t take time to read everything so I skimmed randomly. One thing that struck me was how much pain I was in during the late ’90s and early 2000s: back pain, stomach pain, severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome, headaches, vertigo and ear problems.
Like many people I journaled to rant and unload pain and unhappiness, but this was real suffering, and I’d almost forgotten about the dizzy spells, about the time I visited my brother shortly before he died, and I was afraid I’d miss my plane because I couldn’t get out of bed. I underwent treatment for allergies and ear problems, including years of allergy shots.
The stomach pain turned out to be a huge mass on my pancreas. Thanks to good medical care, I’m alive and pain-free. Good chiropractic care has made my back more stable and less likely to give out without warning. Retirement has helped with the IBS–one thing I noticed was that I had bad episodes on days the Medical Board met. I loved my job and it wasn’t always stressful, but board days were hard work and very busy, and it was no coincidence my body responded. I also manage my diet better and have learned the array of irritating foods to avoid, including apples, oranges, pears, lettuce, seeds–I just can’t digest a lot of fiber.
The biggest differences, though, I attribute three or four factors:
First, getting on Prozac in 2012. I’ve covered this in several blog posts, but I can’t say enough about how it changed my life.
Second, acupuncture has helped reduce allergy symptoms and has virtually eliminated my headaches. It’s also just made me feel better all over; I sleep better and generally feel better. Along with chiropractic care, my body feels strong and balanced.
Third, self care. Since my granddaughter moved in with us and I’ve moved into my 70s, I need to be more careful with my body, my diet, my sleep habits and how I spend my time. An afternoon nap isn’t just a treat; it’s essential.
Fourth, spiritual awareness, or wisdom of age. I’m more patient, open-hearted, generous and joyful. Two years ago, when we were trying to decided whether to ask the granddaughter to come and live with us, I was anxious that it would make my life so stressful and difficult that I would mourn the loss of my free and easy retirement. And I did. It’s been hard.
But when I take the dog out before dawn on these soft spring mornings, I actually enjoy being awake. I’m grateful for the sweet dog (which we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have the child), for good legs, a strong heart and all the other parts that still work pretty well. When I take Chloe to school (on time or early, not late every day like last year) I enjoy greeting friends and walking on the greenbelt during doggie morning happy hour.
I’m excited about the upcoming changes in our lives and the opportunities to keep making art and to create a beautiful new home for our family.
We thought 2016 was bad.
I try not to whine and complain. I’m a grownup and I do what needs to be done. But this is ridiculous. The state of the world and the country is absolutely terrifying, and I feel obligated to call my representatives daily, and if asked what issue I’m calling about I’m like Marlon Brando in “The Wild Bunch”: “Wadda you got?” Today it’s the crazy immigration policy, last week it was the inauguration of the most unqualified, certifiably insane substitute-for-human ever to occupy the White House. Tomorrow it will be the Supreme Court nominee, and every day it’s women’s issues, education, the environment and climate change–and on and on.
But to add to the misery, I am stretched to the limit. Not to share too much, my husband and granddaughter both need a lot of care and attention right now. My therapist said I sound like a harried mom. I told her I am, except it didn’t seem this hard 40 years ago. Of course I was 40 years younger!
Everywhere I turn there is something that needs doing. Appointments to be made, prescriptions to refill, a messy yard, laundry, clutter, meals, errands. The garage door opener quit and needs replacing. I wanted a haircut two weeks ago, couldn’t get in so let it go, and now I kind of like it longer, except for the bangs. (I usually trim them myself but I keep thinking I’ll get an appointment soon.)
I consider a long pee to be a break. Meditation is when I walk the dog, except when I’m trying to call my Congresspeople. I have “Art Day” popups on my phone calendar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they mock me. My to-read pile beckons, as do all my unfinished knitting projects. I made a pink hat for the march, but didn’t quite finish in time to wear it. But I did march!
I can thank the drump for making me an activist! I’m more engaged than I was during the Viet Nam protests.
However, I will close with gratitude:
- clear starry skies when I walk the dog at 5:45 a.m., sunny afternoons and beautiful parks
- my relatively good health, and abatement of sinus headaches (partly, I believe, thanks to a month of acupuncture treatments)
- despite many challenges, granddaughter is mostly doing well in school
- my sweet soft dog curling up against me when I nap
- enough: we are not rich, but we have a comfortable home, enough to eat and a nice life
- health insurance and good medical care
- my being able to take care of those who need it right now
- pedicures: I took my husband along yesterday because his back prevents him from cutting his toenails. He’s a convert!
- friends and family to back me up if I need help, and a loving church community
- living in a city with liberal values that cares about immigrants and minorities (to quote former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, Austin is the “blueberry in the tomato soup.”)
I realize that I live a life of middle-class privilege. But I’m still exhausted.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to pee, walk the dog and try to call my senators and congressman.
People tell me I’m a hero, or even a saint, for taking on the responsibility of raising a grandchild.
Of course I’m neither. I’m doing what a grandmother does if she’s able. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, it’s tear-my-hair-out sometimes. Some challenges are so great I don’t know how to manage them, but it has also brought more laughter and joy into my life. There are support systems for the challenges, and if we didn’t have Chloe we wouldn’t have Junior, so it’s also brought the sweetest dog ever into my life.
Mostly, as I said, it’s what you do. I wake up earlier than I ever thought I’d need to in retirement and just put one foot in front of the other.
A 10-year-old girl can be mean, even cruel. But I hope by this time in life I’ve developed enough confidence in my abilities and a thick enough skin to laugh most of it off. And sometimes cry. Walking the dog is usually for thinking and meditating, but sometimes it’s my private crying time.
Another thing that keeps me humble is reminding myself of all the things I’m bad at. I’m a decent cook, fairly intelligent, good at taking care of myself and others. But there are some things I simply have not mastered, so just for today let’s celebrate the incompetent and mediocre:
Things at which I am terrible:
- I am lousy at parking. It’s become a joke with Chloe when I take her to school. I park on both a slight slope and a curve so I end up either on the curb or three feet away. As I get out I say, “Ace job of parking, if I say so myself.” She of course rolls her eyes.
- Inflating tires and using a gauge to check pressure. I’m more likely to deflate the tires.
- Can’t do separating zippers, especially on a child. I have to get behind her and do it as if I’m zipping my own jacket.
- Battery enclosures or anything you have to match up little slots and snap different parts together. Vacuum cleaner cover, air purifier cover, various appliances that come apart, require three hands.
- As an artist I would think I could decorate cakes, but I can’t. Even three hands wouldn’t help. Chloe is way better with a pastry tube and fondant than I am.
- Flower arranging: well I don’t arrange flowers. I trim the leaves and stems and jam them in a vase to arrange themselves.
- Understanding handicap in golf. My husband has explained it to me several times and it won’t stick. My brain cells just won’t accept it.
- Gardening, sadly. I’d love to have flowers and vegetables, but one reason we live in a condo is because neither of us has a green thumb.
That’s probably enough self-criticism for now. I am pretty good at self-care: healthy eating, massages, pedicures, exercise, regular medical care and plenty of sleep. Making time for music, art, knitting and reading. Travel when we can get away.
And I am really good at tenacity, determination, and love.