Thursday, December 15, 2016

to be honest, it's not okay

This morning Clara Hughes, Canadian hero for her dual-sport Olympic success and commitment to changing the conversation about mental health, posted this brilliant, brave, honest picture and caption on her social media streams:

Click to enlarge
It broke my heart. I like to see the broad, open smile Clara is famous for, even though the reason she is an advocate for mental health is because of her chronic battle with depression, even when she was one of the most elite athletes in the world (go ahead - tell me I'd finally get better if I exercised more). I want her to be well. I want to think that being well is possible, and that if I try hard enough maybe I can get (and stay) there myself. 

And then I read this. And I realised that even if I were 100% sparkling today, there's no way to guarantee I'd stay there. Clara's post also reminded me of something that Freckles said to me last week - that it doesn't help anyone, certainly not myself, when I pretend to be doing better than I am, when I post only happiness on Facebook, when I turn my phone off on days when I can't talk without crying. In short, when I lie. It doesn't help me, it feeds the stigma of mental illness, and it doesn't create a clean path for other people to be honest about their struggle. I said nobody wants to hear it. She said that wasn't the point. 

So, here's the thing. I'm better, but I'm not well. Some days I think I am, or that it's close enough that maybe I will be. I'm well aware of the good in life and how blessed I am - being loved, having adventures, having (at least in this moment) a home I love and food that nourishes. I know that. Knowing makes no difference. 

I see you, Clara. I see you. 
There are still days, like today, when the homeless man outside my favourite bookstore took one look at my face when I apologized for not being able to help and said "stay strong, Sister." 

There are days like today when just getting out of bed was touch and go but the shame of cancelling another meeting outweighed the desire to hide. 

There are days like today when trying to find something to give my sons for Christmas sent me down a rabbit hole of hopelessness and loss thinking of past Christmases, the years between that are littered with dead and dying traditions, the lack of connection, the reality of a Christmas after 11 months on medical leave, and the gaping void between the mom I want to be and the mom they got. 

There are days like today when trying on much-needed winter clothes left me heaving with self-loathing. 

There are days like today when I can't make words string themselves into logical sentences in a meeting or follow the conversation with a girlfriend at lunch. 

There are days like today when just seeing my sweetheart's incoming phone call is enough to make me cry throughout the entire call, and the vicious circle of his sadness at my tears. 

Tomorrow will be different. I suppose it's worth noting that 10 months ago I couldn't have faked my way through a meeting and lunch. So, there's that. That's the way it is right now. Better - sometimes much better - but not well, and sometimes worse. I truly love Christmas. It's extra disappointing (and unusual) to have my unruly brain tarnish this season. And, this year, or at least this night, that's just the way it is. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

on Christ, Christmas, and peace on earth

Earlier this week the sign went up - the official 'no real/live Holiday trees in the building' sign that dashed my hopes but also solved my issue of "where to put the Christmas tree in an already too small living room." The notice was professional, as such a piece from a property management company should be. A tad Grinchy, perhaps, but ending with what was no doubt a sincere wish for "Happy Holidays."

It took a day before the first defacement of the sign crossed off "Happy Holidays" and scrawled "Merry Christmas." I was going to respond then and there about pharisees, and loving thy neighbour, and including others not negating you, but I, oddly, didn't have a pen in my purse. The next time I took the elevator the Merry Christmas had been scratched out (angrily enough to tear the paper) and Happy Holidays written back in with exclamation marks. This morning I stepped in the elevator to find the bottom third of the notice torn off and a note "such anger. Why?" in the margin of what remained.

I am a Christian*. I believe in all the tenets of the evangelical Christian faith. I don't say it often because my faith is a private thing, and, increasingly, because there is a vocal minority of Christians that make me cringe at claiming my faith. I want another term - I want to be differentiated from the legalistic, petty, angry, threatened mass that gets so much air time but represents so little of Christ.

But this trifling, indignant, cowardly "war on Christmas" rhetoric really ticks me off. Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn't begin with excluding others, or with being threatened by language choice, or with imposing your beliefs on everyone around you. If you can't be loving and inclusive at Christmas, what earthly good are you? 

I am going to go decorate my home now, listen to my holiday CDs, make some sorrel, and try to restore myself to the peace, love, joy and wonder of the season. In the words of Pentatonix "Merry Christmas Happy Holidays."



* My faith is not a simple thing - I sit in a sparsely populated place between those like my family and friends who are pillars of their churches and the agnostic/atheist/Jewish/Muslim/Jehovah's Witness/Mormon/Buddhist/Hindu/etc majority. Having been kicked by my church when I was down, my belief is not unthinking. I worked through my hurt and disappointment in people to return to the God of love, grace and justice I was raised to believe in. But I won't be returning to the church. I have had people ask me "how can you, an intelligent woman trained in critical thinking, believe in a virgin birth, Christ's death and resurrection, angels, heaven, hell, the ultimate divinity of God, etc" (actually, it's never asked that respectfully) and my answer is always the same: "If I could explain it it wouldn't be faith."

Monday, December 5, 2016

the ear-worm circles of hell

I often suffer from ear-worms - those unshakable partial stuck-tunes that swirl around and around in your head turning a song you may once have enjoyed into a form of mental torture. For the record, and before you read further and I infect you, I do know a fairly reliable antidote: sing "Oh Canada" or "Happy Birthday" all the way through. These songs are familiar and automatic enough to replace the stuck tune, but not catchy enough to get stuck themselves. 

This insight into ear worms started yesterday, as I yet again argued with Alanis Morissette that it was not, in fact, at all ironic when it rains on someone's wedding day. Arguing, and a superior definition of "irony," of course, did nothing to stop the 4 known phrases of that song from continuing to replay ad nauseum. Which got me thinking. 

I am prone to ear-worms because I love music. I often think in music, and my mom and I both have a tendency to burst in to song if you say certain opening phrases to us. For example, if you start a sentence with "up on a hill" you are likely to get "was a lonely goat herd" sung at you before you can finish your sentence. Music is fun. It's enlivening. It's a keen mood booster (except when it's not - it's also great for wallowing a la Whitney Houston's "Didn't We Almost Have it All"). I love music. But I like to move from song to song, and to have them leave when the party is over. 

And so, as 1995 Alanis was so tenaciously abusing a literary term last night, I wondered - if ear-worms are a form of torture, which circle of hell would different songs inhabit? Clearly "Isn't it Ironic" is the absolute worst, but what other songs are catchy enough to get stuck in a loop and drive one to the verge of insanity? 

Here, for your judging ease, is my matrix of ear worm assessment:

Tenacity = a song's stickiness. If it has a catchy hook, simple rhymes, obvious melody or harmony, it will score high in tenacity. 

Inanity = a song's lyrical IQ. A really stupid song is a really annoying song. If a song has a great message/story, it's probably less annoying to have it stuck in your head. Maybe it makes you think or feel. However, a song like, say, "Wake me up before you go-go" (although I LOVE WHAM! I ALWAYS HAVE AND I ALWAYS WILL. I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE!) is just silly and fluffy and full of nonsense that for some reason my brain clings to. 

Repetition = "Tub Thumping" - need I say more? Because repetition is one way our brains build memories, repetitive songs have an increased likelihood of being remembered and of becoming ear worms. Repetition could also apply to how often a song is heard - say a jingle in a radio ad or a TV theme song. Whatever the source of the repetition, it makes ear worms both more likely and more annoying (see also inanity) 

To play on Dante's circles of hell I had planned to list the 9 most egregious songs in order, but really it changes from day to day and from ear worm to ear worm. And because it's the Christmas season there would be some seasonal influences on the list as well that might not be there in June (does anyone actually like "Deck the Halls" or "The 12 Days of Christmas" or "The Little Drummer Boy"? Talk about inane and repetitive!). So I'll settle for the example I've already given, and be grateful that Miss Morissette has since moved on.  

Now isn't that nice. 
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