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.
Knowing my political views, some of my friends might be surprised that I had such a good time at the Kerrville Open Rodeo. I posted photos on Facebook last night, but overnight I’ve thought about all the things I liked about it:
- I’m usually early for everything, but we got a late start (my fault–I insisted on walking the dog first), but it was a quick ride and, after paying ($10 each for us, granddaughter free), we easily parked, walked a short distance to the bleachers, and still got there in time for the opening parade, which is my favorite part. I am also weird enough to enjoy singing the Star Spangled Banner (even though I have to change octaves when it jumps up or down).
- The aforementioned opening parade–elegant horses, women bearing flags sitting tall in the saddle.
- It was a beautiful evening, with the sunset tinting the clouds and a full moon rising. There was a breeze and it wasn’t too hot.
- The judges (all on horseback) wore bright pink shirts.
- Participants were mostly local or from surrounding communities. People in the bleachers rooted for people they knew. Chloe noticed a pretty young woman sitting near us, and later she was in the barrel race. Her horse balked and she had a bad ride. When she came back to her family people around them offered encouraging comments.
- The young contestants have wonderful names: girls named Jody, Morgan, Riley, Tana, Charlie, Shelby, Whitley and Teva (whose mother, Melissa, was also a rider). Boys: Jessie, Landon, Brett, Blake, Tyler, Tanner, Hawk, Chase, Cody, Stralen (last name Cowdus!). The announcer seemed to know these kids’ back stories. One bronco rider was blind.
- Despite the clown’s lame (and dated) jokes, there were genuinely funny moments. “Mutton busting,” in which young volunteers ride sheep, was hilarious. The calf scramble is also fun (Chloe actually considered joining in.)
- People are so polite. When we needed to go up and down the bleachers they made way and offered hands. I needed to slide off my seat at one point, and I had Gary on one side offering a hand and a stranger on the other (whose hand I accepted, not to offend) when I didn’t need help at all!
- It’s dog-friendly. A guy had an adorable toy Australian shepherd puppy. And a small dog was loose in the arena during the bull-riding. (It survived.) We may take Junior next time.
- This is not a white-only redneck town. There were as many tattoos as you’d see at any event in Austin. There were old folks and babies, couples, women having a girls’ night, people of color.
- Vendors were few and nice, and it was easy and pleasant to wander around the grounds. Sno-cones were cheap and do-it-yourself, so Chloe restrained herself on the syrup–she said she mainly wanted the ice anyway.
- The nicely weird part of the evening: a guy in front of me had a shirt with a poem on the back. I recognized it when I read the first two lines, and it’s one of my favorite poems. So when he left his seat I asked him about the shirt. He said it was from Rogue American Apparel. Norton tells me it’s a dangerous site, and the merchandise is W-A-Y more macho than most people in my life would wear, but I found the shirt. Gary was surprised I talked to the guy, but I think he got a kick out of someone knowing an obscure Stephen Crane poem. (What a terribly short life Crane had.)
If you can’t read the back of the shirt, here’s the Stephen Crane poem:
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
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.
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.
Does anyone else talk to trees?
On the trail where I walk the dog every morning after I take the grandchild to school, there’s a tree I like. I always say hello and ask how she’s doing. Her name is Sarah, and I find comfort in knowing she will be there each day.
The other day Junior was playing with his ball on a little rise above the trail. A parent and PTA colleague, walking home with her pre-schooler in a stroller, stopped in front of Sarah. After a moment her little boy got out and stood near the tree, then hugged it.
I went over to her and said, “This is so weird. Do you talk to this tree as well?” She said she was teaching her son about appreciating the Earth and nature, and they always visited with the tree, which she referred to as “him.” I told her I talked to “Sarah.”
Junior dropped his ball into the creek below us. He carefully made his way down the rocks and into the water, retrieving the ball and then retracing his steps all the way up the bank. Then he dropped it again. I could see it would be easier to reach it from the other side, so we walked along to a bridge and doubled back to a little “beach,” where I could almost get the ball without going into the water. I tried a branch, but it wasn’t long enough. One of my dog-walking friends on the other side tossed me a perfect stick, with a claw-like structure on the end. I got the ball, thanked T., and put the ball away so Junior couldn’t lose it again.
When Chloe started third grade a year-and-a-half ago, I felt very out of place at school–a grandma among mostly parents, a new dog-owner in a park where everyone knew all the other dogs’ names and I didn’t even know the protocols for when Junior could be off-leash (it’s not an off-leash park). At pickup time I’d sit in the courtyard with Junior, using the school’s wi-fi to check email or Facebook on my phone.
Now, every morning after Chloe goes in I’m saying hello to K. and her dog Patches, who loves Junior; R., the former PTA president; E., the current president; various teachers, principals and other staff; and random parents. Then at the park Junior romps with Tucker, Dixon, Izzie, Marley, Reya, Etta, Brodie, Ace, and especially Pierre, whose mom, L., I’ve become quite good friends with, and V. and her sweet little chiweenie, Coco, who also adores Junior.
My husband has had three rounds of surgery recently (he should be fine). We scheduled the first one during winter break so I could ship the kid and the dog off to family. The other two were unavoidable; the second I managed with trips between hospital, school, and home, and it was exhausting, especially in Austin’s perennial rush-hour traffic. So for the latest procedure I asked a friend (also Sarah), who has a child at our school. She not only picked Chloe up but they went to our house for Junior. We were at the hospital from noon till nearly 7, so it was such a relief having them with someone I could trust, and Chloe had a blast.
You’re probably wondering why this piece started with thoughts about talking to trees. I think that tree represents the wonderful community I have become a part of–parents, other grandparents, teachers, the principal and assistant principal, extended family, dog-owners, other walkers, swimmers at Stacy Pool. It happened so gradually I didn’t notice it, until one day I found myself having so many conversations in the courtyard while waiting for school to let out I didn’t even look at my phone, and that’s how it is every day now.
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.