Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sad on Sunday...

I’ve written enough columns over the years that it’s probably not a real surprise that I repeat myself occasionally, and I hope you don’t feel cheated by it. I update the content so it doesn’t look too much like a column with a Farah Fawcett hairdo, but I do apologize if you’ve read this before, didn’t like it then, and now you’re being annoyed twice.

I thought depression was something that happened to other people. Mothers who’d just had babies and were overwhelmed by the endless and huge responsibility of it all; middle-aged men who’d lost their jobs and didn’t know where to find new ones; people who’d suffered emotional losses of such magnitude I couldn’t begin to imagine how they felt. Being on the self-righteous side, I also thought you only really suffered from depression if you gave into it, if you didn’t outrun it with a healthy sense of humor, or if you just wanted people to feel sorry for you. Average people, people like me, didn’t get depressed.

A little over nine years ago, I stopped smoking. I knew I only had enough will power to get me through about 20 minutes without a cigarette, so I did it with medication. I didn’t care if I was a coward; it worked, and the side-effects of the medication were minimal. I’d always said that if I didn’t smoke, I’d gain 50 pounds--not a good thing if you’re short and small-boned, which I am--and I’d suck down antidepressants like they were candy. I was joking, okay?


I’m not going in to how much I weigh, but I did gain some in the year after I stopped smoking, and never lost it―food a great replacement for nicotine. But the other thing that happened in that year was that I found out depression really does strike average people. To borrow a term I heard often then, I hit the wall.

Since I’m one of those people who always have the symptoms described in articles about diseases (it’s amazing I’ve lived this long!), it was no surprise that I had several of the indicators of clinical depression. You know what they are. You’ve read them in the doctor’s office while you’re waiting or at Wal-Mart or Kroger’s while you’re taking your blood pressure. You’ve read them and thought, “Hmm...” because you had a couple of them. Sometimes. But then they went away, so you were okay.

But what happens when they don’t go away? What do you do when you were sad on Sunday afternoon and you’re still sad at bedtime on Thursday? When you’re so tired you can barely get through the day but you’re sleeping way too much? Or what about when you’re hardly sleeping at all? When nothing’s fun anymore? When you can’t see an end to feeling hopeless? When, even though you’d never consider suicide yourself―oh, of course, you wouldn’t―you understand people who do?

When I hit that wall, I was one of the lucky ones in that I never for one moment thought suicide was an answer. I was seldom sleepless, never slept too much, still had fun. Sometimes. But working an eight-hour day exhausted me to the point that I never really wanted to get off the couch after I got home. I looked around at my husband and kids and grandkids―yes, even them―and was bewildered because, Good Lord have mercy, how could I possibly be unhappy?

But I was. Oh, I was.

I didn’t really want to start smoking again, but I knew I’d be happier if I did. What was worse--to die of lung cancer or of depression? “I don’t know what to do,” I told my doctor. “Maybe I need to smoke again. Just some, not a lot.”

“No,” he said. “No. I know what to do.”

So he gave me a prescription and talked to me a long time about clinical depression. “You’ll be fine,” he promised. “Maybe six months, maybe longer. But you’ll be fine.”

I hated taking Zoloft. It was for weak people, people who gave in to being sorry for themselves, people who wanted others to feel sorry for them. I’d try it for a little while, but it wasn’t going to work, not on me, Mrs. Average.

But I would try it for six months. That should get me over the hump, and maybe I wouldn’t start smoking again. I could always blame the weight on it. You know, I couldn’t lose weight because I was “on medication.” No one had to know I was a spineless wuss who was taking antidepressants.

Six months became two years. Not that it took me that long to feel better―that’s how long it was before I got the courage up to stop taking the Zoloft. What if I feel that way again? I thought. I would surely die from it. But stopping was painless, and depression is only a distant memory. But it’s a memory that can make me miserable in a heartbeat, make me question myself if, just once, I happen to be sad on Sunday afternoon.

But I am all right, I remind myself, because by Thursday night at bedtime, I have forgotten the sadness. I feel good. No, better than good; I feel wonderful. I haven’t smoked for nine years and three months. And I will never, ever take any of it for granted again. It is a gift.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

About Congress...

I visited the U. S. Senate in 1965 on a trip to Washington, D. C. with a friend and her family, sitting my five minutes in the visitors’ gallery at the top. I was so enthralled by seeing Everett Dirksen and Ted Kennedy in person that the tour guide had to tell me twice to “come along.” Dirksen was talking in that gravelly voice of his. I have no idea what the discussion was about, only that everyone listened.

Tonight, I watched (and listened to—I’m patently unable to sit still for over two hours) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This movie, with Jimmy Stewart and Harry Carey at their best and Jean Arthur at her most appealing, was released in 1939. On the off chance that you haven’t seen it, it’s about a naive scoutmaster who is appointed to fill a vacancy in the Senate. He runs smack-dab into political corruption, but he doesn't back down; instead, the movie climaxes in a filibuster on the Senate floor. Jefferson Smith, played by Stewart, talks for hours, losing his voice and coming to a black moment over a pile of letters on a table that clogs my throat up even after seeing it at least a dozen times.

I didn’t see the movie till long after my visit when I was 15, but I remember thinking something like that really could happen, because I’d been to that big room and seen for myself how people behaved there. I thought the mere presence of the place would cause corrupt politicians to slink away and—if we were lucky—shoot themselves as Claude Rains attempted to do in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I thought surely most of the senators in that place, and their ideological brethren in the House of Representatives, were like Jefferson Smith, there to represent the people in their districts in support of the country they loved.

Memory—the older you get, the more convenient it gets—convinces me I was right about that. It did really used to be that way. But it’s not anymore. Because now they seem to be there to cater to lobbyists, to rip each other to shreds, to try to push forward their own agendas while decrying everyone else’s in wounded and righteous rhetoric.

Make no mistake about me and my rose-tinted look into the past. I like having computers, that my wages were never gender-based, that medicine has made such huge strides in healing and quality of life, and many, many more things about today’s world. I’d be lost without cruise control, electric windows, and even television. But sometimes, in some ways, I’d like to go back.

To manners and respect and feeling safe. To dressing for comfort and average being fine and dandy and majority rules. For standing up, as Jefferson Smith did, just because it’s the right thing to do.

And I want congress to go back, too.

Till next time.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It was the best of times...

Remember how A Tale of Two Cities started? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” I’ve always thought living with teenagers is like that. Adolescents are so funny and smart and energetic. And awful. Let’s not forget awful. They can turn every sweet dream into a nightmare. And the other way around. No matter how badly a day begins, its ending can be made deliriously happy by a hug from a kid. And then, all of a sudden, they leave. I remember so well, all three times, when my kids went away to college. I thought—selfishly, I suppose—that whichever one was leaving had been part of my every day for 18 years and now my life was going to change irrevocably. (Their lives were changing, too, but that’s incidental. Remember selfish?) I was excited for both the kid leaving home and for Duane and me. And, just for me, sad. Gosh, yes, sad.

Fast forward…oh, a long time. I’m ending a job where I’ve spent over 30 years. I was one of the lucky ones who always liked most of what I did, who found ways around the parts of it I hated, who loved most of the people I worked with. There were long and boring days, when I thought it would surely kill me to work there until retirement, but the years were astoundingly short.

Near the tired ends of those longest days, customers would say, sometimes bitterly, “At least you have a job.” And they were right. It was one that provided a living wage and benefits that aren’t found that often anymore, too. All I had to do was work really hard and grit my teeth when customers were at their cantankerous worst. When my kids were in school, I had to master being in three places at one time. (It can be done. Ask any mom.) When I was so tired I didn’t think I could face driving to Logansport one more time, well, too bad. I could and I did. I made the mistake of saying, in boastful wonder, that I’d driven that 50-some mile round trip for 30 years and never hit a deer. It was only a few weeks later that Bambi’s father and I had a radical misunderstanding on State Road 25.

I am so grateful for all of those things. And for the ability and the desire to work hard, the fact that the wages and benefits were enough, the 90-some percent of customers who were nice to deal with, and the kids I got to be with in three places at once.

Like Mr. Dickens said, “…the best of times…”

So last Thursday, after two days of calling in and whining that I was snowed in, I worked my last day at the aforementioned job. I took in my uniform shirts to give away. I accepted congratulations and hugged people all day long, laughing a lot and sniffling some and thinking, I’ll never do this again, every time I performed a task. I posed for pictures and said, yes, I was very excited. And sad. Gosh, yes, sad. When the day was over, I stood at the time clock for the Lord knows how many-eth time and just looked at it, thinking once more, I’ll never do this again.

“…the worst of times…”

I’m writing this from the snowy side of a mountain in Vermont. (That was redundant; everything in Vermont is snowy.) I’m using one son’s computer while yet another walks around with a blue-eyed nephew held high in his arms. Family members have skied and snowboarded. We’ve gone to a concert and eaten way too much. I talked to my daughter and found out that the grandson who was sick is feeling better, that she’s fed the cats in my absence, and that it’s snowed more in Indiana, too.

It’s Sunday night and I’m not thinking about going to work tomorrow or the next day or the next. I’m pretty sure the ache of missing it will dissipate soon and I, who love routine, will establish a new one for myself. I’ll write more, sew more, maybe even find the bottom of the pile of clutter on the kitchen island. I’ll walk and ride the Trail and spend time with people I haven’t seen nearly enough of in recent years. It will be, as in retrospect they all have been, the best of times.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

National Wear Red Day...

This Friday is National Wear Red day in the United States. While I know every day, week, and month seem to have one special connotation or another, Wear Red is one that matters to all of us. It’s about heart disease in women and the odds are pretty good that you are or will be one, or you love at least one.

It was thought for longer than any of us wants to acknowledge that heart disease was an ailment confined to men. Only in recent years has it come to light that it is the Number One killer of women. Like many of you, I’ve read and heard more statistics than I can possibly absorb, so I’ll apologize for the repetition, but here are some things you need to know.

• As women grow older, their risk of heart disease and stroke begins to rise and keeps rising with age.

• If you have a family history of heart disease, this increases your risk. So does being African-American. Women who've had a heart attack are at higher risk of having a second heart attack.

• Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular heart disease among women.

• High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease.

• High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack.

• Physical inactivity is not your friend. The American Heart Association recommends accumulating at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week.

• If you have too much fat — especially if a lot of it is located in your waist area — you're at higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

• Adults with diabetes have have heart disease death rates that are two to four times those of adults without diabetes.
These statistics are from the American Heart Association, and they’re not kidding, not the least little bit. Unfortunately, they are dead serious. We need to pay attention, because we all have things to do. Projects to finish. Jokes to tell and tears to shed. I know that no matter how we do or don’t take care of ourselves, life’s time clock isn’t ours to punch. That said, I think we should do all we can to keep from clocking out early.

While writing this, I thought about the women I care about. My mother-in-law, granddaughters, sister and sisters-in-law, nieces and friends. And my girls. Especially my girls. My three daughters by birth and in-law, mothers and wives and professional women who pack 30 hours into 24-hour days and eight days into seven-day weeks. I love them, and I am so very proud of them, too, but I worry about them doing too much, trying to be everything to everyone. So it is for them I will wear red this Friday. I hope you join me.

Till next time.

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