Writers Describe How Depression Feels

depression stock photo

I was first diagnosed with depression in my early 20s. In truth, I’d probably experienced the symptoms years before, but the diagnosis came about when I was working a highly visible, pressure-cooker job as a TV news anchor and reporter. I found it increasingly harder to be “on” when I needed to be, to get out of bed every day and keep a professional smile while doing stressful work under intense public scrutiny. So I sought help and got it.

KPIC 1990

Me, putting on my brave face, but depressed as hell.

Hearing the diagnosis – and hearing there were medications and other treatments proven to help – lifted me immediately. I called the doctor the next morning and said I thought the medications were already helping. He assured me they don’t work that quickly, but if there was some combined placebo effect with the relief of knowing I would soon feel better, that was great news too.

As writers tend to do with profound life moments, I brought my experience to the page. I did a week-long series of reports on depression and revealed my own experience. Some people thought I was oversharing and warned I might be sorry for going public. I never was. When appreciative feedback came in from viewers, I knew I’d made the right decision.

My only fear was that it would become my identity – that people would think of my depression when they thought of me or my work. That didn’t happen, either. My last day on air, when the news team did a tribute, the depression thing didn’t even make the cut. So there’s that. Speak up. It’ll be okay.

Back then, it was highly unusual to talk about depression. Today is different, though possibly no less scary. There’s still a stigma to overcome. You have a problem with your thyroid or bowels or plantar fascia or carpal bones? Talk it up! A problem with your brain? Eek. Talk about that and people might think you’re broken.

It’s probably no coincidence that writers are often the people to push through the stigma and describe depression in a public way. Why writers? I don’t know. Our ability to put experience to words? A function of the kind of interior life that leads one to write in the first place? A proclivity for navel-gazing?

Some still write anonymously when they can, like the woman who’s been tweeting as “So Sad Today” since 2012. She’s since been more public about her identity, but started initially with a keen interest in avoiding possible judgment while sharing thoughts like, “trying to act normal feels lonely,” and “is gravity getting heavier.”

Writer Tim Lott shared in The Guardian that depression for him feels like, “There is a heavy, leaden feeling in your chest, rather as when someone you love dearly has died; but no one has – except, perhaps, you.”

David Foster Wallace famously shared that his depression felt like severe nausea in every cell of his body. It’s being trapped in that moment before throwing up, the unbearable full-body sickness, but the vomiting never comes. Like other depressives, he knew the non-depressed had no capacity to fully understand it. A severely depressed person who chooses suicide, he wrote, is like the desperate person who jumps from a burning high rise. The fall is still terrifying, but it becomes slightly less terrifying than the flames. So “nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

Wallace eventually jumped from the flames too, joining the legions of famous writers whose brains ultimately murdered them.

Other writers from Stephen King to Mark Twain and Sylvia Plath are known to have struggled with depression. This perplexing and mysterious illness has been around us forever, and still we understand so little. Experts still debate whether depression is a physical illness, brought by faulty brain chemistry, or a strictly emotional illness, arising out of faulty thought habits. Famous thinkers and writers offer a clue to this question as well: most, like Twain, came from families that contributed both the social and biological ingredients: both nature and nurture.

Whatever the cause, no matter how mysterious, we know that this disease resided in some of the most brilliant and influential minds ever to put pen to paper. People who write – people both famous and unknown – can describe depression in all of its nuanced shades of black and gray.

For me: depression is a heavy, cold clay encasing my body. My eyelids and facial muscles are harder to move, my limbs are heavy, and all is futile. Effort, hope, plans become folly, as I’m convinced they’re powerless to add meaning to the utter absurdity of life.

To my brilliant writerly friend: depression is a continuous tape loop of negative messages going around and around and around in her brain. You’re not meant to be here. You’ll never be good enough. You’re a fraud.

For Margaret Atwood: “I have done something wrong, something so huge I can’t even see it, something that’s drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead.”

To JK Rowling: “It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope.”

To Jonathan Franzen: (the description most similar to my own experience) “Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity.”

As detailed as these descriptions may be, depression likely always will be a deep mystery to the non-sufferers. To my one blood relative who likely has never experienced depression: “Maybe you should just eat a nice piece of fruit and you’ll feel better.” To those who would throw peaches as life-preservers into our stormy tides: go back to your happy place, please. Leave the dark stuff to the experts.

But to those who have tread water in those stormy seas, take heart. The essence, in Franzen’s words, of the “overwhelming estrangement from humanity” is a brain glitch. It’s a lie. There is good company in those dark waters. Reach out. They’re there.

 

 

 

How to Remember Harambe

Harambe

As with so many issues in our public sphere these days, there’s no lack of outrage over the death of Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla shot to death after a four-year-old boy fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Well, good. There should be outrage.

But, as with so many issues that inspire outrage these days, the rage may amount to nothing more than a spasm of public fit-throwing and agenda-pushing, unless we carefully channel this anger into something useful.

This tragedy reminds me of a wrongful killing that happened years ago when I was board president of a large animal shelter. A German Shepherd-type dog was admitted to the shelter. His people were located and they were coming to get him. In a nearby kennel there was a very similar shepherd-type dog, but his people weren’t coming to get him. He was slated for euthanasia. But, on the morning of the euthanasia, a confused staff person grabbed the wrong dog. They killed the dog whose family was enroute to get him.

There was a terrible uproar and it was an excruciating time for everyone involved. The family contacted the media and the shelter spent a couple of weeks under an angry spotlight. None of us slept much, and when I was lying awake I was, of course, grieving for the dogs involved, for the people who lost their dog, for the poor staff person who had made that mistake. And I also wondered what a brilliant public relations mind could do to help shape this narrative.

The question was this: how can we use this anger? You would think I’d want the public to stop being angry, since their anger was directed at the shelter. But who would want to  live in a community where people didn’t get angry about a thing like this? I wanted them to be angry, damned mad, in fact.  And I wanted their angry gaze to last long enough for them to connect the pieces.

At the time (though thankfully these days are long gone) the shelter euthanized several thousand dogs and cats a year, and nobody seemed to mind much. The public continued to bring their animals to the shelter’s front door, about 12,000 times a year, 1,000 times a month, 230 times a week, and leave their dogs and cats to this potential fate. The public seemed okay with this reality as long as it happened in a building on the edge of town where underpaid nonprofit employees accepted the community’s burden and kept quiet about it. Statistics showed the community as a whole had some of the nation’s lowest rates of charitable giving. People were contributing 12,000 animals a year to the problem, and alarmingly little to the solution.

The outrage over the one dead dog is like the public outpouring of concern for the occasional cow who escapes a truck on the way to slaughter, or like the current communal roar of grief over Harambe. Our challenge as advocates is to capture that anger, maybe to fan its flames just enough, and then to show the angry mobs what’s behind curtain #2.

Let the martyred animal become an ambassador. Let his memory speak for the untold others who have no voice.

Leaders are trying to do this in the wake of Harambe’s death. Captain Paul Watson from Greenpeace issued a commentary condemning the humans who contributed to every level of the tragedy: the careless mother, the “gawkers” at the zoo who kept screaming and elevating the hysteria, the zookeepers who should have seen Harambe’s gentleness and concern but rewarded it with a bullet. Ultimately, Watson writes, Harambe belonged in the lowland jungles of Africa, not in a zoo. And now a child will have to live with having witnessed the tragic death of the gentle giant who held his hand.

In contrast, my friend Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the United States wrote a blog post with less emotion and a stiff shot of his characteristic philosophical eloquence. Rather than debate the rare crisis scenario that makes for good conversation (Would you redirect a train to kill three animals but save one human? Would you kill a gorilla to save a child?) let’s focus instead on the daily decision we all make that have even more impact. Perhaps they make for less interesting conversation, but that’s because these are mundane, easy choices.

Would you kill an animal for a meal if there was another perfectly good animal-free meal available to you? Would you kill an animal for a pair of shoes or a purse if there were equally good non-animal ones available? Would you buy products that are tested on animals if the products on the next shelf over are cruelty-free?

The Cincinnati Zoo will remain under the angry hot spotlight for a few days, and then the attention likely will drift to the next distraction or cause for outrage. But what if we were able to do it differently this time? What if we turned the hot spotlight into a broad floodlight and used it to take a good long look at our entire relationship to animals?

There are other gentle giants to save, if only we will look long enough to see them.

 

Vegan Mojito Meringues (Aquafaba)

20160527_181525Oh, the possibilities. Have you heard about the new vegan cooking phenomenon that’s taking even the mainstream cooking world by storm?

It’s light, low-calorie, gluten free, vegan, and since you make it from stuff that you normally pour down the drain, it’s FREE!

The funny name aqua/faba (water/bean) tells its whole story. It’s the liquid from garbanzo beans. And when it’s whipped it forms a stiff, white, airy meringue that’s indistinguishable from the stuff made with egg whites.

(And why not egg whites? Oh, so many reasons.)

So, we all know vegan cooking is going mainstream now, but when the likes of the New York Times and Cooks Illustrated are sharing aquafaba recipes with their readers, you know it’s officially a thing.

I had to try it, of course. So I first dove into the NYT recipe for aquafaba meringues.

I’m hooked. These are light as air, slightly crispy, lightly sweet, and only about 25 calories each.

Working with aquafaba is just like I remember egg-white meringue: it requires patience because it needs a solid 15 minutes of whisking to form stiff peaks. It also requires some flexibility on your part, because it’s sensitive to changes in humidity. I tried these on a rainy day and my dogs were happy with the little meringue blobs, but I was disappointed.

aquafaba blobs

I’m already scheming up holiday versions of these wonderful little meringue nibbles: peppermint flavoring and sprinkles of crushed candy cane, chocolate extract and cocoa powder, mint and lime. And the piece de resistance: I’ll start working on making an aquafaba version of my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. That particular pie is like kryptonite to my dad, and I haven’t made it in at least five years because I get hung up on the egg thing.

 

But first: my mojito meringues. It marries my new aquafaba obsession with my hobby of inventing fall-over-delicious virgin cocktails. And this is super simple, although you’ll want to make your minted sugar a day ahead of time.

Open a can of garbanzo beans and drain off the liquid. It’s not very much (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup) but fear not.

Whip it. My stand mixer doesn’t have a whisk attachment, so I use the hand mixer. Give it the highest speed your gadget has, and give it a good 15 minutes.

These are soft peaks: almost there. The peaks need to be pointy for this to really work.

aquafaba soft peak

 

Soft peaks won’t work at all for this, so keep going until you can make little peaks that stay standing. Like this.

aquafaba stiff peaks

Then add 2/3 cup sugar, a little at a time, while you beat another 5 minutes. For the mojito version, I let my sugar sit for a couple of days with some bruised mint sprigs* so it was infused with mint flavor. Once whipped with the sugar, the aquafaba gets shiny. Now you’re ready to add flavoring.

I added the zest and juice from one small lime, then whisked some more.

aquafaba with lime

Can you just about smell that lime? I wish I was posting this in the Scenternet.

Drop your meringue onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

aquafaba on paper

Depending on the size of your meringues (larger ones take longer in the oven) you’ll bake them about 90 minutes at 250 degrees. (At that temperature, you’re really drying them as much as baking, so you just look for them to be dry, firm, and light.)

Let them cool. These are light, crispy, minty, and like nothing else you’ve ever had. Enjoy!

aquafaba finished

 

*To bruise mint leaves like a pro bartender (no, don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen this in person) you set the mint sprig on your open palm, then clap your hands together once or twice. It releases the oils. Just bury the bruised sprigs in your sugar and let it sit.

 

Good DIY Gone Bad. Very @#%& Bad.

The ugliest table ever

The ugliest table ever

When I watch woodworking shows, I always get this nagging feeling at the moment when the compound mitered joint or the custom-built cabinet must now go together. The thing’s creator – some flannel-clad master like Norm Abrams, Zen-like and confident – will say, “Now, let’s see how this fits. {dramatic pause} Ahh! Perfect. Now our next step…”

Oh. Come. On.

I wanna see the outtakes. Hey, I used to work in TV, so I know there’s a mountain of shots gone bad, all saved up for the blooper reel that everyone will pee themselves while watching at the staff Christmas party. Why wait til December? Lemme see! Lemme hear Norm’s Boston accent go salty. Lemme hear, “Now, let’s see how this fits. {dramatic pause} Son of a … Dammit. {pounding, grunting, trying to make it fit} Ow, shit. I busted my knuckle. Fuggin cut, dammit. I said CUT!”

Family legend has it that I was still in diapers when I loved to watch my dad and his friends tinkering and creating and repairing stuff in the garage. I’d toddle back into the house where my mom and her friends were visiting over tall glasses of iced tea. As they offered to make snacks for us kids I’d show off my new garage vocabulary. “Jesus Christ, that’s a lot of fucking milk.” To this day, there’s something about the juxtaposition of a cherubic face and raunchy language. It doubles me over.

Keep me away from your toddling cherubs if raunchiness makes you faint. And for the sake of your health, stay far from my garage. Also, don’t read the rest of this.

I just spent three weeks on a project that was supposed to take an hour. I had these 3×10 boards from an old waterbed frame we hauled out of my husband’s basement before we sold his house. Good, solid wood in unusual dimensions. I got this genius plan to build a simple writing desk for the greenhouse I’m slowly (Yes, fucking yes, I’m still working on it so quit asking. Damn!) turning into a writing studio.

First step was to marry the two boards to make a 20-inch plank. No problem. Hot damn. I’m gonna build the shit out of this. Next step was to make two precise 45-degree cuts, rendering the long plank into three pieces that would fit together with two 90-degree joints. Simple.

Horse shit.

My Skil saw blade wasn’t deep enough to cut all the way through the butt-pluggin’ plank at a 45-degree angle. I tried a few times, in the back yard, between surprise rain showers. At one point the calm sky suddenly hurled ass-sized hail stones at my head. I actually shouted “Fuck you” to the sky, because we know that can alter weather patterns, but I also I unplugged electrical stuff and ran tools to the garage before I could get tits-up electrocuted right there next to the patio table.

It’s a shitty carpenter who blames her tools, but I took the low road. Dickless wimp of a saw, that’s the problem. So I bought a table saw because I’m sure I need one anyway. It was so cheap I snagged the last one in the store because everyone else knew it was a mama-humping good deal, but if you’re curious just Google table saw prices. Hell yes. Bought one. What’s money when you’ve got a score to settle? Because I was pissed. And because tools. I sang to my dogs all the way home in the car, “Mamma got a new toy, a new toy, a new toy.” They thought we were going to the park. They hate me now.

Well, here’s the thing. When you get the least expensive table saw in the entire western United States, it might not come with all the fancy table saw shit you’ve seen when you watch that genius bastard Norm Abrams. Like, for example, there’s no way to fit a 20-inch plank onto this son of a mutt.

That is, there’s no orthodox way to fit a 20-inch plank onto my new face fart of a saw. But I did it anyway. Because.

Result: buttloads of sawdust all over hell and back, plus three boards that look excellent. At first glance, that is. Try to piece them together and you get these piss-swigging crooked-ass 90-degree joints that don’t meet up. Like, gaps big enough that some guys I’ve known could get all conjugal with those holes. This effort was a total donkey queef.

Seriously. I'm not kidding about these holes.

Seriously. I’m not kidding about these holes.

So, just check out this butt munch of a table. Oh: and it wobbles like a drunk on Mardi Gras. Dog-ass ugly I could forgive, maybe. But this doesn’t even work as a table. Ugly AND not functional. Worthless son of a Trump.

So today it sits in my greenhouse (Jeezus, quit asking when I’ll be finished with that studio conversion ass-ache, okay?) Guano-licking ugly and useless.

Totally guano-licking useless

Totally guano-licking useless

I will not be defeated. Stay tuned. I will have my monkey-shagging writing desk. I will show you when it’s done. But in the meantime, don’t ask. Seriously. Don’t fucking ask.

 

 

The Many Modern Paths to Sobriety

no drinking

Bob the Bartender got sober four years ago, while working full-time behind a bar, and without ever attending an AA meeting. He just reached a point where he knew he had to get sober, and he knew he had to do it on his own. He says sobriety still gets better by the day. It makes you superhuman, he says, and then he whispers that we should keep that a secret, lest everyone learn the path to omniscience.

Behind his bar, you’ll find whatever weighty tome he’s currently devouring. You can ask him the name of any capitol city ON THE PLANET and he knows it. He can discuss Herman Melville’s personal quest for sense in the world. And, yes, I still belly-up to his bar, for a ginger ale or a Virgin Mary, and we have conversations that give my brain more nourishing mental superfood than any of my graduate-level philosophy or ethics classes ever did.

A friend in my meditation group won’t tempt herself with a bar or pub setting, and hasn’t in nearly five years of sobriety. She attends AA meetings and nurtures her sobriety with meditation and journaling.

Another dear friend completed a month of residential treatment that included AA meetings, medical care, counseling, meditation, and therapy with horses. She attends AA meetings almost daily and a meditation group twice a week.

A relative of mine dove straight into the deep end of AA and still swims through it, mermaid-like, every day. Her conversations are sprinkled with AA lingo, with praises for God, and expressions of gratitude. She staffs the desk at a drop-in help center and studies addiction therapy at the community college.

Very un-mermaid-like, I dipped my toe into AA and put my shoes right back on. I attend a Buddhist-oriented meditation group. I write daily and read everything I can find on the subject of sobriety. I use phone apps that provide daily inspirational readings, remind me to meditate, and track my days sober as well as dollars saved from not buying alcohol. I have a Pinterest page where I stash any little gem that feels inspirational, soothing, or motivating so I can dive in when needed.

Back in the old days, when I was a kid whose adult relatives were divided between the diligently sober and the lavishly inebriated, I overheard countless homilies on the commandments of sobriety. There was one right way to do it. Even relatives who hadn’t had a drink in ages weren’t considered truly sober unless they were doing it right.

To be fair, my family’s conservative Mormon and Irish Protestant DNA didn’t predispose them to Transcendental meditation retreats or communing with therapy horses, even if those options had been available to them. In those days and in our circles, AA was it. You were in or you were a drunkard. And if you were in, there were rules:

Taking a nighttime cold medicine was cheating.

Non-alcoholic beers or mock cocktails were as dangerous as Russian roulette.

Bars and pubs would lead right back to the bottle.

God was an essential travel companion and no one could journey all the way to sobriety without Him.

Rarely did the sober relatives veer from these commandments. One even tried valiantly to live without doctor-prescribed anti-depressants. It didn’t work, and she still feels hints of judgment for treating her unbalanced brain chemistry.

In this new generation of sobriety, the rules are generously broad, and the judgment is mercifully muted. The old ways still surface, but with less authority. In my circles, one of the Old Guard convinced a woman that true sobriety required her to stop the medications that manage her bipolar disorder. Fellow group members said she was quickly “off the deep end” and they had to pull her to safety.

There is a clear shift in the world of sobriety. There are many paths. All are good.

AA’s Big Book was written in the 1930s by Christian white guys, and little has changed since. The program is still the standard, saving lives every day, and even comforting in its weathered and old-timey feel. Fortunately, today there’s also a welcoming spot somewhere for the Godless, the counter-culture, the non-conformist and the non-joiners.

I know people who find sober sanity in a good pair of running shoes, on a yoga mat or a meditation cushion, in a church pew or a secluded forest path, and even on a bar stool across from a philosopher mixologist.

 

 

Every Weekend Warrior’s Reality

It was hot (for our climate): 86 degrees. I weeded and cleared. I hauled lumber and sawed and drilled and built the boxes. My husband drove the wheelbarrow hundreds of round trips, shoveling and filling. Typical DIY weekend warrior stuff: we were exhausted by Sunday night. My fingers were numb, our cheeks were reddened from too much sun, but we were happy to sit back and admire our handiwork.

But there’s always more.

Weekend warriors, take heart. There’s always more. Always will be. Do what I did: just ignore the nagging to-do list for a little bit. It’ll still be there when you come back.

When You Find a Baby Animal: Myths and Facts

Roger the baby squirrel

Roger the baby squirrel

I still grieve the day 25 years ago when a friend and I found a baby bird on the sidewalk under a tree. She was tiny, helpless, nearly featherless. We both believed the first, most fatal myth: if you touch the baby, the mom will reject it.

We had accidentally touched her, because my friend almost stepped on her. She was on a busy sidewalk, so we moved her aside. And then we felt certain we couldn’t leave her there.

I took her home, believing I could somehow care for her. I tried a number of feedings, from varieties of baby food to sugar water to fruit and vegetable purees.

I gave it the college-level try, but I was kindergarten-level naive. The baby never ate anything, and over 48 hours she became weaker and weaker. I eventually carried her to the bank of a pond, soothed by self-delusions that nature would somehow make it all okay. I left her there, believing…what? Little Disney characters would flutter in and sprinkle her with fairy dust? She’d be adopted by a nanny bird or a benevolent fox would nurse the bird along with her litter of pups?

The baby bird died there, alone and hungry.

Nature wasn’t going to step in and save her, because I’d already thwarted nature’s one perfect plan. To allow nature to save her, I needed only to do one thing: Put the baby back in the tree. Right where we found her. Right where her mother surely watched us carry away her baby to a certain death.

Barring that, I could have reached out to any number of resources I had no idea about back then: Audubon Society, local wildlife rehabs, animal shelters, veterinarians. I didn’t even know to do that. And get this: we didn’t have Google then. It was the dark ages.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century to this past weekend, when I found a baby squirrel under my apple tree. Wide-eyed, passive, trusting little creature that can only be a baby squirrel, he was all too happy for me to pick him up. I’ve rescued several, and they always do the same thing: crawl up my chest, nuzzle under my chin, and make a snuffling sound that shatters my heart. I wrapped him in a piece of fleece fabric, and he kneaded it with his paws, trying to suckle it like he would his mother’s soft belly.

My husband and I fashioned a little nest out of a small box and attached it to a tree limb. There the baby waited, sleeping peacefully, for 3 1/2 hours until it grew dark and cold outside. I brought him inside for the night, keeping him safely in his fleece wrap and a cat carrier, while I Googled emergency feeding and re-hydration for baby squirrels. Again, I gave it the college try, and much less naively this time, but the baby still didn’t eat.

The emergency nest where Roger waited for his mom.

The emergency nest where Roger waited for his mom.

Bright and early the next morning, I put the baby back in his tree, this time sitting in the open on top of his fleece wrap. After about an hour he got playful and explored the tree. He found some hidey holes I didn’t know were there. I learned he could climb down, but couldn’t climb back up, and would panic when he wanted to return to his fleece but couldn’t. So it was clear he wasn’t quite ready to fend for himself, and his mom wasn’t returning.

Usually the mother will return. When she doesn’t, there’s still hope.

I turned to the experts: a local wildlife rescue center that’s expert in saving the hordes of nature’s innocents who nearly lose their lives each spring. Whether from natural predators, the unnatural predation from family dogs and cats, traffic accidents, deaths of parents, or untold other reasons, youngsters in the wild face an uphill climb to survive to adolescence. The wildlife center looks like a nursery this time of the year: babies of every conceivable species suckle bottles and take nourishment from eye droppers and are swaddled and nurtured by nanny humans who, no matter how skilled and compassionate, readily caution that they are a poor replacement for the infants’ actual mothers.

Roger in his much-loved fleece

Roger in his much-loved fleece

Roger (that’s his name, because, as you can clearly see, he looks like a Roger) will spend perhaps a week in the adorable wildlife nursery under the care of people who know how to feed and raise him, and then he’ll come back here, to his home tree, hopefully to thrive.

The babies I’ve saved since then always awaken my grief over the one I killed with kindness 25 years ago. The babies saved don’t erase that loss, but help me feel I’ve tipped the scales in the favor of the innocents. And since nature isn’t populated by magical faeries with gold dust, these babies need all the help they can get.

The Day Prince Saved Clapton

prince and clapton

Watching Purple Rain Drew Clapton out of a Depressive Spiral of “Drink and Drugs”

 

While the world awaits Prince’s autopsy results, there are the usual speculations (Was it a pain meds addiction? Accidental overdose?) Meanwhile, the usual tributes continue to pour out. There’s something a bit unusual, though: the uniquely personal and emotional tributes from celebrities to The Purple One.

You’ll find none more personally felt than than Eric Clapton’s social media post, picked up by Huffington Post.  Clapton retells a grim period in the mid-80s when he was touring, despairing about the dismal state of music culture at the time, and spiraling into a mire of “drink and drugs” and depression. Watching Prince (then totally unknown to Clapton) in Purple Rain filled him with hope. He sat among the empty bottles in his hotel room and penned “Holy Mother.”

Much is written and opined about the apparent tie between creative personalities and addiction. In one of my current favorites among inspirational books, author Meredith Bell writes that our mythology of the brilliant, drunken writer or musician is a ruse. What more would Hemingway and the like have produced if they had lived longer, lived clearer, nursed the muse instead of the bottle? What more would Jack Kerouac have given the world had he not died at 47 from cirrhosis of the liver?

The hard truth is, alcohol likely has cut short more brilliant lives than it unleashed. On the flip side of this tragedy: the fact that some of our best treasures are the creative souls who journeyed to the bottom of the bottle, swam back out, and went on to write and sing about it.

The Best Trick to Calm Your Dogs During Thunder

popcorn

Last night we had a doozy. The weather folks call it a “severe thunderstorm.” My girls call it, “Holy mother of Dog, we’re all going to die.” Now, a nervous dog is one thing. You can comfort and console while they look for a safe hidey spot. No problem. I’ve known that game for years. But after I adopted Roxy I had to up my game by quite a lot.

Roxy is no shrinking violet. For her, hiding is not an option. She goes into take-no-prisoners mode. So, the first couple of storms we experienced with her resulted in accidents on the floor, gouged windows and doors, shredded curtains, and an alarmingly close call when she slammed an upholstered chair into a 6-foot picture window.

Enter her trainer, Lola, aka Mary Poppins. I named her that after I called her in the middle of a storm and said I didn’t feel I could keep Roxy safe. Roxy was determined to get out of the house and go kill that $#@% thunder shit, windows be damned.

Lola hopped in her car and breezed through our front door with games and treats and calming herbs and a thunder shirt. She even introduced my dogs to a game that involves something that looks suspiciously like a magic wand. Quite fitting. An hour later she left behind calm, sleeping dogs and an eternally grateful dog lady. She also left me with this one life-changing thunderstorm hack:

Popcorn.

A hot-air popper.

And music.

We’ve done this enough times that now my girls expect it. So last night at the first bright electric flash of impending doggess doom, Roxy and Willow ran – – wait for it – – they ran – – to ME. Not the window. Not the nearest door or the plate glass. Me.

They gave this unison bark/whine that was half demand/half plea. Basically, the sound conveyed, “I’m freaking out here. Get out the popper.”

While my husband loaded the Beethoven into the stereo, I grabbed my dusty, clangy old air popper. Pretty soon the music and popping kernels reduced nature’s chaos to a distant murmur. During a lull in the storm, they were okay without the popper running. The snacks and music alone were enough for about 30 minutes (that’s the peaceful scene in this video.)


The storm escalated again and the popper came on again. We played through the entire CD twice. But we weathered the chaos without shredded curtains or messed floors. In the wee hours this morning, as Roxy leaped into bed to claim her spot (right between us, head on the pillow, because we’re ridorkulous) she stood up, raised her hackles, and hurled her most vicious bark at the window. “And don’t let the door hit you on your way out. You want a piece of this, just try that crap again.”

Good job, Roxy. You murdered the storm. We can all sleep.

 

Breathing Back a Trigger

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My husband and I met a friend last night. We look forward to our visits with her. She and my husband were drinking beers and I was loving my spinach/ginger smoothie when she launched into an animated rant about how much homeless people disturb her life. They rifle through the Dumpster behind her high-end condo and they sleep in the alleys and doorways of her posh downtown neighborhood. Trash is dirty, and they just don’t have any self-respect, she said.

My husband and I tried to inject compassion into the conversation. How hard would it be if your only option for the night was to sleep on cardboard in an alley? How desperate would you feel if you had to search other people’s trash hoping to find some food or a half-full bottle of shampoo? “I get that,” she shot back. “But I’m not backing down on the fact that they aren’t hungry. I don’t think anybody is hungry in my city; there are so many soup kitchens and programs.”

Now, when I quit drinking, there wasn’t any drama or monumental dysfunction driving my choice. I had never had a brush with the law or embarrassed myself or become someone other than myself. I simply realized that I relied too much on alcohol as a coping mechanism. If I’d had a stressful day, or I was angry, or anxious, or bored, I’d soothe the feelings with alcohol – which, let’s be honest, is how most people use alcohol. I simply realized I was doing this on a regular basis and I was playing Russian roulette with my genetics.

So I quit.

Mostly it’s been a happy change. Until last night. We were at a restaurant that’s hippy enough to serve smoothies and bowls of veggies and quinoa, but it also has a full bar. There was whiskey over there. Probably good Irish whiskey. It was so close, and it would help me swallow down this lump of bitterness and disappointment that was caught in my throat as I listened to my friend sound so mean-spirited.

But I can’t let people drive me to drink. What I really want is to live in a kinder world. A shot of Jameson in my belly won’t make the world any nicer; it will only result in me breaking a promise to myself. So I breathed.

In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. Repeat.

Breathing won’t make the world any nicer, either. I couldn’t do anything at that table in that moment that would heal the world. So I could only say to my friend, “I’ll be curious to hear how you feel about this issue after you’ve thought about it. What I’m hearing from you is uncharacteristic of you. You’ve lost your compassion.” She agreed. And then she changed the subject.

And then I breathed. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. It’s a calming Yogic breath that has never failed me. Maybe I’ll nickname it Jameson.

My husband and I left and laughed at how stressful that conversation was. And then we noticed the beautiful bright moon.