A Few Words About Depression

Sometime in January I started to experience the symptoms of clinical depression. It was very gradual, but over the next few weeks I lost interest in most of the things that used to make me happy, like writing and drawing and reading and hiking. I felt like all the life was draining out of me. I wasn’t sleeping well, but it was hard to find the motivation to even get out of bed unless there was someplace I had to be. Riding Mahogany still offered a temporary relief from the dull numbness, but between my job and the weather I’ve been going weeks at a time without seeing her at all.

I know that depression is a complex and sensitive topic, but in this particular case I knew what was wrong. The friends I used to hang out with and laugh with and cry with and share my most intimate thoughts with are now physically unavailable to me. We live in different states. Facebook is a lifesaver for sure, but it can’t provide the sort of personal interaction and platonic physical affection that I apparently require to thrive. I haven’t had any luck yet making those kinds of friends in Texas. Although, as Giles once said to Buffy, “I almost made a new one, which I believe is statistically impossible for a person of my age.”

Anyway, the holidays had also taken their toll. This was the first Christmas and New Year in my entire life that I have ever spent completely alone. The kids were in California with their dad, and I was here in Texas discovering that working in retail during the holidays is its own kind of special. I made a few efforts to share some of my favorite parts of Christmas with my coworkers, but it obviously wasn’t the same.

After the holidays, some new issues cropped up. These were not problems that I could fix or change; my options were to endure them or walk away from them. And if I had had my close friends around me, I think it might have all been endurable. In my depressed state, walking away was definitely the right choice. The whole situation was starting to affect my health, which is where I draw a pretty hard line.

As soon as I made the decision to change what I could and leave behind what I couldn’t, the fog started to lift. As I implemented the changes, the numbness went away completely. I still have some bad days now and then, because it’s painful to walk away from things that you would prefer to have in your life, even when you know they’re not good for you. But that kind of grief has a keener edge than depression, so at least it lets you know you’re still alive.

And that’s enough exposition. The reason I came here to write this post is because I haven’t had much firsthand experience with depression, unless you count the last year of my marriage, and now that I have I would like to offer a personal observation.

When I finally admitted to my loved ones what I was dealing with, they were there for me. All we had was Facebook and my cellphone, but their love and support and well-wishes shone warmly through the fog I was drifting in. It made such a difference. Friends are so fucking important.

But there’s something else I need to say, as lovingly and respectfully as I can. There was one person…and I know that this person meant well. I know for an absolute fact that this person loves me and wants me to be happy and healthy and have a successful life. But when I began speaking openly about my depression, this person began treating me like A Depressed Person. Like that was my new identity, my defining characteristic. They would talk about all the changes I was going to have to make in my diet and lifestyle and whatnot, as if I weren’t already doing the best I could with what I had to work with. And I was like, “This isn’t my normal state of being,” and they were like, “That was then, this is now.”

Life tip: When someone is muddling along in a numb fog of depression, they don’t want to hear, “This is your life now.” They want to hear, “It’s going to be okay. I love you, I’m here for you, you’re important to me. We’ve shared some great times together, and we’ll share more in the days to come. The best is yet to be.”

I feel like people need to understand that, but I’m not trying to hurt anyone here, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.

In related news, I have traded my retail job for one that I think is a better fit for me. I am infinitely grateful for everything that I’ve learned during the past year, but I never really felt like I belonged in retail. I’m back in the food industry now, where all of my earliest jobs were as a teen and young adult. Retail felt like a soulless alien world to me. Going back to working in a restaurant felt like walking into a crowded party where all the people seem vaguely familiar. Plus it’s closer to where I live, and I’ll probably end up making more money there. I was afraid it might not be strenuous enough and that I would gain back the weight I’d lost in the retail job, but it turns out I’m going to have to develop more upper body strength before I’ll be able to keep up with all the heavy lifting. So that should keep me nice and fit. And as an interesting bonus, most of the people I work with there have absolutely no concept of personal space. It’s a busy, crowded, interactive environment and there is more friendly oversharing and casual physical contact going on than I know what to do with. Which is great for someone like me who thrives on that sort of thing.

Maybe I’ll even make some new friends there. I never cared much for statistics anyway.

Categories: Family, Friends, Health, Horses, Life, Love, Weather, Winter, Work Life | Tags: | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas!

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Categories: Animals, Artwork, Christmas | 2 Comments

Thankful For: A New Perspective

This year’s Thanksgiving post is dedicated to my job, which is itself kind of an unexpected plot twist. If someone had told me last Thanksgiving that I would soon be working full time in retail AND enjoying the experience, they would have gotten my Skeptical Face. But I hired on part time about nine months ago and happily transitioned to a full time Lead position less than two months later, and while the job is not always easy or fun, it’s been incredibly educational and I’m thankful to have it.

It didn’t come naturally to me, that’s for sure. I remember at one point grumbling to my work supervisor, “There has to be a way to thrive in retail without selling my soul.” It was maybe not the most tactful thing I could have said, considering that he and his fellow managers are doing fine in retail, presumably with their souls more-or-less intact. I was having a bad day.

As melodramatic as it must have sounded, I was serious. I’d been working there for maybe four or five months at the time, and retail still felt like an alien world to me. I was also still working through some personal issues that I had brought with me out of my Anza experiences. When I looked back at the four-and-a-half decades of my life up to that point, it seemed like one long struggle to hold onto my personal integrity while most of the people I was supposed to trust self-destructed and tried to take me down with them. I had worked out a basic life philosophy in which there are two kinds of people: the we’re-all-in-this-together types, and the every-man-for-himself types. I had it firmly in my mind that the latter type is universally destructive to themselves and to the fabric of society.

Here’s the thing: retail tends to attract the every-man-for-himself types.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job right from the start. I liked the physical exertion and the mental stimulation and the social interaction. I liked most of the people I worked with. But I didn’t trust any of them. Sometimes I felt incredibly frustrated by the lack of supportive communication and by the “sink or swim” management style. Because I really do like my workmates, I wanted them to be more like my own artistically-inclined circle of friends. Us artistic types are all about sharing our feelings and discussing our deep, profound philosophies. Try that in retail and you get coolly and politely rebuffed. Sometime they’re not even polite about it. Sometimes that bothers me more than it should. To be honest, most of the retail people that I’ve worked with are not especially “nice” in the traditional sense of the word. They’re not mean-spirited or anything, they just don’t, you know, overburden themselves with concern for other people’s feelings.

And holy crap, these people hoard information like they’re charged by the word. Fortunately we recently got a new Store Manager, and the new guy is all about the communication. Let me tell you, it is SO MUCH easier to do your job when you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time an unfamiliar situation comes up, or have to call for someone who will use their own wheel to fix the problem but not give you one or tell you how to make your own. Yeah, I could probably come up with a better analogy than the wheel thing, but whatever, my point is that it’s been an adventure.

I’ve had two major epiphanies since I started working there. The first was three or four months ago, when I actually began to notice that, despite being The Wrong Type Of People, those managers, most of them anyway, were not actually self-destructing at all. In fact, they were navigating the retail world much more effectively than I was. It occurred to me that maybe there was a middle ground here that I did not yet understand, and that maybe these folks had some useful perspectives that I would benefit from acquiring. To use another descriptive analogy, because us artistic types love those, it was kind of like I had moved from France to Italy and then spent the next five months feeling aggravated by the fact that everyone around me was speaking Italian instead of French. While making no effort to learn Italian myself, because that would be the first step down the path of corrupt self-destruction.

Yeah, no. As soon I started really watching the other managers, without the judgy filter in place, I gained a new appreciation for each of their leadership styles. I realized that in a way, it’s a form of respect to let a person sink or swim on their own merits. And it’s way less exhausting than constantly trying to carry someone who doesn’t really want to be in the pool in the first place. Most of my job-related frustrations evaporated almost overnight when I stopped trying hold the retail system to the standards of the artistic community. I started choosing the traits I wanted to incorporate into my own management style. I was finally able to pick up the reins and start being a more effective Lead without feeling like the corporate villain in all of those Occupy political cartoons. I still freely share all of my wheels with anyone who needs them though, because I like working with knowledgeable, competent people. I never fix an associate’s problem without explaining to them how they can fix it for themselves next time.

My second epihany was more recent. Like, last week. Suddenly and with perfect clarity, I understood the fundamental underlying Truth of retail that had been eluding me since I hired on. The First Rule, the one that retail people instinctively follow but no one will tell you about or even admit to. It applies to every aspect of the business, from everyday job performance to the presentation of merchandise and everything in between.

I’m not going to reveal the First Rule of Retail here, because when you come right out and say it, it sounds kind of terrible, and I’m not looking to lose my job. But the nice part is that now that I’m aware of this rule, I can follow it perfectly without sacrificing any of my personal integrity. I have finally figured out the trick to thriving in retail without selling my soul.

And that’s just the big stuff. I’ve also learned a million and one smaller lessons in the past nine months, and gained some insights into human nature that throw my past experiences into a clearer light. I have a way to go yet and lots more to learn, but I’m incredibly thankful to be where I am. As another of my bosses said a few weeks ago, “Isn’t it funny how life puts you right where you need to be?”

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may the path always take you where you need to be.

Categories: Friends, Life, Work Life | Tags: | Leave a comment

Where the Wildish Things Are

Yesterday I got a rare Saturday off, so the kids and I spent it at the Fort Worth Zoo.

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We had been to this zoo once before, on our road trip in 2007, but that first time we had gone late in the day for the Halloween Boo at the Zoo event and the kids were there for the candy more than for the animals. By coincidence we happened to visit during the 2014 Boo at the Zoo weekend, but this time we came for the animals.

[FUN FACT EDIT: Elizabeth just pointed out that we came on the exact same day, October 25, seven years later. What are the odds?]

It was a fun day, although we were surprised by how small the habitats are compared to the San Diego Zoo and how many of the animals are housed alone or just in pairs instead of in natural groups. The meerkats, for example…in San Diego, their enclosure is a large, fully-populated colony where you can watch them engaging in natural lookout and social behaviors. At the Fort Worth Zoo we only saw two listless meerkats in a small pen; no colony, no natural behaviors, no fun to watch. Same with the gorillas — only two of them, and they looked incredibly bored and dejected.

A few of the habitats are really nice though, especially the aquariums and some of the reptile enclosures.

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The rock-climbing wall is pretty cool. It’s more of a challenge than we expected, but making it to the top and ringing the bell was a nice feeling.

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We watched a fun Halloween-themed marionette show…

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…and enjoyed close-up encounters with a few tame animals.

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It was a nice way to spend a Saturday, and the weather was perfect. We probably won’t be going back, though, at least until they upgrade the habitats a little. The San Diego Zoo has spoiled us, apparently.

Categories: Animals, Cats, Family, kids, Life, Wildlife | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Difference a Year Makes

Yesterday was our one-year Texas anniversary: one year ago yesterday the kids and I rolled into Bedford to start a new life. We knew, or hoped, that it had to be better than what we were leaving behind, but we had very little idea of what to expect here. It was a leap of faith, for sure. So yesterday, after we registered Luke for his new school year, we went out for celebratory burgers and ice cream sundaes and spent our meal talking about everything we love about Texas and how awesome life has become over the past year. I felt like throwing confetti.

Mahogany, on the other hand, is DONE with this Texas summer heat. I have never seen her looking so thin, sun-bleached, bug-chewed and totally lacking in enthusiasm.

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I wormed her to be on the safe side, but most of her pasture-mates look about the same, especially the darker-colored ones. This heat is hard on horses. But today I noticed that her summer coat is starting to shed out, which reminded me that the days must be getting shorter. Funny, that used to be such a big deal back in Anza. Now I live my life almost entirely by electric light and have only a vague grasp of what time the sun sets and rises on any given day.

I did have one little rush of nostalgia a few days ago. I was on the closing crew at work, and when my shift ended I stepped out into the muggy late-night heat and suddenly realized that if I were in Anza I would be up on my roof with the kids, enjoying a cool mountain breeze and watching the Perseid meteor shower that comes around every mid-August. In Anza you can see ALL the stars, and the Perseid shower is always worth staying up for. In DFW, stars and meteor showers might as well not exist at all.

Elizabeth’s registration day was Tuesday. She cannot wait for the new school year to start. I really like her campus.

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But I’m writing this all out of order. When I wrote my last entry, Luke was still in California and Elizabeth hadn’t left yet. Luke returned on June 28 and Elizabeth flew out on July 2. With her gone, neither Luke nor I felt much like celebrating on the Fourth, but we were pleasantly surprised by a nice view of fireworks from our north-facing windows.

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We fell into a pattern during the eight weeks that one or the other kid was in California. None of us at home wanted to do anything fun that the absent person would miss out on, so we kept putting off all significant outings and family activities until we were all together again. By the end of the two months, this had a seriously negative effect on my overall happiness. Stuff that I usually shrug off at work was stressing me out, I was losing patience with poor Luke at home, and I started having trouble concentrating on even simple tasks. I didn’t feel like myself again until Elizabeth came home and we fell back into our comfortable family routines.

Luke and I did have one nice little hike while Elizabeth was away. We had been wanting to explore a particular trail ever since we moved into our apartment, and a sudden stretch of cool weather made it too tempting to put off.

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Yesterday, after the anniversary sundaes, we showed Elizabeth the trail.

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It felt like the perfect casual celebration of our first year in Texas.

We’re looking forward to Year Two!

Categories: Animals, Family, food, Horses, kids, Life, School, Weather | Leave a comment

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