Sunday, March 29, 2009

Nothing is the Matter

One of the new skills I have developed over the last decade is the art of saying 'no'.

After nearly 50 years of wondering how on earth I ended up doing things I didn't want to do, I discovered the trick: you just say no. Nothing more.

What people do then is ask me, "why not?" and that is where it all falls apart. I'd start making excuses and they'd come up with ways around my objections. So I stopped making excuses, stopped giving reasons. Some people are incredibly inventive when it comes to thinking up ways around your reasons. Just say 'no'. If really pushed, just smile and say, "No. I am not going to do this. I am not going to give reasons. The answer is no." And keep repeating it. It works!

I've suddenly realised that this same approach is necessary for another problem in my life - depression. I have suffered from depression since my late teens at least, from mild depression to suicidal depression.

People always ask, "what are you depressed about?", and I have tried to tell them. They then come up with reasonable arguments for why I shouldn't feel that way. They'll tell me that it's not that bad, that although the pain is great now, it will ease off, that I should look on the bright side, be positive, that I should be grateful for what I have because other people have had more pain, more grief, less 'good stuff' than me. Someone else is blind, diabetic and has just had a leg amputated so I should stop weeping and be grateful (after I had a miscarriage and D & C). There is always someone whose life circumstances are worse than mine.

Over the last few years I have, at last, learned to manage my depression. I have found ways and means to stop myself hitting rock bottom - no, those are the wrong words - the problem with depression is that I never hit anything as solid as rock bottom: it's an eternity of thick suffocating, soft, cloying blackness. Whatever, I have found ways to avoid the worst of it.

But after decades of believing all these people, believing that if only I could stop being so selfish as to focus on my own woes, and focus instead on how good I have it, especially compared to others, I have discovered something. I learned to focus on my woes, because other people have taught me to with their endless what's-the-matters.

Yes, external circumstances give me a push to start rolling down the hill, but they aren't the problem. The problem is that there is no problem. There is nothing. Deep inside of me is a void that isn't caused by my many miscarriages, by the deaths of my parents, by illnesses, by cruelties, desertions, betrayals, there are no excuses, no reasons: the black void, the Nothingness, just IS.

So now I have discovered the only answer to What's-the-Matter? is:

"Nothing is the Matter. It just Is."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Take a Chance

If you see me in the street
if you notice me walking
down, past the video store
please say ‘hello’, or briefly ‘hi’

If you notice that my hair
hasn’t fallen out in clumps
merely grown a little greyer
don’t just walk on by

At the supermarket
don’t hesitate to block the isles
to chat about how wasted
you got at last Thursday night

The cloak of invisibility
seems to have dropped
across on my shoulders,
daily growing more effective

I begin to understand
the colourful eccentricity
of some older people who once
made me laugh, nervously

Now I have started to wonder
how I can make my presence
felt in a world that doesn’t
want to see women over fifty

What shall I do to make you look
instead of sliding your eyes
around and past me -
I exist, damn it! I’m real!

I feel drawn to bright red,
high heeled, spangled boots
and maybe hair grown long,
dyed to match, glitter sprinkled

I’m drawn to the bright colours,
lush fabrics – silk, satin, velvet,
lace, appliqu├ęd, patch worked,
embroidered, buttoned and bowed

Perhaps I’ll sing in the street if I want
or cry – why shouldn’t the old cry?
Or dance and not care any more
about how foolish I look

Go on, take a chance, say ‘hi’
before I go down that path.
If you won’t take a chance on me
I’ll have to take a few for myself

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Positively Pessimistic

I'm trying hard to be less negative, more positive - not in a Amway style, I hasten to add!

I have been a negative person all my life, and although studies have shown pessimists actually to be more realistic about outcomes, optimists are happier. I have heard this so many times and just brushed it aside thinking, "optimists are fools" and "it's ridiculous to just tell me to think positively when I'm a natural negative," especially when bad stuff happens. It wasn't until a couple of weeks after someone (a dear but even more pessimistic and depressive friend) repeated the "we are more realistic" statement to me, and wandered off looking very down about the world situation, that I had a sudden flash of understanding. It will seem very odd to any optimist reading this, but I realised that positive thinking doesn't have to be a matter of prancing around denying the reality that the roof has fallen in or the car has broken down, but that it can mean that one can focus on how to fix of things rather than on the brokenness of them. It can mean looking forward to the next good time, rather than focusing on the empty space between now and then. It can mean focusing on small present pleasures rather than on the absence of large joys.

Pretty obvious to the natural born optimist, but not to me. There are so many good things in my life that I could focus on and truly, I am trying. Every time I catch myself thinking of the family and friends who have not texted / rung / emailed me, I now stop and think instead of the ones who have.

Now when I discover that something I had been looking forward to isn't going to happen, I am trying to just feel sad for a moment and then move on to looking forward to the next good thing - instead of my usual churning misery for weeks.

I'd been looking forward to going to the Balloon Festival Night Glow this Saturday, something we did every year for about 15 years - but we haven't been the last 3 or 4 years. Mac hasn't been for even longer than that, saying he's sick of it. This year, Jeff and I had planned to meet up with friends at a Balloon Festival homeschool activity at the Night Glow - but then tonight he decided to go to Auckland for the weekend to see his brother instead. I didn't want to go on my own - I feel nervous about walking distances in the dark to get back to my car, and I don't much like driving on my own when I'm tired either. I was pretty tired and grumpy after a very busy, hard work day, but I tried really hard to just put it aside and think of other things. Normally, I would have bitched on about it to Mac (not to Jeff) but I didn't. I did mention it casually - and Mac said, "Well, if you want to go, I'll go with you." I was stunned! There's been a couple of things like that lately, and I'm wondering if it is my changed behaviour that makes him feel more willing to do things - maybe it's easier when he doesn't feel pressured by my unhappiness?

Is it possible that I could be happy with small pleasures rather than continue to be obsessed with the sadness of lost chances? Or even to hope that there are ways of fulfilling, at least partially, the lost dreams? Folk dancing instead of ballroom and ceroc? I hate the thought of folk dancing, it always seemed pretty naff, something that real people don't do, just weirdos and old people. I am old, too old for the sort of dancing I didn't know I wanted to do until it was too late, but maybe if I can just change my mind set, I could enjoy folk dancing? Is that really possible?

So many self help books talk about having dreams come true by turning them into goals. But the older I get, the more my dreams become unattainable. I think if I am to survive this horrible getting older stuff, I have to learn to downsize my dreams, and remind myself that when I am approaching 70 and 80, I don't want to be looking back and wishing that, at 57, I had done things I was capable of doing, but didn't because I was too busy being miserable about what I didn't do at 17, 27, 37, 47. I need to use my ability as a pessimist to see reality, to dream dreams that are attainable.

Still, probably pointless trying - given that I'm a natural pessimist and depressive......

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So What Are You Going To Do Now That Jeff's At Uni?

This is the question people keep asking me. The expectation seems to be that I should get out there and retrain at the age of 57, after 28 years as a SAHM (stay at home mother).

Well, seriously folks, do you really think that is feasible? So I go back to varsity (I Know Jeff and Steve and Becca and James and everyone else these days go to uni, but I'm old: I went to varsity!) Right, so I go back to varsity and get another Bachelors' degree (3-4 years) or perhaps I could just go for a Masters - whatever - I'd be over 60 by the time I was done. With a large student loan.

Can you tell me even one employer whose preference among job applicants is for female new graduates in their 60s who have not been in paid employment for over 30 years? I thought not! Not at the best of times, and certainly not when there's an economic depression as well as the depression inside of me.

But you know, there's actually quite a lot I can do around here. Today I did a few hours gardening, weeding, clearing out the spent courgette plants, picking yet more cucumbers plus a few tomatoes.

Then those tomatoes plus the last of the 'courgettes' went into the pot to make Mrs Green's Marrow Chutney (from NZ Gardeners' Homegrown: from your plot to your pantry).

Before last winter we got several loads of firewood from our neighbour who had lots of old trees trimmed and felled. It was a warm winter! There is still a couple of trailer loads on our side of the fence, but not easily accessible - which is why we didn't get around to getting it last year. This afternoon I went and got half of it (the rest is too big for me to handle). It involved lifting, carrying and throwing each piece 3 times before I even got it to where I could load it onto the trailer. And then there was the unloading, which I did after dinner with a bit of help from Jeff.

Some people seem to think I must just sit around all day enjoying myself - but for their information, that's Shadow the Cat, not me!