Observations, Self, Writing

dear Mel: on depression.

Dear Mel,

I recently lost a bunch of weight, and am trying to lose more. But I’ve been losing momentum. I haven’t gone to the gym in a week. I also hate my job. I woke up yesterday and realized that I dreaded going in to work. My coworkers are entitled and rude. Plus they comment on my weight constantly (mostly it’s nice– well, now it is. It wasn’t before); but quitting my job is not a financially viable option right now. I’m stressed out, and it’s making me super depressed. Last night I ate an entire pizza, which is contributing to a spiral. What should I do?

Yours truly,

Pretty Sure I’m Depressed AF.

Dear Depressed Af,

So, a new report by the New York City Department of Health and the Mayor’s Office says, “Major depressive disorder is the single greatest source of disability in NYC. At any given time over half a million adult New Yorkers are estimated to have depression.”

While I could have told you that myself just by noting how many people I’ve seen crying on subways or drinking themselves into oblivion on a weeknight, a more insightful point the report makes is that some of the most affected (and poorly treated) groups are people with low income, Latinas, and African Americans (you, part of which may be that they’re treated like freeloading scum by half the country). A choice quote:

In the United States, African Americans are less likely than whites to be diagnosed with common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. But when they are diagnosed with a mental illness, African Americans are more likely than whites to experience a persistent and severe illness. This may in part be due to biases in diagnosis. For example, African Americans are more likely to be given a diagnosis of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, and that is true even when they have the same symptoms as white people.

On the flip side, there are soooooooooooooo many people I know who go around calling themselves depressed but are really in a bout of feeling sad or lonely (keep reading– bouts of sadness are still horrible to experience and are still legit!) As a feminist, I understand why what we call things matters. Words carry power. Gloria Steinem recently said in an interview that she no longer calls people who have sex for money “sex workers,” even though many people believe that that title gives dignity to a profession that’s often considered shameful. Why? Because calling them sex workers allowed other people to say, “Hey! Stop complaining about the government not helping you! You can always get a job doing sex work!”– exploiting that term to try to push people into prostitution to get off welfare. That, ya know, is pretty shitastic.

Still, I often wonder if people resort to semantic arguments about terminology in order to avoid facing the humanity of the person in front of them: to avoid having to take into account that person’s experience, their probable intentions. Lambasting someone for using the wrong word lets you ignore what they really meant by it, which you could only know by developing a relationship with them, at least for the duration of a conversation. It’s much easier to be right when you don’t have to give the benefit of the doubt.

STILL AGAIN, I do feel irked when I hear people are just having a hard time call themselves depressed. I was diagnosed with depression my freshman year of college, though I had experienced symptoms of it earlier. My junior year of high school, I remember feeling for months that life was just not worth the effort of getting out of bed. I wasn’t getting joy from the things that used to excite me. In fact, I couldn’t feel much of anything. But when I got to college, things went into overdrive. I was cutting, obsessing about food intake, crying at all hours of the day for no reason, even seeing ghosts of myself walking around doing things, as I lay in bed wishing I had the courage to kill myself. When I was feeling better by junior year, I went off my meds. I developed bulimia as a coping mechanism. I stopped going to class, instead lying in bed and crying for hours. I had to take several incompletes. Then I got back on meds and felt better. So I went off them again. And went crazy again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Tl;dr: It was fucked up.

Not everyone’s depression looks like that. I realize it’s a trap to hold my experience as some kind of standard. Depression is real for many and looks different for many. But people who are unhappy in their jobs; who are stuck in a bad relationship; who suddenly have a lot of time on their hands they don’t know how to use; who have lost a loved one are probably not depressed in the clinical sense. Rather, they’re grieving, or frustrated, or overwhelmed.

As to why I am bothered by your suggestion that you are depressed: it’s not AT ALL that I feel like my experience of depression is invalidated by someone who’s struggling “less”/differently than I did calling themselves depressed. Some people have said that “depression” as a term can be cheapened/ weakened by overuse, and maybe that’s true. But I also don’t care what the popular definition of depression is, as long as me and my caretaking team are agreed on it.

My issue is more with the way we tend to pathologize normal human emotion. Depressed AF, you don’t need to claim you’re sick for your emotions to be validated as real.

Let me say that again: You don’t need to pathologize your feelings for them to count as painful, important, or legitimate.

I like to think of our feelings as little sweet furry animals in our tummies (no, we didn’t eat them; stop reading too far into my analogy) who call out to get our attention when they see we need something. Anger tells us we need something. Fear tells us we need something. Those feelings are unpleasant, but if your Fear is a (talking) puppy, would you tell a frightened puppy to shut up and stuff a muzzle in its mouth? I hope not! Instead, you might pat your puppy Fear and let it tell you what’s wrong, and by the comfort of being heard, it might not need to cry anymore.

Are you nervous about some big changes in your life? You likely don’t have “social anxiety.” You are uncertain about your future and current place in the world. Do you find yourself overwhelmed with disproportionate rage every time you lose your keys? (Anyone? Or is that just me?…) You don’t have anger issues. Your anger may be telling you that you feel out of control.

Basically, I think feelings are not diseases.They tell you something true about yourself and your needs, and about how best to care for yourself. Most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with you. Your body and brain are just trying to get you to listen to what’s real!

That all being said, please: if you do believe that you are depressed, GET HELP. If you suspect you are experiencing healthy but uncomfortable feelings, try simply caring for yourself. Do some research on free/ cheap therapists in your area, go back to the gym and exercise just for 10 minutes just to remind yourself you are still on the right track, take a hot bath, snuggle with a body pillow, get a massage, pray, and most importantly, sit with your feelings and tell them you hear them. Out loud, if you like. Know that you don’t have to claim a disease for your feelings to be valid. Feelings are ALWAYS valid (note: not all ways of dealing with them are!). Take the time to evaluate your feelings and care for yourself whenever you feel like shit.

I really, truly think that if you care for and love on yourself, you’ll feel better. Hopefully better enough that you can motivate yourself to look for a new job. Cause that sounds like an unhealthy work environment that no amount of self-care could completely seal out.

I sincerely hope you feel better soon.

xoxo,

Mel

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Self, Writing

Introducing: dear Mel.

Dear Mel,

I’ve met my soulmate. I’m over the moon thrilled about it. He’s wise, he’s generous, he’s creative. It’s like I’ve known him in another life. He seems to understand things about me I didn’t know could be true– recognizes a strength I didn’t know I had.

We met at a museum curation program and fell to talking. He’s older, by a lot, and I have a lot of insecurities about my appearance, so I had no presumptions about him being interested in me. But he started seeking me out after class, and eventually we were staying up till 3 or 4 in the morning together. Drinking beers, talking about life, about how to create meaning, about why I don’t love myself enough. These moments were potent, sensual, magical.

He’s Venezuelan and has had a hard life. But his generosity is overwhelming. When he was a broke poet, doing nothing but writing, he met an old man who took him in and allowed him to cook and clean for his keep. Now he’s literally given people the shirt off his back.

I don’t know why he loves me, but he does, and I’m enraptured. I’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years, including an assault and the disintegration of a long, unhealthy relationship. He’s the only one who’s made me feel safe.

There’s just one problem. He’s married. He married his wife when he got her pregnant at 18, and he doesn’t love her, and she knows it.

What do I do, Mel? I need this so badly, and there’s something undeniably otherworldly about our connection. I’m determined to keep him, but I don’t know how to give myself permission to love who I love.

Overwhelmed.

Dear Overwhelmed,

Oh honey. You’ve come to the wrong girl.

My first instinct is to give you a quick hard slap of love across the face.

You don’t fuck with marriage, girl. No matter what. Period, donezo, poof, it’s over. Break it off, immediately, now.

You have no real information about his marriage/. You have only what he told you. You have zero information about their history, their chemistry, their relationship, their life together, and for all you know his wife could be madly in love with him and believe he is with her.

He is cheating on her, and that’s wrong. Sorry to get all black and white, but this is the one thing in life for which I cannot leave moral wiggle room. Most things are ethically gray; this is not. Marriage is holy– set apart. If you’re not 100% sure about somebody, don’t get married! He should not have married her if he didn’t want to be tied down– and no, having a kid is not a reason to marry someone; you’re married to the mother, not the child. If he wants to be free now, he needs to be open and mature with her about it. I repeat: you don’t fuck with marriage.

And honestly– and I say this with all kindness and loving feelings towards you– he sounds like a dick. He is behaving highly inappropriately, and it even sounds like he’s taking advantage of your delicate position to feed his ego (which it sounds like you do well.) It sounds like you’re caught up in the romance of the forbidden and the mysterious and have forgotten the reality, which is that he is cheating on his wife, and you’re now the other woman.

He may have gone through a lot and done all sorts of generous, creative things. He may be insightful, and he may be telling you things that are true about yourself. That’s really cool! I’m glad you learned from him that you appreciate those things! The trouble is, he shouldn’t be relating to you in this way, it’s not appropriate or right, and if he’s as wise and mature as he claims to be, he knows it. That should worry you.

Tl;dr: he’s not good enough for you.

The flip side, my darling dearest, is that your willingness to buy into his spiel tells me that he has indeed healed something in you. Something he’s got going on– you like it! It satisfies parts of you that have been wounded or empty. My recommendation is that you spend some time (away from him) figuring out all the ways he seems like Mr. Right so you can know them when you see them in someone else under better circumstances. Is it his generosity with possessions? Is it his commitment to his craft? is it his openness to spirituality?

Find the thing(s) and divorce it from him. He, with his complicated circumstances, is not your soulmate. But he may be a guidepost, showing you what to look for in another place. The universe would not drop a perfect-for-you man in front of you and say, “Buuuutttt being with him is wrong.” The universe might give you this man and say, “Look here! He’s not the one, but you’re getting warmer!”

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, Overwhelmed. But I’m confident that someone as sensitive and attuned to what matters in life won’t be happy with him.

Much love,

mel.

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Observations, Self, Spirituality, Writing

introducing: an advice column!

Writing on this blog and working my way through The Artist’s Way have been helping me figure what it means to be a writer. I used to believe only novelists counted as writers. People who wrote poems were poets, people who wrote for newspapers were journalists, and people who wrote online were bloggers (and hacks). The esteemed title of “writer” could only apply to those who dealt in that fearsome world of Real Literature, aka Books with Long Ass Stories aka Novels.

Except that the novel was originally considered dumb and low-class anyway. And I barely read novels anymore, making them feel less relevant. Also, if I didn’t write–in my journal, here, or in my writing notebook– I would feel lost. I wouldn’t be able to process my life– writing things down is part of my identity. Besides, isn’t writing just putting words on stuff? And I put a lot of words! And this one time I was even paid to do it! So damnit, I’m a writer!

One of the writing forms I used to poo-poo especially was that of the advice column. When I was struggling with my writing identity in college, a friend recommended I read “Dear Sugar” at The Rumpus— which I recommend you do also– and I thought it was heavy-handed, flowery, and superfluous. The advice column is not an art form, I maintained. Advice is what you dish out over a second bottle of wine, and only when your friend asks for it. It’s sloppy, honest, personal, loaded, off-the-cuff– and oh wait. That sounds like fun!

I guess every advice column ever will be compared to Dear Sugar’s. In case you live somewhere very far away from the writing world (bless you) its author was the real-life main character of the movie Wild (read the book of the same name. Way better, way inspiring.) But instead of comparing mine to hers, I’m going to focus on giving my own advice, in my own way, and I hope to never mention Sugar again except as unrelated to this.

THAT ALL BEING SAID!

I’m starting an advice column.

I get asked for advice sort of a lot in real life (hahahahahahahahahaha no) (well kind of) (more like lots of people tell me their problems and then I give unsolicited advice). And I’m going to transfer some of these questions to written format and answer them here.

Or you can also send me your own: mwant1390 at gmail dot com.

Pretty please? Let’s do this together.

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Nanny

This is Ridiculous, This is Amazing

I’m not a parent, but everyone who interacts with children needs a list of these…

Games You Can Play While Lying Down

by Jason Good, in the excellent book This is Ridiculous, This is Amazing

  1. Put All the Sunglasses and Hats on Daddy
  2. Take off Daddy’s Socks
  3. Put Mommy’s Socks on Daddy
  4. Try to Lift Daddy
  5. Put the Cats on Daddy
  6. Wind Monster (Just blow on them. If you really commit, you might pass out and that’s the same as sleeping.)
  7. Human Body Tower
  8. Pull Daddy Around on a Sleeping Bag
  9. Breath-Holding Competition
  10. Daddy’s a Giant Conga Drum (Think of it as accupressure therapy.)
  11. Daddy’s a Guitar (Make sure kids’ fingernails are clipped. Also, no picks.)
  12. Put Daddy in “Sofa Jail”
  13. Pretend We’re Sleeping Cats!
  14. Decorate Daddy’s Jeans with Sidewalk Challk
  15. Put Makeup on Daddy
  16. Turn Daddy into a Burrito (a.k.a. “The Mummy”; requires a beige flat sheet and patience)
  17. Pretend to Eat Daddy (no utensils)
  18. Vacuum Daddy
  19. Embalm Daddy

If you’re not familiar with this book, I recommend you become so immediately. I bought it for one of the families I nanny for when they had their second child, and I was told they had to put it down because the mom’s belly laughter was making her stitches hurt.

photo via Chronicle Books

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Self

a new year’s resolution update.

Let it be known that I’m a new year’s resolution keeping wizard.

Two years ago, I resolved to read the Bible every day and finish it in a year. I did it.

Last year, I resolved to write one page in my journal every day. I did it.

And this year, I resolved to exercise for 30 minutes every day. And I’m doing it.

There are several keys I’ve discovered to making these things happen. One, is to keep the goal specific and daily, not big picture. I could break down a goal of “losing weight” into specific strategies, but my heart is still set on the goal. If I don’t see the results right away, like if I’m exercising every day and not losing weight, I start to think the goal is unattainable. But by making the goal the strategy itself, i.e. 30 minutes of yoga every day, my focus is always on the here and now. I don’t worry about tomorrow or where this is headed. As long as I do today, I’m a success. And then I find that the long term goal gets accomplished anyway.

2. I make the resolution a daily thing, but don’t carve out a specific time for it. For me, I start to stress if one day I sleep in and can’t make my daily resolution happen at the assigned time. Instead, I observe my day, notice where I have pockets of time, and fill them in. For example, I noticed that after I put the kids to nap, I was spending a lot of time on my computer to unwind and refocus on thesis work. I decided to make exercising my unwinding. But sometimes browsing interior design blogs just feels better. So I exercise as soon as I get home from work. Or as soon as I get to the bf’s house. Transition periods work well to add in new activities, because I often waste time there anyways.

3. I give myself some, but not too much flexibility for skipping. Some days it just doesn’t matter how hard I try. I just don’t have 30 minutes. That’s ok. I do as much as I can–maybe 10, 15 minutes, and then tack on the rest of the time to the following day. And maybe I can only tack on 5 minutes to the next day. So then I tack on another five to the day after that. And so on, until the original day’s 30 minutes are completed. That might seem like overkill, but it helps this perfectionist feel better about taking a day off when she needs to.

Anyways, that’s what I’ve learned so far. If you have any other tips, share them in the comments! Always looking to self-improve.

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