Category Archives: depression

More on Alligators and Unwilling Self-Exposure

One thing most women of a certain age know is that the search for a bathing suit requires extensive online research (going to an actual shopping establishment is torturous and laughable), along with a potential bank loan to finance the cost of the suit. You have to pay for coverage, slimming and enhancement, and no price is too high.

alligator1A year or two ago, when I knew I had to deal head-on with the burdensome weight problems caused by my anti-nervous-breakdown pills, I suffered through the purchase of two bathing suits. Or bathing costumes, really. They cost approximately $8,000 each. When I went down to visit my parents in FL last month, I knew I’d need them because my son would want to go in the water and I would, against all my desperate longings, have to accompany him.

I forgot the suits at home. Mostly because I packed at 4:00AM on the day of the flight, and my head wasn’t quite right. But I arrived in Naples with a dilemma. I needed a suit, but was highly unwilling to pay the exorbitant fee one involves, nor could I face the trying-on process.  So my mother, who accused me of forgetting my bathing suits at home on purpose, which was ridiculous because they are worth more to me than gold, frog-marched me into Wal-Mart to acquire a bathing garment, along with, I desperately hoped, a large cover-up.

The first cover-up met with maternal disapproval: “That looks like a shroud!” “Perfect,” I thought, and tossed it into the cart. As far as the bathing garments…suffice to say that when you are looking for something well-cut and flattering, Wal-Mart is the last place you should even consider going. Unless you are a 16-year-old size 2, it’s best to interpret the old person’s greeting at the door as, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

When it was time to go to the water park, I lathered Gabe up and then retired to the bathroom to squeeze, yank and shove myself into the horrible Wal-Mart bathing garment. On went the shroudish cover-up. And then, in the car, the final humiliation came.

I was wearing sunblock, but as I had not been exposed to sunlight for six Midwestern winter months, I was looking forward to “getting some sun.” “You need a hat, ” my parents said. “The sun is very strong, you need something to keep the sun off your head and face.”

“Absolutely not,” was my first thought, as I have a number of gorgeous and exotic beach hats at home, and could see nothing like them within reach. But no sooner could I turn around when a white GOLF visor was being shoved on my head. A golf visor. A white one. Not even black. I felt like a land manatee in a bad disguise.

When we got to the water park, I slunk into the water with Gabe, and it was actually quite fun, the playfulness, the pleasure he was experiencing. However, out of the corner of my eye I was stealthily watching my father, who seemed to want to capture these moments on film, and I knew without question that if I saw him even reach for his iPhone, I would slap it out of his hand in a heartbeat, right into the 4-foot deep kiddie pool.

alligator2There were no alligators at the water park, but their repulsive, fearless presence from the day before haunted me. People In Florida say, “They are more afraid of you then you are of them. No. No, they are not. (click to watch).

Now, the thing about alligators is that they give occasion to experience a deep, primal fear. Alligators can and will come after you. The bad thoughts in your head about the size of your stomach or thighs will come after you too. But they don’t have to kill you. The time that I spent in the water with Gabe made me feel light and free and playful. My body felt like my body again.

Alligators are a constant reminder of the predatory nature of depression and desperate, panic-ridden thinking. It’s said in research literature about self-development, fear, and growth, that the worst decisions we can make come from the “reptilian” part of our brains. That is our basest level, the one most preoccupied with self-preservation. The poet John Donne said that “When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.”

My parents, who are tremendously great sports, got in the water also, especially my Dad who took Gabe down the waterslide tons of times. We all went on the lazy river, which was very relaxing, except for the weird 20 year olds with multiple tattoos whose tubes kept bumping into mine. (At public pools you are practically naked at very close proximity to total strangers and this is not okay with me.)

Dad1I had been feeling quite down earlier in the day. Having to “be on,” i.e. go to a water park dressed as an entirely unfamiliar version of myself seemed beyond my comprehension and psychological capacities. But it turned out fine. Seeing Gabe smile and play, and feeling the love and effort of my parents was a type of buoyancy. As I said, my dad went down the water slide over and over with Gabe while I stood on and watched with pleasure and gratitude (and fear of the trips to the chiropractor if I myself went down.)

If love alone could cure any of life’s problems, I would be running marathons and writing novels. But swimming in the kiddie pool with my son was a triumph of love and fortitude that was made possible by the steadfast presence of my parents.

As hard as it can be to even, as Andrew Solomon, author of Depression: the Noonday Demon, says, to take the concept of other people’s suffering on board when one is in its depths, I truly believe that is the only way out. Being aware that there is pain in the world, and that our own suffering gives us something to offer back to others in the “same boat” (or the same inner tube) is what helps us pull each other out. It brings us back to life.Gabepool

 

 

 

The Green Alligator
By Sidi J. Mahtrow

There’s a green alligator.
Lying on the bank out of the water,
His (or her) hide, a bilious green
And as it dries has a certain sheen.

Some would say that’s most un-natural
But I reply that’s colors, factual.
Brought about by being in a water that’s
Filled with chlorophyll bearing plants
And as the gator swims along,
He can’t help but being tagged upon
By those single celled organisms that live there
In the primordial soup we all share.

‘Haps, this is his way
Of disguise from his prey,
But I prefer to believe
He’d much rather have a reprieve
From the pollution
In his watery bouillon
That coats everything large and small
From snout to tail and all.

But as he sleeps along the shore,
Covered by this slime and more,
I wonder if evolution will raise her head
And make all alligators green instead.
Then no one will notice this one apart
From others with the same colorant.

Regardless, it’s best to avoid the alligator, green
Lurking there, grey-black, or some shade in between.
He knows not why you’re there,
But for him, maybe you’ll become the daily fare.

One agator, Two agator, Three
Green alligators neath the tree,

Slipping, sliding, slopping,
Never stopping,
Green gators neath the tree.

Mouth open, teeth, a showing,
Just a grinnin
Green gators neath the tree.

Hides a glowing green
Doesn’t seem so mean,
Green gators neath the tree.

Into the water he’s a slippin
Just a dippin
One green gator’s not neath the tree.

Silent swimmin, easy going
Eyes and nose only showing
Green gator’s gettin close to me.

One agator, Two agator, Three
He’s after m….

Welcome to Florida!

Sidi J. Mahtrow

 

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As Cool as the Air in a Redwood Grove

One of the chapters of Anne Lamott’s Travelling Mercies is an account of a health scare she had with her son Sam.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, depending on your perspective (and mental health), we had a similar experience this week with Gabe.  But before I tell you about that, I want to show you this picture by Toni Frissell, a female photographer in the 1940’s and 50’s. 

It’s from an underwater shoot of models all wearing white, fluidy gowns.  To me, it evokes many things: surrender, descent, freedom, and something of the seductive power of depression.  It also reminds me of the scene in “The Piano” where Holly Hunter almost drowns because she lets her leg get tangled up with her piano when it falls overboard.  (Hunter plays a mute woman in the 1850’s who is sent to New Zealand for an arranged marriage.  Her piano is, quite literally, her voice).  She is very calm at first, quietly observing the water around her, gracefully allowing herself to be pulled down, down, down.  Then suddenly it’s like she wakes up and realizes what is happening, and she struggles to free herself and swim to the surface.  The camera shows her discarded boot sinking slowly deeper, while she swims up, towards a life that she is not sure she wants, certainly one she knows nothing about, but one she is not ready to give up. 

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Goodbye to Winter: A Love Letter

The most romantic moment of my winter this year was on New Year’s Eve, standing in the bathroom watching my husband try out his new nose hair clippers.  And this not to imply that there is no romance in my life, or that the moment itself wasn’t romantic.  It really, really was. 

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with my sister-in-law and her husband by getting dressed up and doing karaoke downstairs in the family room, which was more fun than I can say.  And one of the things I love about being with my sister-in-law is that she has the ability to made life feel like an occasion.  She makes the effort.  She wears red lipstick every day.   She uses her best dishes on a regular basis.  She pays attention.  The big difference between the two of us is that I am a “Why bother?” person, and she is a “Why would you not bother?” person.  It’s very refreshing.

New Year's Eve 2009

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Things Mostly (Not) Green

My friend Tom once shared a story of a woman he knew who kept a journal about gardening.  One entry that always stuck with him was a short observation on a day when the slow transition from winter to spring seemed to sharpen into visibility.  She wrote: “Things mostly green.”

While we can definitely feel the return of life to the ground here in east central Illinois, things are mostly not green.  The air has been more forgiving, the sunlight gloriously welcome, and yes, there are a few tiny shoots poking through in the yard, but this is the time right before the green, the time between.

not quite winter, not quite spring

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“Sit. Feast on your life.”

Today is the first Friday of Lent—no meat for those observing Lenten practices.  And here’s some interesting Catholic trivia I found while looking up Lenten fasting: “abstinence,” which in this case refers to not eating meat, does not include “meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consommé, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. So it is permissible to use margarine and lard.”  Mmm!  Also, “even bacon drippings which contain little bits of meat may be poured over lettuce as seasoning,” and (thank goodness someone has cleared this up once and for all), “no one considers gelatin or Jell-O to be meat”  (Father John Huels, The Pastoral Companion).  So you can’t eat a burger, but you could eat, say, a salad with lots of bacon bits, or even pasta with marinara sauce.  And in case it was theological doubt holding you back, go right ahead and enjoy that Jell-O, guilt-free.

 Like almost every woman in the Western world, where we have the luxury of worrying about eating too much, food is sometimes often almost always an issue for me.  I have used it to play out a variety of neuroses over the years—mostly by hypochondriacally imbuing it with magical healing powers–and have practiced vegetarianism, veganism, low carb/high proteinism, and most disastrously, macrobiotics.  I once asked one of my friends who is up on a lot of Asian practices what he knew about macrobiotics and he said, “I think it involves a lot of small containers.”

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“Something New in the Ashes of Your Life”*

A few weeks ago, I was talking with my dad about what he and my mother plan to do after they retire in June.  Somehow the conversation got around to where they wanted to live, “down the road,” which I took to mean when they are quite a bit older, and when they may need more help.  My parents and siblings live on the east coast and I live in Illinois, which I believe my east coast father thinks of as “the prairie.”  I told him that they were very welcome to live near us, mentioned the lower cost of living, the relatively good healthcare, the proximity to us, and he said, “Well, the thing is that you have terrible weather.  All year.” 

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