Sunday, July 8, 2018

Like Sands Through the Hourglass

Last Monday and Tuesday I had all this energy and so many ideas for what I was going to do with my "5-day weekend." Now it's Sunday and, other than a couple loads of laundry, paying some bills, getting Calvin groomed, and hanging out with the cats, I appear to have done essentially nothing. I have no idea where the time went --or the energy I had in anticipation of this vacation.

It's not exactly that I regret sitting around doing nothing for the last 4 days. I think I'm just having a really hard time having an "adult summer" this year. For one thing, I'm keenly feeling the loss of my childhood summers this time. Summers when I was a kid meant sleeping in and playing all day. It meant running through the sprinkler and the feel of wet grass and mud in between my toes; the occasional popsicle; climbing trees; riding bikes; running around in the "fog" behind the mosquito spray trucks; drying off in front of the box fan after a bath; hours spent working on jigsaw puzzles; trips to the public library and staying up into the wee hours of the morning reading --I read SO many books every summer! I often stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Cory for the 4th of July, playing with good sparklers at their neighbor's house (not these crappy sparklers they make now), and watching the Springfield city fireworks from lawn chairs in the parking lot of Gabatoni's with the neighbors. Heck, I think my heathen atheist soul even misses Vacation Bible School.

I've never completely gotten over the disappointment of losing week after week after week of freedom each summer, but it's usually not this hard.

I don't think it's just the desire for a full-summer vacation, though. My lack of interest in going to work has been there most of the spring, too, I think. I just want to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it. Especially since I never know when the energy and the desire are going to hit at the same time. Like this weekend: the weather is absolutely perfect for working outside, going on a picnic, hiking, painting the house. But I don't feel like doing any of those things. Which should be okay, because I also have a list of "quiet" things I need/want to do. Heck, some of them are piled next to me right now, waiting until I finish writing this.

So why do I feel like I'm doing it all wrong? Why am I feeling an increasing amount of sadness, regret, and longing? Is it because our summers are so short, so perfect, and so precious? Is it because I feel like I'm getting older every day? That my life gets shorter every day? Is it because I'm worried that I'm wasting my time on the wrong priorities? Is it because I want more out of life than I have a right to expect?

All I can say at this moment is that I do NOT want to go back to work tomorrow. I'm supposed to be covering a bunch of items at a meeting tomorrow, and I could care less. I haven't been keeping a list of them as they've come up; I've actually been brushing them aside until I have to deal with them. Which might actually be a good thing in that I haven't been obsessing over work things. But, it also means I'm going to have to go back through weeks' worth of emails tomorrow morning to prep for the meeting since I haven't been prepping all along. Which is fine, too. I just don't want to do it.

I suspect that I need my job in order to keep my life structured and my brain stable. One of the downsides of those long summer vacations was that the longer I did nothing, the lazier I got. And the more moody, dissatisfied, listless, and/or depressed I got. I realized this in my college years, and it's the main reason I'm not sure I would completely quit working even if I could afford to do so.

But I don't think that's what is happening today. This feels more like, dare I say it, some sort of mini mid-life crisis. I'm tired of every day being devoured by the "have to" so there's no time or energy left for the "want to." I'm tired of feeling like the hourglass of my life is emptying faster and faster while I'm being sucked down into the merciless sand. This summer feels different. I feel a little more alive, a little more motivated, a little more aware, a little more appreciative. And I want desperately to relish it. More than I can remember wanting it before, I want to have all the time in the world to do whatever I want until I've sated that need and am ready to go back to the old daily routine.

Instead I'm going to post this and then move on to working on my "quiet" projects, like typing up my "affirmations" I created for my counseling work. (I can't use my tools if I'm not carrying my toolbox. I might have to add more tools to my box now, but...) And adding information to my gardening spreadsheets so I can actually find the information I need when I need it instead of having to flip back through my garden journals trying to find what I planted where. I'm going to drink my coffee and watch the chipmunk and squirrels on the bird feeders, and maybe refill the bird bath. Hopefully by the end of the day I will feel like I did enough productive things and relaxing things that my vacation wasn't completely wasted.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Learning to Love Stella?

First of all, I can't believe it has been two years since I posted anything. Second, I can't believe it has been almost two years to the day. Weird. But that's beside the point, which is that this spring I realized I had a mystery daylily growing in the "foster home" bed where some of my plants live until I can find them a more permanent spot. I had some issues with people driving over my plant tags last year, so I wasn't sure if they all ended up back in the right places and I was short a tag. All I could do was wait to see what kind of flowers it produced. Today I noticed a little tiny fading gold flower and Aha!: last year a friend at work gave me a little potted daylily that she didn't want to keep. I had never recorded it in my Master Planting List or my Where Are My Daylilies spreadsheet, and I had forgotten all about it, poor thing.

Except I'm pretty sure it's a Stella d'Oro daylily, and I have strong mixed feelings about them.

On the one hand, they are plants. Any hardcore gardener has a certain kind of love for all plants just for being plants. Even plants I hate, like ragweed, tug at my conscience when I attempt to destroy them. Except maybe the weeds competing with my plants. But even as I'm trying to pull them out by the roots, I sometimes grudgingly admire plants like quackgrass for their resilience and ability to thrive. I am also aware that my hatred is completely subjective and based on the interference of these plants with my selfish desires.

Besides being plants, Stellas are daylilies, which are Nature's gift to crappy gardeners. Okay, they are Nature's gift to all gardeners. Okay, to everyone. They come in a truly astonishing number of colors, patterns, forms, sizes, and bloom times, and most of them will grow just about anywhere. The ever-present orange fulvas apparently cannot be eradicated. For a while I dismissed fulvas as common "ditch lilies," looking at them with disdain and thinking of them as not worthy of being included in a "real" garden. But I've learned to appreciate their vigor and their contribution to making the world a better place. There's a clump I'm looking at through the window right now that is glowing in the sunlight and it's absolutely beautiful. Just because they are common doesn't mean they aren't valuable.

Which I'm thinking is an important thing for me to keep in mind with Stellas seeing as how they've become sickeningly common. They are Professional Plant Breeding's gift to lazy, uncreative landscaping. Because they are daylilies they are easy to grow anywhere and everywhere, and they bloom early and continuously all summer. And so thousands of landscapers have planted millions of these damn things as islands in seas of orange mulch outside nearly every business in America that uses landscaping services.

I hate this. Passionately, deeply hate this with almost every inch of my gardener's soul. This may have to do with the fact that I think most professional landscaping is completely devoid of any aesthetic or environmental value. It is almost always more of an affront to the eye and to Nature than it is an enhancement. It's all show and no soul, and it's not even a good show.

Folks, I'm going to tell you some hard truths.

  • Orange ("red") mulch is an abomination. It is not a natural color for mulch, and I have no idea why anyone decided to dye mulch this color. It doesn't "go with" anything --not the houses and buildings it surrounds nor the plants stranded in it. It isn't even cheaper than other colors (at least not based on homeowner prices for the stuff you get at Lowe's or Home Depot). 
  • Mulch's value is not as a substitute for groundcover plants. You are not supposed to cover vast swaths of ground with it and then plop a few flowers here and there in the middle of it. Especially since...
  • Mulch does not eliminate weeds. It may help reduce them, but they still make it through. If you think weeds look bad in general, notice how much crappier it looks when you've got random weeds growing up through swaths of mulch. You might as well just have planted a nice grass in all that space. 
  • Mulch should not be used because people are too lazy and/or cheap to plant and/or maintain a more appropriate groundcover. This is the only reason I can think of for all that damn mulch. It's easier to blow a bunch of mulch down every spring than it is to plant a nice, low-growing variety of grass that might require an occasional trimming. (Which is, of course, nonsense because there are all kinds of ornamental grasses that require little to no mowing or maintenance. And that's not even considering the various other groundcover options besides grass.)
  • Mulch should not be orange. I've said it before and this won't be the last time either. This may not even be my first diatribe against it. There is no argument you can offer that will make me accept orange mulch as having any value, and I will judge you all the more harshly for defending it. If you use it, just never let me know or you might be dead to me. I hate it that much. 

I'm realizing that it might not be fair to blame the landscapers if they are just responding to the wants of their customers. Perhaps they are ready and willing to do something different, but none of their customers want to make the initial investment to plant a more permanent solution. Of course, a more permanent solution also removes the need for repeat business, so maybe the landscapers are perfectly happy to keep mulching away. I really have no idea. I know nothing about the costs of professional landscaping options. 

What I do know is that Stella d'Oro daylilies are EVERYWHERE. I sort of hate them because of their ubiquity. I sort of hate them because of how they are planted --one plant per square yard of mulch. I sort of hate them because to me they represent the laziness, the complete lack of creativity, and the pretension that masquerades as landscaping. 

But talk about pretension, oh black pot. Do you think people who dabble in easy gardening shouldn't even bother? No. Isn't it better that they at least try? Yes, I think it generally is. Dabbling can evolve into a passion or kindle a desire to learn more and to grow as a gardener.* Is there no beauty or value to be found in something because it is common? I should know better. True, Stella d'Oro flowers are one of my least favorite colors, but so were fulva daylilies at one point. I "hate" magenta flowers, too, and yet I've found exceptions that I like. Perhaps a bit of warm gold is just what I need. One resilient and thriving specimen plant saved from the trash can certainly find a home somewhere in the rainbow that is my yard, especially nestled between such a wide and interesting variety of other (naturally- and limitedly-mulched) plants.

*The individual dabbler, like the individual plant, may deserve encouragement, but the companies perpetrating bad landscaping judgment still ought to be taken to task. It's better to have no trees than one tiny, sad, suffering tree suffering in the middle of a giant parking lot. That's like having a bear in a tiny cage at a gas station because people like the idea of seeing "nature up close." People like the idea of flowers outside their McDonalds, but that's not an excuse to plant a row of Stellas spaced feet away from each other with orange mulch for miles on every side. The thing I have to remember is that I feel sorry for the tree and I feel sorry for the bear, so I ought to feel sorry for the flowers. The best thing I can do is to give a better life than that to this plant that ended up in my hands. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Something is Going to Kill Me & It Might as Well be Cheesecake

As a general rule, I try to plan ahead for everything and prepare myself for the worst. Okay, I don't always succeed. But at least my less-than-perfect choices create a perpetual state of guilt, so I have that going for me. (And when all my thinking ahead pays off, it's worth it. If you want to make sure you are often right and seldom disappointed, I highly recommend a life of anxiety and pessimism.)

So where do the dying and the cheesecake fit in? In this part right here where I point out that:
a) You can't prevent everything. (Believe me, I've tried.)
b) Everyone dies. Even healthy people.
c) There is no perfect path, not even the healthiest ones. There is only an infinite realm of possible choices.
d) One person's set of choices is not the right path for everyone else.
e) If your path includes eating lots of cheesecake and dying due to complications from cheesecake consumption, your path is not "wrong," your death is not some sort of failure.

This is not the first time I've realized this. It might not even be the first time I've discussed it. But it's something I have obviously not internalized to the point that it is my default thought process. So if I'm repeating myself, I'm sorry-not-sorry. I need to repeat this until it's all that I hear, and until it's all that everyone else hears in their heads.

Being thin is not a virtue. It doesn't make you a good person. It doesn't even make you a better person than someone else just because they happen to be fatter. It's not a sign of psychological and/or cognitive superiority. It's not an indicator of moral superiority. Being thin doesn't stop you from dying.

Being fat is not a crime. It's not a sin. It's not a moral failure. It's not a psychological failure. It's not a cognitive weakness. Being fat is not an actual cause of death. 

Body fat levels and body size are not simply results of individual control. They are not simply the result of calories in vs. calories out. There are genetic factors. There are metabolic, hormonal, and other biological factors. There are gut biome factors. There are nutritional factors. There are the biological set points, levels, and default processes that are the accumulation of a person's lifetime of choices. There is the individualized interaction of all factors for each person. And there's the fact that science keeps changing what it "knows" about all these factors.

When you put that all together you find there is no magic formula. There is no right answer.

Which is why runners have heart attacks, vegetarians get cancer, people in the "healthy" BMI category commit suicide, and fat people die of diseases that they could never have prevented with a "better" diet and more exercise.  

I could go on ad nauseam with examples of how "health" and death are not direct results of any given body weight or any designated measurement of body fat or any particular diet. I could write millions of words to explore what being "healthy" really means. But I'm tired of participating in a society-wide obsession with the subject. Life is already hard enough. I'm a bit of a hedonist, and I find enjoyment in relatively unhealthy food. If you don't like that, bite me. There's plenty of me to go around.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Too Old For This, Not Old Enough to Escape

There is a set of thoughts that has been weighing on my mind with increasing heaviness over the past few years, a tangle of thoughts regarding money, happiness, purpose, value, worth, sacrifice, fulfillment, responsibility.

What do I really need to make me happy?
What makes life worth living besides happiness?
Do I have a right to be happy? Does anyone have a right to happiness? Do I have a right to try to make myself happy?
Should I feel guilty for taking what I want if I'm not actively harming people to get it?
How much sacrifice is enough?
How much contentment is enough? How much responsibility do I have for creating my own sense of contentment, fulfillment, and acceptance no matter what the circumstances?
How much do I owe to other people? How much responsibility do I have to the rest of the world?
Am I a good person? Am I a good enough person? How much do I care about becoming a better person?
How much responsibility do I have to change? To fight against myself when what I want is at odds with what I should be?
Would I be happier or at least more at peace with myself if I forced myself to do and be what I'm told is right?
What are the consequences of rejecting moral standards adhered to by my friends and family? Is maintaining social cohesion its own moral imperative? Will I be content with accepting the consequences for failing to adhere?
Would I be happier if I stopped caring so much about what other people think?

These questions have weighed upon my mind even more so in the last 6 months as I've become increasingly frustrated with being unable to find a solution to the one overriding problem that has emerged: I don't want to work full time anymore, but I can't accept the consequences of not doing so.

Money and time. It's all about money and time.

It's probably also about aging, being at least a partial introvert, dealing with the circumstances of my own particular life experience, and how my personality and brain are responding to the world at large as it changes.

I believe I was born to be a housewife, but I was also born to have some sort of career. I want to have some work to do and to be able to put my brain to good use. And I want a paycheck. But I am sick of not having the time or energy to connect with the things that fulfill me and give life some meaning. I am sick of trying to cram everything that isn't work into the two days between work weeks. And I'm sick of these things being robbed of their restorative value when they end up being forced efforts.

I am literally sick from these things. Over the last 6 months I have made myself sick from the stress and anxiety of not having the time to do the things that I need to do beyond work. I was sick from being up at night with a sick cat and but still having to get up at 4 in the morning to start my 12-hour work day routine. I was sick from trying to figure out how to squeeze vet appointments around my work schedule. I was sick from taking days off to take care of my dying cat and grieving her loss, and knowing that those "vacation" days were being traded off for actual relaxing days off later. I was even sick from trying to squeeze otherwise-relaxing social events into an already-too-tight schedule.

In the last couple of months, the stress of all work and no play has brought me as close to either some sort of clinical depression or some sort of anxiety disorder as I've been in years. It's brought me as close to being suicidal as I ever want to be again. (Not as close as I've been in the past, but that was far too close than anyone should have gone without getting help.) It gets better --much better-- after I have a work day off, and then starts to creep back over me until I have another work day off. Which makes it seem all the more obvious that having more days at home is definitely one answer.

I just don't know how to make it a viable answer. I can't quit work. I doubt I could get another job that was even remotely as flexible and fulfilling as the one I have. And that wouldn't really help because the problem isn't my job; it's working full time. But, I can't afford to switch to part-time, regardless of whether it was at my current job or a new job. The one hope I had --working from home one or two days a week-- seemed to be just over the horizon, but has stalled indefinitely.

I'm starting a four-day weekend thanks to having the rest of the windows installed today and tomorrow. And despite the fact that I'm writing this downer of an entry I already feel better for having these days off. Despite the fact that I have to deal with the phone guy tomorrow and yet another bill for having them try to fix a problem they can't seem to find. Despite the fact that I am expecting the vet to tell me that Gordon has cancer. Despite the fact that a cancer diagnosis will mean being forced to make extremely hard decisions. Despite the fact that choosing treatment would mean I could very well have to deplete my entire reserves of both emotional strength and vacation time to deal with vet visits and cat care. Despite the fact that it could mean that I might not have any time left to take off when Mom is here in September or that Mom might never get to meet Gordon. I don't see Life making anything any easier in the near future. But dealing with it all would be exponentially more difficult if I hadn't been able to take a couple of sick days in the last few weeks and to take these two days off.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mental Health Day

When I was in grad school, I was treated for depression. The doctor prescribed Prozac and suggested counseling. Even though I knew the counseling part would probably help even more than drugs, I never went. I was working two part time jobs, doing graduate course work, and spending almost every other waking moment with my friends. When did I have time to deal with counseling? Besides, my work and my social interactions were their own form of "counseling" which helped keep me from spiraling too far down.

I think the Prozac helped. I'm not really sure. I don't even remember how long I was on it. If I remember correctly, the doctor ran out of coupons and, faced with the increased cost, I decided it was time to stop taking it.

I did finally get some counseling a few years ago. As winter wore on into early spring I found myself wondering more and more seriously whether it would be possible to suffocate myself to death by shutting myself in one of the closets in the attic. I wondered how long it would take Tim to find me and I felt sad for what it would do to him. And then one day I realized my wish to be gone was so overwhelming that I didn't care about hurting anyone else. It was like a slap in the face, and I immediately got the ball rolling on starting counseling.

Just doing something proactive made me instantly feel better. I had my allotted 10 counseling sessions, and every time I went I felt practically giddy with relief. Even though my counselor didn't do anything except listen. No advice, no exercises to try, no suggestions, no interpretations. She just listened. Which meant that on the way home from each session I ended up thinking, "But wait, I never really talked about my hard core problems." I had all these thoughts, fears, problems, questions that I'd been contemplating my whole life and what came out of my mouth at my counseling sessions was banal crap. And my counselor was just a kind, gentle listener who never helped me get deeper, who never guided me into discussing anything that would make a long-term difference in how my brain functioned.

When my 10 sessions were up and the insurance wasn't going to pay for further sessions without proof that I needed more help, I used that as an excuse to stop seeing her. I had fully realized by that point that, despite enjoying having someone to talk to, our sessions weren't accomplishing anything substantial. Plus, it was fully spring by that point and the influence of my Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms was gone. I was somewhat giddy simply from that change in the seasons, and didn't feel like I needed to pay someone to listen to me anymore.

Since then, I've done a lot of thinking (and worrying and soul searching and debating with myself) about depression. And the two-prong conclusion I always come to is that a) I don't know whether what I suffer from is really depression and b) whether it is or not, I feel guilty for not being happy.

Is it depression or is it self-indulgence?
Is it depression or is it just a bad attitude that I ought to be able to fix if I tried hard enough?
Is it depression or is it just a negative personality that I was born with and should learn to accept?
Do I even have a responsibility to myself or to other people to change?
Does that potential responsibility depend upon whether the cause of my problems is biological or not?
Do we even have a right to expect to be happy?
Do we have a responsibility to the rest of the world to be happy?
Is it my own fault that I expect too much?
Is it my own fault I can't deal with change?
Is it my own fault I worry constantly about bad things happening?
Is it my own fault for not being able to prepare for every bad thing that could happen?
Is it my own fault for being fat, which creates some of the physical problems I'm dealing with and has a biological effect on my brain?
Is it my own fault for retreating inside myself instead of reaching out to other people?
Is it my own fault that I'm making it worse by feeling sorry for myself?
How can I feel sorry for myself when people I care about are grieving lost husbands and fathers?
How can I feel sorry for myself when other people I know are dealing with real depression issues?
Why have the feelings I've been fighting with for at least 6 months finally come to some sort of head now when I should be worried about other people instead of myself?
Why doesn't everyone understand how awful I feel all the time and feel the same way?
Why can't I be like everyone else and not feel awful all the time?
Am I just a bad person?

Now I remember that part of the problem I had with talking to my counselor was that all the evil, dark, angry, empty, painful, negative, lost, alienated, frustrated, worried, fearful thoughts that fill my head all the time sound silly and/or stupid when I try to say them aloud. They're especially hard to discuss when I'm not feeling bad at the moment of trying to discuss them. The relief of being in the counselor's office was always so great that I suddenly couldn't really talk about all those problematic thoughts in a serious way.

But when I don't have anyone to talk to, when relief isn't lifting the pall of darkness from my soul, when I have a quiet few hours to myself away from everything else, I can write some of those thoughts. It's like talking to myself, which is what I do all day every day anyway. But writing relieves some of the pressure of having it all locked inside my head. Writing allows me to transcribe all that damaging rumination and gives me a chance to organize all the thoughts a little better. And being able to express these kinds of thoughts while their pain is still upon me allows me to say them without feeling like my feelings are silly or stupid. I can't control how anyone else who reads them interprets them. But I don't actually care at this point. I'm not doing this for anyone else right now.

Right now I'm worried about the fact that I've felt stressed for months on end. Right now I'm worried about work and I'm worried about the fact that I've been worried about work for months. Right now I'm worried about money and the house, and I'm also worried that I shouldn't be worried about money and the house. Right now I'm worried that I'm making life harder than it needs to be. Right now I'm worried about why I can't seem to cheer up and find meaning in my life, and I'm worried about the fact that this has been a problem for months and months at this point. Right now I'm worried because my body is giving me all sorts of grief and I'm not sure what, if anything, I can or should do about it. Right now I'm worried that I can't seem to find any time or energy to be passionate about anything --not even my garden. Right now I'm debating whether this is really depression this time. And right now I'm deciding I'm not going to do anything about it yet, at least not medically.

I allowed my physical problems to give me an excuse to take the day off, and I've used some of this day to at least take some of the pressure off my brain by writing this. I'm already feeling more positive, and I'm going to use the rest of the day to do what I want. I'm going to go putter around outside for a bit, and I'm going to try to make myself go for a walk. I really think getting in some daily walking might make a big difference. Then maybe I'll go read outside later on. And if I can find someplace to work on jigsaw puzzles, I might start one. A little exercise, a little relaxation, and maybe a little "order & method" for my "little grey cells." And then we'll see where I need to go from here.