Happy Half-Birthday: 49.511

The truth is I wanted to have something profound to say at the half-way mark of my 50th birthday. The truth is I wanted to be able to look at this blog and see that I had, on the 28th of each month, written something that illuminated a bit of how my thinking has been shaped at this hallmark time in my life.

The truth is none of that has happened.

The truth is at this particular time is that I have been hit by a depression most likely prompted by the great hormonal shifts happening inside me as I type. I suppose it would be easy to say that the depression is winning since I haven't attained the goals I set myself, but I am here doing this and so I'd say my better self has the edge.

Years back, a woman I know showed up at my house to help me with a project. There were tears streaming down her face and immediately I asked what was wrong. She said, "Oh that's just my depression. Let's go!"

I didn't say too much. I let her be and we did what we set out to do- an organization project followed by a walk and I can't say we spent more than three minutes discussing this depression. At that point, I'd had my own experiences and I was struck by her acceptance and ability to just live with it and move around despite it. Frankly, I did not understand.

But I am starting now to think this might be a way I just might have to be. The range and scope of depression varies so widely so I want to say for sure that I am no expert. I only know me and I am starting to think at this particular juncture, maybe I can live with it and not become it and this takes a high degree of self-awareness and I have that most of the time...until I don't. This is the tricky part.

Earlier this week I met a woman whom I don't spend much time with but we have a two person mutual admiration society that is unspoken. The forces aligned and we ended up with two unplanned hours together and when she asked me how I was, I opted for the truth. I talked for about ten minutes and as I looked at her I could see tears rolling over her cheeks. For a moment I thought, "Wow. That is empathy." And then I noted she was sitting on her hands. And then she said, "I'm sitting on my hands because I want to say..."

And I waited. I waited for her to tell me all the reasons why I shouldn't feel the way I feel. I waited for the buts and suggestions. Instead, she said, "Me too. Me too. I feel like you are telling my story."

The relief of such recognition....I cannot adequately describe it. If you have ever met a person with a shared experience then you know there is something that happens, something that shifts and relaxes just a tiny bit inside you at the discovery at not being alone in your experience and feelings.

And so today, on the 29th of June, not the 28th, the halfway mark of my 50th birthday, I am thinking about how I am going to navigate my depression while living in world that seems to be getting uglier everyday. There are doctors and plans A through Z and a great support staff including cats, friends, a husband, and best of all, me and the experience I have.

The reason I write is that sometimes it can help me find my way back to myself. It can help me sort through what I think is to the golden kernel of my truth at any particular moment. The reason I share is because I want to be that woman with the tears who feels lightened by recognition.

This isn't going to end in a neat way. I don't want to make promises I can't keep. Right now, it's the golden hour of morning where the birds are singing and the chickens in our backyard have their own little clucking-song going on. One cat is irritated by the computer in my lap because it is cutting into the lap time we usually share. I am staring at patio furniture I put together. I had a bit of help at the very end, but I lugged all of the pieces up two flights of stairs and I did what I did not think I could do. I have the patience of a gnat and my skill set had never involved Legos and 100 page instruction booklets. But this was a tiny challenge I issued myself. I forgot my To-Do list full of items far more essential to my daily living than assembling a patio loveseat. But I went at it anyway because there was this little nugget in me that said, "Just try. You can always ask for help."

And so I did.

Someone sat on it last night and it's still together! In this is moment, I can see that I am too.

Happy Half-Birthday, Lisa. You are doing it.

What We Make Up

My daughter just attended her first prom. On a scale of 1 to oh-my-god, she handled it with very little emotional drama. First up was deciding whether she really wanted to go or not. Second was finding a dress which required only two shop visits and three dresses tried on. Shoes were not an issue as she is forbidden from high heels because of a stress fracture so little flat black sandals were it. Jewelry was also easy. Because her dress was full of drama, the jewelry was light.

But what really captured her, once she had the dress, was her make-up.

My daughter loves makeup. She has so much makeup. But the thing is, she doesn’t wear it every day. Some days it’s a long process of creating, other days it’s a cover-up of tired dark circles, and most days it’s I’m-not-going-to-make-time-for-this.

Which brings us to prom because for her, it was all about the makeup. It was more than a dark smoky eye. It was long (fake)eyelashes, black, grey, and white blended and applied just so. There were touches of literal sparkle. Her skin was lightly tinted and the lips were dark. It was a look that matched the dress.

She kept her hair pretty simple except for the color she’d been longing for and was an early birthday present.

Her dad did not like it.

“She’s so beautiful. She doesn’t need all that. Why is she hiding?”

I can’t say I thought she was hiding. In fact, I thought she was bold. I thought she was saying, “I love this dress and I am creating a look to match and I am not scared of what anyone will think, even my dad. Here I am.”  I’ll admit I had my own thing with makeup. But it was the eighties and sky blue eye shadow afflicted every female I knew. But this was definitely bigger, bolder, and required much more skill. I would never have attempted such a look because I was never that interested. Did I get it? Not really, but did I mind? No.

But it did get me thinking beyond the makeup to how we see people. She and I chatted about this. I tried to sort of tiptoe into the conversation without bringing in judgements. It is surprisingly hard. Parenting really is so much more difficult than people let on. I’ve wanted to so badly to have no judgements about appearance, about their choices regarding fashion, looks, etc. I think kids and young adults are meant to explore, take in the information regarding how they feel as the world around them responds and how they see themselves in that context. Clothes and makeup are all a part of it and the world sends out such mixed-up messages. A man, say one like our current president, wears a top-of-the-line suit and tie in conservative colors every day. His character is tattered and full of holes. Making critical judgements based on appearances seems pretty difficult to defend. But the world is complicated and full of double-standards for women so the topic, when broached, is done so thoughtfully.

And so, this look. The thick makeup was about a creating a statement and she’d actually thought carefully about what she wanted. It wasn’t an act of rebellion or hiding. It was, for her, fun and a way to express herself. She’s introverted and tight-lipped in the arena of sharing her emotions. She releases them when dancing and through her makeup.

To his credit, dad said nothing except to me.

The short take is that her date seemed pretty enamored, and my girl! How she glowed from something more than makeup. She was shining in the fullness of what she made so.

I saw so many young men and women who looked uncomfortable. And there were others who’d clearly chosen what was perfect for who they were which is what made what they wore “work.” Another bold girl I noticed wore no makeup and her hair was in the same style she wore every single day. Her dress was simple and the color was perfect for her. She glowed as much as my daughter did. She was revealing who she was which is exactly the point- when we let them be who they are in the moment they are in, they shine.

It’s hard being a dad watching his baby express something he doesn’t understand. It’s hard being a teen girl in a world that bombards with you with messages about how to think, act, look. It’s hard being a mother trying to navigate and honor both of these people at once.

I don’t know how she will feel when she looks back to this day, but I know how I will feel. The same as I do now. Proud of the woman who is following her heart’s desire. Doing what she wants despite reservations she may sense from those she cares about. It might seem silly to devote my writing to diving into this concept of makeup. To those who are not women, to those who have no inkling about teen girls I know better. This step leads to the next. Trust your heart, your desires, make them happen. How the world responds doesn’t matter, but how you do is everything. Show up as YOU want, on YOUR terms. She was happy because she was who she wanted to be.

I am learning from her, which is the gift of parenting if I let it be. Inside the struggles and uncertainty, I can dig in and learn a bit more about who I am and even shift a bit in how I view the world.

Perhaps my daughter is a magician. In creating the eyes that were perfect for her, she has given me a new way to see as well.

Postscript: This post was vetted and approved by my daughter and her dad.

49+3: Finding A New Path

I went home this past weekend to see my Iowa family. After a long winter, a trip down Story Avenue, the gravel road we live on, is bumpy. The maintainers have not yet made it past my parent's home so it means you have to drive carefully. The path is the same as always, but the ruts are deeper.

My oldest brother, Kelley, was home. He turns 53 tomorrow. One of the things I noticed was that he was drinking coffee. I asked him about this as he's been a Mountain Dew guy for quite some time. He switched to diet Mountain Dew awhile back, but I'd never seen him drink coffee. It stood out after years of seeing him chug out of those green plastic bottles.

"You drink coffee?"

"Well, I go to alotta meetings, you know. A pop is $1.00. If I go to six or seven meetings, that adds up. They always  got coffee an' it's free!"

Kelley is a recovering alcoholic. Eight years ago, my parents forced him out of their home and he landed in treatment and then a halfway house. It took a mountain of effort to get clean and a mountain of paperwork to find somewhere to live, but he eventually landed in a subsidized apartment. His earnings and his budget are lean.

Kelley walks everywhere in the city he's in. He picks up pop cans and in warmer months, he'll find scrap metal that he will salvage. He watches the sales closely in the various grocery fliers and he does things like drink the free coffee and buy the pop when it's on super sale. He doesn't ask for much. The littlest of things make his day--like giving him a dozen eggs or taking him to Golden Corral on his birthday. That is the plan. The last I heard, Mom was making him a blueberry dessert, his favorite, and he was going to the Golden Corral.

I have to be honest. Kelley is not all that easy to talk with. His voice booms all the time. I think it's because of the years he's spent trying to make himself heard to our dad, who is hard of hearing. Though we try to suggest an adjustment in tone, it doesn't usually stick and so the conversation barrels on at it's usual volume. Kelley can get stuck in a particular train of thought. If something eats at him, it's really hard to re-route his thought pattern. I think this trait might not be unusual for those who struggle with addictions. I share these same genes, and I certainly know the pain of well-worn brain paths.

On this particular weekend Kelley was rightly proud that he would soon be getting his eight year chip from AA.

"It's no joke," he said. "I just went to a funeral of a meetin' buddy. He's been to treatment six times and it didn't stick. He stopped goin'. So I go. I go a lot. I don't want to die."

Staying sober is Kelley's full time job. It was clear it weighs on him. He talked of the drug problems that seem to follow many of his alcoholic buddies and all the people who've failed at treatment. He hasn't slipped yet in these eight years, but it's not without cost. Kelley is anxious, he can be hard to relate to, and his world is centered around his sobriety.

But the thing is, he's doing it.

As we talked, he kept circling back to the number of meetings he went to. He kept referring to those whose failure resulted in death. He kept talking about the money he saves by drinking the coffee. He is saved by the meetings.

I am proud of him because he is proud of himself. I could hear it as he talked. And maybe proud isn't the right word. He clearly understands for him, the way to stay above ground is to keep doing the work. To keep showing up for the free coffee one hour, one meeting, one day at a time.

Kelley and I were not close growing up. He struggled to make sense of who he was as the genetics of his future were working themselves out. I was an observant and sensitive teen who didn’t understand the anger and brash behaviors that were revealing themselves. I kept my distance. But as time does it’s thing and my own story has unfolded, I can see that perhaps we aren't so different.  My depression may not look like his alcoholism, but the way to work it seems the same. Find a new route, show up, do the work, save yourself, repeat.

When I am at my lowest I have to do what works. I show up and I write. I examine my story. I tilt it this way and that to make sense of where it is I have been and where I wish to go. Every time I sit my butt in the chair and begin the tapping that takes me inside, I am finding a new path and it's true, I am saved.

Writing is my free coffee.


It's Kelley's birthday. He is above ground and 53. For that, I am grateful.