Friday, February 18, 2022

Kicking Depression's A$$

For decades, I've struggled with winter depression.  It usually sets in on or about December 1 and runs through the end of March-ish.  I'm not sure of the cause.  It may be that I'm separated from my other half, my twin.  I could also be affected by seasonal affective disorder.  Maybe the craziness that is year end giving at work also impacts me, and the fact that there is so much going on that I neglect self-care. 

During the pandemic, my depression management was even worse. 

I was not seeing people, my marriage had fallen apart, I was worried about my family, and the list continues.  As the pandemic intensified and my home life got worse, I started running regularly to alleviate stress.  I ended up training for and completing a marathon for charity and running a half marathon a month....something I'm continuing into 2022.  

My first half marathon in years in 2021

But the entire reason I wanted to write this blog post was because of my cheer chart.  What I decided to do as the pandemic got worse and I saw winter coming, was to make a reminder of what to do to pull myself out of it.  

I made a list of things that either make me happy or are good for me and put it on a chart on my refrigerator.  

I had a bunch of random round magnets left from craft projects that I put on there.  Each morning, I try to make sure I do at least three of the things on the list before I start work.  At the end of the day, I aim to do two more.  On weekends, I want to use all seven magnets at minimum.   This sounds silly, but it has really made a difference in my day.  When I'm feeling down, I look at the chart and try to do at least ONE.  Some of these are super easy, like drinking a pint of plain water or taking a photo to post online.  Soon, I'll update the chart with other things, but my cheer chart has helped me fight depression this year.  

My current 2022 Cheer Chart

Here are some of the things that are on the chart or help me:

Running/Gym/Exercise - If I get 30 minutes of exercise, I usually feel better.
Stretching - some days I just can't motivate to exercise and stretching is good.
Brushing, Flossing, Vitamins, Drinking Water, Eating my Veggies - these are things that I am whiny about, but I know they make my life and body better when I do them.  They are easy wins on days when I can't seem to even get out of bed. 
Crafting - I love making sea glass art to send to friends or doing other crafty things with my hands.  
Cooking/Baking - Making my own food, once I can get started, is good for me and makes me happy.  I just have to get started. It also helps me sell pampered chef stuff for an added benefit. Another bonus is when I can make food to share with friends.  
Friends - Seeing friends for a walk, game night, meal, or just to chat over tea always makes my mood better.  
Writing  - I love writing postcards or note cards to mail to friends.  I imagine them seeing it in the mailbox and smiling.  Getting real mail makes me smile as well.  
Adventure - This one is hand-written on the bottom in case you can't read it.  I love trying new food, activities, new hikes, going thrifting, or exploring.  
Reading - Encouraging my brain to explore another world with a good book also is something that helps me escape negative thoughts.  

Other than the chart, here are added anti-depression measures I've been utilizing. 

Mirror Reminder

I purchased wine glass markers and write quotes, scriptures, and sayings on my mirror in the bathroom to see each time I am there.  

My current mirror quote. 


Sleep seems to be super important for me too.  There are nights when I can't get out of my head.  Two things have helped with that.  First, I stumbled on magnesium cream at a farmers market.  I don't use it all the time, but a little dollop on the bottom of each foot before bed knocks me out on most rough nights.  If my crazy thoughts attack earlier in the night, I have been drinking a bit of cbd simple syrup with some seltzer or sprite.  On occasion, I follow the recipes on the bottle and make a cocktail.  However, it puts me to sleep within 20 minutes, so I don't do it often.  

Future Planning

The other thing that I've learned to do is to find crazy things that I look forward to.  In some cases, I focus on not letting people down by missing something.  Other times, I find things that bring me so much joy that I think about them on rough days.  

This is my winter plan most years:
Thanksgiving With Family
Christmas Gift Making (crafting and more from list above). 
Birthday - connecting with my twin
New Year's Day Run
Polar Plunge for Special Olympics in February

These activities are supplemented with other races, game nights with friends, concert and show tickets, trips to sunny places or adventures on the calendar.  

If I've got something on my calendar to look forward to, I can usually muddle through the ugly stay under the covers and feel like crying days.  

Polar Plunge 2022

Then as the flowers bloom and the days are longer, I seem to be better.  I still have tough days where I don't to get out of bed or talk to people.  However, it's easier to run, find adventures, see friends, get fresh air, and live my life.  I go hiking more often with my friend Kristen, flea market shopping with my sister, camping, sea glass collecting, national park exploring, cocktail drinking, speedo racing, and so many of the other things that bring me joy.  Seeing all the posts lately about depression makes me think I'm not alone.  Hopefully you can make a chart that helps you too.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Holding Grudges - forgive me.

Excuse me...Eric?  


"You are Eric Shoen, right?"

"Yes, that's me." 

"I'm sorry, I'm not comfortable cutting your hair today." 

"Is it because I came from out of state?"  

"No.  You made me very uncomfortable last time I saw you and I don't feel like being uncomfortable cutting your hair.  You'll have to find another place."  

"I'm so sorry.  I hope that you find healing for that wound.  Thanks."  

This happened to me today.  I know I must have said or done something years ago that hurt this man.  Here's the thing.  I haven't lived here in 10 years.  In fact, I don't think I've seen this person for at least 15 years.  I'll be darned if I can remember it.  

I've said and done some mean and stupid things in my life.  I've done that to people that didn't deserve it.  I  think I remember every time I did that and realized it.  The words or actions would keep me up at night.  I'd be sick to my stomach and replay the scene over and over in my head to try to make sure I didn't do it again.  In fact, I still get sick to my stomach when I think about some of those things in my past.  In most cases, I apologized as soon as it was out of my mouth and I realized how bad it was.  In others, it took me a few days to apologize.  Sometimes, I've apologized over and over for years for saying or doing something that hurt someone else.  In a very few cases, I've decided it was best to say nothing because I was either too uncomfortable or thought even bringing it up would cause more harm to the person I had hurt.  

My friends and I joke that I don't have any filters.  I just say things.  

My mom thinks that I just say things that other people are afraid to say, but are reality.  She lives by this philosophy with us kids which has caused more than one hang up phone call.  

I have people that have done things to me.  For most of them, I've forgiven them.  I'll never forget what they did to me, but have moved on.  

Most people in my life have confronted me when I've done something wrong, or at least I realized it.  At least I hope that's the case.  

For this person to have held onto this feeling for 15-20 years without telling me, or forgiving me, makes me wonder how he lives his life.  

For anyone else out there reading this who I may have upset, insulted, or hurt in some way, forgive me.  You can try to confront me about it, but I'm not sure now is the best time.  Still, feel free.  

Monday, August 12, 2019

Dog pee.....right or wrong?

Yesterday, David and I took our pooch Casper with us to a very large outdoor flea market.  There were dozens of dogs there.  Casper was a very good dog.  He listened to us, never barked, and stayed by our side for the whole morning of walking around.

Occasionally, as dogs are want to do, Casper was sniffing and peeing on things other dogs had peed on.  We were very careful to make sure he didn't pee on anyone's products that were on the ground.  If you have ever had a dog who does this, they spray the equivalent of two or three tiny drops of pee on things.

As we were almost finished walking around the flea market after four hours, Casper apparently peed on one of the table legs of on a vendor's folding table.  I didn't notice because I only focused on him when we were near products on the ground or if there were other dogs around and I needed him to sit and focus on me.

I was looking at a lovely set of cufflinks at a table when this woman marched up to me and grabbed me by the shoulder to spin me around.  Casper, was laying under the vendor table where I was looking and was very calm.

"Your dog peed on my table."

"Oh, did he?  I'm so sorry."

"YOU didn't HEAR me....your dog PEEEEED on my table.  I have to put that back in my car."

"I heard you very clearly.  I'm sorry that my dog may have peed on your table leg."

"DINT you HEAR me?  Your dog peed on my table leg."

"I did year you and I have said I'm sorry."

"YOU are DISGUSTING FILTH.  That is disgusting.  You are gross and disgusting."

"Mam, I've apologized to you and am not sure what else you'd like me to do.  I'm going to walk away now."

"You vile piece of shit."

This lady was screaming at top volume with spittle landing on my face with hundreds of people stopping to listen.  I maintained my calm.  I honestly don't know what she expected me to do.

Ten minutes later, while Casper was giving a friendly greeting to another pup and we were chatting with a vendor, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

"You dropped this," said a man as he handed me a wad of paper towels the size of a softball. 

"Um...thank you, but I don't think I did."

"Yes, you did, you asshole, it's your dog's piss."

"Ok then."

Now the other vendor looked at me in an odd way.  I explained what happened.  She felt that it was very odd and told a similar story about her dog at a fair.  David was furious, as was his cousin.  I told them that we wouldn't stoop to the level of these people and I just needed to find a garbage to throw away the napkin.

So my question is this?  What would you have done?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Anxiety, Tears, Anger - we remember

In 2011, I visited Terezin.  It is a concentration camp from the Holocaust that is located just outside of the city of Prague.  I didn't realize until that time that so many gay men were also killed as part of the holocaust.  They were considered deviants and forced to wear a pink triangle instead of a yellow star of David. 

It broke my heart to see the museum that was filled with remembrances of so many people.  The statue above is a memorial at Terezin to the people who died there.  Tonight marks the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The day is marked on the jewish calendar and this year falls on May 2 (May 1 at sundown).

Over 6 million jewish people were murdered during the holocaust.  Another 6 million people considered "deviants" were also murdered.  This included gay people, gypsies (Roma), and political dissidents.

Tonight, I was invited to join my sister at a Holocaust remembrance day ceremony at the Etz Hayim Synagogue.  As we arrived, I was surprised to see at vehicle in the parking lot covered with NRA, Trump, and Republican party stickers.  It made me nervous and fearful.  As we approached the temple, my sister and I noticed a policeman at the door to check guests.  

We entered the synagogue and were warmly welcomed by the members.  Men were encouraged to cover their heads, and I chose a fitting yarmulka for this ceremony to remember my gay brothers and sisters who were killed.  

As we entered the temple, I was anxious about my safety.  This is a feeling that I've had a lot lately.  It happens when David and I go to a dance club (we went out last weekend and I made sure to mark exits even though every guest was patted down by security), at Easter Service (we went to a church next to where the Boston Marathon Bombing happened), and now at a small remembrance day in the middle of small town Derry, NH. 

The rabbi mentioned that this was the first time in his career that he has felt the need to hire police to protect his temple.  This made me sad and angry.  I also struggled during the prayers to close my eyes and focus on praying.  Instead, I worried that there were no hymnals or bibles that I could throw at a potential attacker if one came in.  I was grateful to sit next to a side exit, but anxious that there were so many windows around us.

Kim and I, though, were there to celebrate the lives of some musicians who died in the concentration camps.  

Gideon Klein's Opus 2 (selection here) was dark and dissonant.  He was killed in a concentration camp. 

Simon Laks survived in spite of the horror's he saw and his music was a bit more uplifting.  It is not known when this String Quartet (selection below) was composed, but it premiered a mere months after he was liberated from a concentration camp. 

We can't forget these people and this atrocity.  We also can't let it happen again.  I won't let fear and anxiety prevent me from worshiping, remembering, yelling from the rooftops at injustice.  We can't let this country or this world be taken over by hate.  We must stand up for each other and stick together.  Each one of us must sing our songs of defiance and stand together against hate and injustice.  We need to vote with our money, our hands, our brains, and our hearts.  

Help me remember those who have gone and honor their memory by continuing to fight to prevent this from happening again. 


Monday, November 19, 2018

Arming the Left - getting ready for a revolution - is that the solution?

The only guns I've ever fired were paintball guns, bb guns, and toy guns.  As I watch the news and see the current state of politics in our country, I am more and more convinced that I should probably learn more about guns and firearms.

What I'm afraid of is that a revolution is coming.  With a divisive president in office only trying harder and harder to divide the country, I worry that the liberal, left leaning folks are going to be in trouble.  The more conservative faction in our nation all seem to love and understand guns, ammunition, and how to use them.  Most democrats and liberals are all for gun control yet don't know the first thing about shooting a weapon.

I realize that my opinion may be colored by my upbringing.  I grew up on a dairy farm in northern New York.  We had a dozen shotguns in the house.  It wasn't unusual to have one in the back of the truck on a rack in the cab of the truck or in a gun holster on a tractor to kill gophers that were digging holes in the fields we were working, squirrels that chewed a hole into our attic, and foxes that kept getting into our hen house.  My dad and brother regularly hunted white tail deer that would be both a trophy head on the wall and meat in our freezer that helped feed our family.  I grew up not wanting to join my family in the hunting.  I didn't mind having the meat, but didn't want to be part of the killing.

Now, my family runs the gamut of the political and religious spectrum.  Having a gay son who married an African man and his twin brother who also married someone from a foreign country has slowly shifted them more left than they were.  Still, my family doesn't vote for parties, but policies.  One of my brothers has a large gun collection and my parents continue to have guns on the farm for hunting.

I feel like I am the only person in my family who knows very little about guns.  My sister and her husband taught their daughters about guns, as have my brothers with their kids.  I know that some of them vote for the right, and some for the left.  What I also know, and appreciate, is that even my liberal siblings are teaching their kids about guns.

The thing is, none of my more liberal friends are teaching their kids about guns, gun safety, and gun use.  I, myself, am for gun control.  I really am.  I want gun and ammo control in our country.  BUT, I also think that it is essential that kids learn how dangerous weapons are and how to use them.  I think all adults should learn the same thing.

Why I bring politics into the picture, is that I'm truly afraid that this revolution is coming in America like we haven't seen for one hundred fifty years.  ON our doorsteps in a matter of seconds, we may be fighting face to face with our neighbors and our friends to win our way regarding what we think this country really should be.  When this revolution happens, my intellect, and that of my friends, isn't going to protect us from our conservative friends who have been pitted against us and all know a lot more about guns and how to use them.

I'm not advocating for violence.  I'm not cheering for murder, war, or a revolution.  What I do want, though, is a country where both the left and right understand how to use guns for protection and for feeding themselves WITH sensible gun control.  I also want a country where we can talk about these things, politics, guns, religions, race, and class warfare civilly so that my fears of us killing each other in a revolution can be assuaged.

Until I can no longer live in fear of a revolution, I guess its time for me to learn about guns.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Smile - even if you are faking it.

Since my move to Boston, I've been less and less inspired to write, exercise, or get together with friends.  To be frank, some of it has to do with the rough transition. David, my husband, and I moved here for my new job at a local nonprofit.  I was so excited with a passion for their work and a desire to make a difference in a new type of nonprofit work for me.  Sadly, the entire thing fell apart within two weeks of my arrival. Unfortunately, in spite of my love for the nonprofit and their work, the job itself and work environment were a really bad fit.  David and I had already quit our jobs, moved everything here, and signed a lease on a very nice, expensive apartment.  Instead of giving up, I decided to put more hours and effort into making things work at the new job.  No matter how hard I tried, things just got worse.

Concurrently, David was trying to find a new job and not having much luck.  The public transit system in Boston isn't as far reaching or convenient as New York.  The people here also have been much colder toward us and harder to get to know.  We've felt both overt racism and homophobia where we least expected it.

Fortunately, after six weeks, David found a job in our building renting out apartments.  This helped David try a new profession and helped us with a rent discount, health insurance, and an easy commute.  Six weeks after he got his job, I ended up leaving mine.  There was no way I could make the job work and still be happy.

The entire thing gave me great pause to evaluate myself and my life.  I became very depressed about my future, my ability to take care of my family, my ability to do my job or work in my profession.

Not one to give up easily, I began looking for work again within one week of starting the job that was a bad fit.  One week after leaving my job, I was offered a new one.  The new job is at a college directing alumni relations.  I love alumni relations and know that this is good work in my field.  I will miss the fundraising aspect of my work certainly, but know I can impact fundraising daily at the new job.

photo from C. Estes-Schwartz
Even with this job lined up and the paperwork signed, I still could not motivate myself to dig out of this depression.  I took five weeks before starting the new job hoping that I could use the time to do things to elevate my spirit.  Unfortunately, my body and mind did not cooperate.  David and I went camping, I visited my family, and I read some books.  Still, all I wanted to do was sleep in a dark room all day and night.  I tried to smile and have fun through all the travel and social time while I was screaming in agony inside pretending to everyone that it was ok.  

My dog kept me company in bed, but also made me get out of bed to go for a walk on a regular basis.  This is my first dog and I think he was one of the main reasons I never sank too far.  He just wouldn't let me.  He greeted me at the door with a smile and licks every time I came back even if I just went to toss the garbage in the garbage shoot across the hall.  

My friend, the Reverend Diane Ellis, said something to me that has stuck with me for a long time.  I can't remember her exact words, but know she mentioned that it is important to let yourself be in the bad feelings and sit with them for a bit in order to help you get out of them.
If you don't let yourself feel bad once in a while, those negative emotions haunt you and never let you truly experience the height of goodness and joy.  
I'm glad to have let myself experience this down energy, but enough is enough.  I know what I need to do to get out of it, and I refuse to let the demons of depression become the dominate chords in my life.

I am fortunate to have so many people that love me in addition to Casper (my dog).  I have been speaking about this with them and that is one big reason I can say things are getting better.  My husband, mom, brother, college friends, Brooklyn friends, Hartwick friends, and people in my life have given me hope that I'm not alone in going through this and that there is a way out.  

I started by starting a running club in my apartment complex.  At least I will be running once a week, even if I'm the only one who shows up most nights.

I know that cooking makes me happy and I have a new office full of people who love food.  I started trying new recipes every week and building up my pampered chef stuff again. Although I don't spend the time to build it into a huge business, it gets me cooking for my family, trying new recipes, and reaching out to my friends to ask them to host parties.  In fact I just bought a quick cooker (Pampered Chef's better version of an instant pot) and have learned a bunch of new delicious recipes for quick dinners.  I've also learned some recipes that I'll never make again and suggest my friends don't try them either (healthy apple bars yuck).  Peach cobbler muffins though, below, are definitely going in to my regular rotation when peaches are local in the market.

I'm also doing what I can to be social.  Just because New Englanders seem to give their cold shoulder at first doesn't mean I should give up.  Between making sure to spend time with my friends, David and I are trying to meet new ones.  I visited my alma mater for homecoming. 

original photo by Vernon Burnett at Hartwick College

I also went to see my sister who now lives an hour away.  Even just walking on the beach with her sometimes gave me the peace, time to think, and conversation that lifted me a little beyond where I was.  

David and I also went on to and joined some groups.  We don't know that we've found the ones that are a good fit yet, but we keep trying and going to events.  

Things are better.  I am blessed.  I'm not feeling down every day any more.  This took time though, and energy, thought, and lots of talking, texting, Facebook chatting, crying, sleeping, running, cooking, and not always being my best self to the world around me.  

Through it all, I've had my friends and family listening, supporting, and usually understanding.  I'm grateful that David, in spite of his own challenges here, has been my rock. 

With my current state of being, I'm limited in my wardrobe.  I cleaned out my closet yesterday to get rid of things that I can't wear any more and found that I needed one or two more pairs of pants that fit around my belly for work.  This was part of doing what I need to to dig out of my depression, find clothes that fit and I like as well as donating still awesome clothes to people who need them.  While there, I spent quite some time waiting for a dressing room.  The woman at the counter scowled at everyone and was anything but polite.  I tried to be overly kind, but let my snarky self get the best of me when I walked away saying "thanks for smiling."  As I drove back to our apartment, I started wondering what her day and life is like and that maybe she was struggling. I wonder how often I gave my jerk self to people during the past six months.

I like to smile even when things are down.  I try hard.  This has helped me a lot in life and in my work.  I'm not always successful at it, but when I am, the world feels like they are getting the attitude they should from me.  It also helps people treat me better which in turn lifts my mood.  May I always find a way and a reason to smile.

I hope you find reason to smile today, lift yourself away from the bad feelings, even just for a bit.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Not a Pet Person

I've been asked many times over the years if I was a dog or a cat person.  I've answered time and time again that, "I'm not a pet person."  The responses have varied:

"You must not have a heart."
"How could you not love dogs (cats, bunnies, fish, etc.)?"
"You just haven't found the right pet yet."

My husband, David really wanted a dog.  I explained that we should start with a fish.  That's when Zi came into our life.  He was a beta that we had for about four months before a tragic filter accident.

Prior to our poor little Zi's departure, we started looking for a dog.  Neither of us knew what we wanted.  I made up my mind that I wanted to get a rescue instead of going to a breeder.  I also wanted a dog that I felt was going to do well in a small apartment and love us both.  We started by going to the local rescue one or two times a week and walking the dogs that they had.  I fell in love with one after our first visit, but she didn't impress David.  For the next three months, we walked two dozen or so dogs.  Some of them just didn't like either of us and some only preferred one of us.  I still wasn't sure that I was ready for the responsibility of a dog (I'm still not sure today).  

One day in January, I ended up parking our car near the rescue.  Living in Brooklyn at the time, we parked on the street.  When I walked in, one of the volunteers said I had to meet PJ.  When I walked over to his cage, I wasn't impressed immediately.  He seemed like a scruffy little white dog.  I was really looking for something more regal.  As I approached the cage, he started licking outside of the bars and not barking at all in spite of the cacophony of noises from the other dogs.  Normally, they ask you not to get close to the cage, but the volunteer said he was friendly, so I stepped forward to let him lick me.  I decided to take him for a walk in the snow before going home.  They took him out and put him on a leash and he was so excited he wouldn't calm down.  He ran up to me and started pawing my pants and nuzzling my head quite like a cat. 

I was excited to show him to David, who was coming home for a quick change before going to a fashion show.  I knew that David needed to meet him and a photo wouldn't do him justice.  Sure enough, PJ was just as, if not even more, lovingly excited to meet David.  We walked him around the block and David said we should get him.

As David rushed off to be in a fashion show, I filled out the paperwork and paid the fees for PJ.  He was going to the vet to get fixed and get his shots.  I found out that his family had a fire and had to surrender him to the rescue.  While PJ was at the vet, David and I were headed to Washington, DC for an event.  On the way, we talked through names that we liked.  We were not a fan of PJ, so we tried other names.  The rescue said that the dog really would easily respond to a new name.  After two hours of talking through names, we settled on Casper.  Having never lived with him, we didn't realize then how much the name would be so cute on him. 

After coming home from DC, we purchased the supplies we thought we needed.  The next day, I got a job offer to move to Boston.  We picked up Casper and tried to get him settled into our apartment.  Even though he is estimated to be 3-5 years old, he clearly didn't want to go into a crate and preferred peeing on our carpets to outside or anywhere we suggested.  He hated chew toys and didn't want to be left alone at all.  

The first week was really rough and that weekend, he joined us as we drove to look at apartments here in Boston.  Fortunately, he was great in the car.  He slept on David's lap the entire trip and did his business when we needed him to at rest stops.  It was tough to listen to him bark as we put him in a crate in the back seat while we ate all of our meals in the car.  

We found a dog friendly apartment and then went back to Brooklyn to pack.  The last month in Brooklyn was full of learning for us.  We ended up throwing out our carpets and leaving Casper in a pen with pee pads during the day.  Our neighbors said he barked a lot.  

In moving to Boston, we ended up having a lot more time with Casper.  Fast forward 90 days, and we have figured out a schedule that includes a few days of daycare and lots of time with us.  He no longer needs to be in a crate when we go somewhere at home an is usually pretty good.  He will do his business on the carpet outside of our apartment door, but no longer does anything in the apartment.  He still doesn't like most toys, but we have found some that he likes.  He has also been in training with us and a trainer and is a good learner.  

When things have been tough for David trying to find a new job and me having problems at mine, Casper knew that he needed to comfort the one of us that needed him most.  He follows us everywhere.  We have to be careful stepping out of the shower or the bed so we don't step on him.  It is easier to leave the bathroom door open because he would rather sit at your feet than bark at the door for you to come out.  He seems to do ok when we are gone as long as we play the tv for him.

In the end, I wouldn't say I'm a pet person, but I AM a Casper person.  This little bundle of fur and licks has brought me laughter, joy, peace, and comfort almost every moment that I am with him.  Even as I type, he is next to me waiting for me to wrap up so we can cuddle again.  

In spite of some continued frustrations with the little bugger, I can't imagine our lives without him.  The good far outweighs the challenges. 

I thank God that David wanted a dog so we could invite Casper into our lives.