Monday, November 20, 2017

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which is such a better acronym than WFSAMMCAEATT

I was thinking about the acronym SAD, and how fitting it is, and how I couldn't come up with a better one that made a word.

I mean, Winter F$%&ing Sucks And Makes Me Cry And Eat All The Time doesn't work for a variety of reasons. One, it doesn't include the word disorder, and two, WFSAMMCAEATT is both cumbersome and doesn't make an actual word. (And three, but less importantly: you aren't supposed to capitalize the And, And, or The but acronyms with big and small letters are kind of weird.)


This is a sort of PSA but rooted in a personal story because I believe that if you're telling other people what you think they might ought to do, but you've never lived through it, then you're a jackass.

Which I try not to be, with varying degrees of success.

(Also, I firmly support double modals, in case you're wondering.) 

So. We are in November, which in the Northern hemisphere means it's fall, with short days that get progressively shorter until December 21. And when the sun is out, the light is thin.

This matters.

OK, now my story. And then I'll get back to what may or may not be about you.

Two weekends ago, at Carolina, a friend asked if I've basically been skinny since those 40 pounds I gained in college.

The answer is no, and yes. Depending on the season.

Prior to antidepressants, I gained 10-15 pounds every winter. This is a lot on someone with small bones who is only 5'3". I'd lose it by summer, to gain it again the following year. My size was always in flux. I thought about my weight all the time.

I was great at not eating in the spring and summer. I could not eat and not eat, and run and run. I had energy, I laughed, I got skinny, and it was great. The longer the days, the better I felt.

But as it turns out, I'm extremely sensitive to light. So I'd notice the shift of light in August, and fully start being affected in September, when it didn't (then) make sense, because it was still warm out.

As soon as the light strength and amount diminished, I'd start the downhill slide. 

This for me meant eating more. I always ate sugar, no matter what else I was or wasn't eating. Mostly wasn't. I eliminated a lot of food over the years. But candy was my thing.

And running.

But once the days were short and the amount of light I got was not sufficient, I couldn't starve myself. I lost control.

It didn't ever matter how much I ran, because I could out-eat all the running.

Really, until I started antidepressants consistently, that was how I lived. Weight gain all winter, weight loss all spring and summer. I'm talking about my weight here, but I cried all winter as well. The crying went along with the eating.

It's not that I didn't cry in the summer, just a lot less.

Now I'm on a much more even keel, both weight-wise and emotionally. Not an even keel like someone who doesn't struggle with depression. But an even keel for me.

And since I've been on antidepressants, that big chunk of dread doesn't lodge in my stomach in September, when the sun is still golden but the slant and quality are wrong. I still get nervous; I won't pretend I don't.

But not like before.

With this level of removal, and no longer being all wrapped up in my own struggles, I can actually see and hear other people. And this is what I've noticed: Quite a lot of people have a hard time. They want to eat all the sugar and all carbs, all the time. They hate winter. They want to sleep a lot more, to never leave the house.

If you're someone who has said these things to me, yes, I'm talking about you, but absolutely not targeting you, because let me assure you: you're one of many. You are in great company.


There are a number of things I do daily that are helpful, although for me, they're not enough without medication. I know this; I've tried.

I don't always manage all of them, but the more I do, the better.

1. I use a light box. Here's a series of Mayo Clinic pages on light therapy.

2. I get sun exposure. I get outside when the sun is out. I either go for a walk or run.

3. I exercise. I do this almost daily, and whether or not I do it makes a big difference in my mood.

3. I eat protein and fats--two things I avoided for too many years. I've always loved veggies and fruit, and have always eat a lot of those (except, you know, when I mostly wasn't eating). Most significantly in my diet, I try to avoid sugar and fast carbohydrates. This is the hardest item for me.

I have drastically reduced my sugar consumption. I had no sugar, bread, pasta, rice, etc, for about five weeks straight. I was basically having a glass of wine once a week, and not every week. Once I quit sugar, my interest in wine went away.

Two weekends ago, I had a debaucherous reunion weekend, and I'm struggling to get back to completely eliminating sugar. I don't even know that this is reasonable for me over the holidays, and I am not going to beat myself up for it.

Stevia in my tea is not delicious the way sugar is. But I will tell you this: I'm sleeping better than I have in a decade. And sleep is more delicious than sugar.

Sleeping well is perhaps the part that has changed my life the most. It makes me feel way better and behave much more kindly toward every single human I encounter, my family being the humans I spend the most time with.

Now, I have a lot of mental health conversations with a lot of people. And lately people are complaining about winter. So many people hate winter.

I mention the fact that I'm on antidepressants in the same way I'd say, "The bus is late." I do this on purpose, because so many people don't talk about it.

And I often hear that people are having a hard time, but "It's not that bad."

I'm not in anyone else's head. I don't know how they actually feel, or what their threshold is.

I would never tell anyone that their bad is that bad, even if I sometimes think it. Sometimes I suggest it might be, gently and indirectly. If these suggestions are met with hostility, I back away.

Sometimes people get downright hostile when you suggest therapy or medication. I am not exaggerating.

But I hear what people are saying, and I see how people close down in this season in particular. I relate to their stated feelings. I know what happens to me, and I know what my threshold is.

Medication can help. Sunshine. Artificial light. Exercise. Talk therapy. Eating in a way that keeps blood sugar balanced.

There are lots of things that can help.

I'm not a doctor, and I don't even play one on TV. But I do know this: it doesn't have to be quite so hard.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Take my hand, take my whole life too

Ten years ago today I had a date lined up for tonight.

One decade, one wedding, two children, two moves, and too many funerals and memorial services ago, I had not yet met Nick.

So half a score ago, I got up alone and dressed for work in an outfit that was cute enough for a date, but still serious enough to have gone to work in.

Because, see, one evening in summer I'd changed into a sundress for a first date, and the guy said, "Did you go to work in THAT?"

Along these lines, I'd begun wearing my glasses on dates. Then a date asked if I'd worn them to deliberately look less attractive. Come to think of it, he was also the one who wanted to know what was wrong with me, being that I was apparently this pretty, funny, and smart.

What was not obviously wrong with me that I was still single?

What I'm saying is, I didn't get up that morning with the thought that I'd meet a man I might marry anytime soon or really ever.

In fact, I did go home to change after work, but mainly because it was one of those weird warmy-coldy DC November days, and my outfit was either too hot or too cold and I can't remember which.

And I did wear my glasses. Both of these things I remember, because changing meant I had to hurry, and because I was hurrying I was sweating. And because it was cold my glasses fogged up as soon as I walked into the bar at the Tabard and said hello to Nick.

He teased me about the glasses then and there. He didn't mention the sweating until we knew each other way better.

You've likely already read about this day at least once or maybe nine times. (Why isn't there a nince, like thrice? Have I written about this nince? I can't remember. But here's the first time and the second time.)

I was 38 and had been internet dating for about two and a half years at that point. I would say that I had no hope left, but that's not exactly true. I couldn't keep going on dates if I had no hope.

So I suppose it's more accurate to say that I had no positive expectations.

He could be someone who was funny on email and dry in person. Someone who didn't actually laugh at anything I said that I knew for damn sure was funny to me. Someone who grilled me on my resume, making the date more of a job interview. Someone who made sure I knew how important he was. Someone who was rude to the server.

There were many reasons, I had learned, that I might loathe whoever he turned out to be. I'm being melodramatic. I might not outright loathe him--that rarely happened--but the overwhelming odds were that I would never want to kiss him and that would be that.

I was tired of going on dates and wishing that instead, I were home doing laundry and watching Grey's Anatomy. I was tired of looking but afraid of not doing so.

I wanted to throat punch people who told me I was trying too hard, that they met their spouse when they weren't looking.

Mainly, I was so tired of balancing on that sharp and painful line between hopefulness and utter despair.

You give up hope and you're done for in this life. Or anyway, I would be. 

So I had to maintain a modicum of it, while still having no expectations. I didn't get excited for dates anymore, but I couldn't give in to dread, because then where would I be?

I should just sum this up by saying I was tired.

I was tired and five minutes late and it was warmy-coldy and I was rushing and sweating.

Nick was five minutes early and calmly sipping a beer by the time I hurried in and scanned the room.

He stood up and held out his big warm hand to introduce himself. I put my small cold hand in his. He smiled. He teased me about my glasses, but didn't compliment or denigrate them.

He didn't talk about his work or ask me about mine. We talked about travel, and books, and weird situations we'd gotten ourselves into and out of. He was warm and kind. He was funny, and he laughed at things I said that I knew for damn sure were funny.

Ten weeks later, when he asked me to marry him, we didn't actually know each other all that well. But he was absolutely certain, and I was confident enough to ride on his utter certainty.

This is who we are in life.

If we stop at a convenience store he chooses a beverage and doesn't give it a second thought. I stand in front of the frige and think, "Would I rather have lemonade? But tea has caffeine, and I'm kind of tired. But then I might have to pee. I should probably have water. But..."

And he's all, "Just pick a drink and let's go!"

Of course marriage is way bigger than picking a drink for the road. I wouldn't ever suggest that ten weeks is an amount of time that tells you everything you need to know about a person.

We all know that it could've gone very badly. I won't pretend that there haven't been some hard periods of time, and we all know I joke about stabbing my husband and that he never finds funny.

But as a human, he is good people. He's generous and smart and thougthtful. He is polite to everyone, and he makes sure our children are as well. He's kind. He laughs and he makes me laugh. He's a very decent, loving person and a terrific husband and father.

I didn't know any of these things when I headed into my last first date.

But I'm thankful every day that I did.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Mean girls, Kindergarten edition

Who's that girl?
This is something I haven't thought about for decades.

When I was in 2nd grade, I was part of a group of four friends.

The leader of our group was a Canadian girl named Kim, although I don't remember why. And every day she decided which of the four of us would be ignored.

It was typically the girl whose bus arrived last. I guess Kim's bus never arrived last.

At some point, it was my turn. They all ignored me every day, for a month. My three little girlfriends in my second grade class refused to speak to me for an entire month.

I cried every day.

We were in a tiny foreign community in newly-independent Bangladesh. Everyone knew each other. My mom spoke to her mom, who invited me over to play, in order to fix it. Kim refused to speak to me the entire time. I was stuck and it was brutal.

I don't remember the moment they started talking to me again, but at some point Kim decided they would, and they did.

Now I think, why the hell did Kim have that power over us? And I participated. Why did I participate?

I don't know. But she did. And I did.

So, yesterday, India's teacher Ms. M told me about an incident involving my daughter.

Incidentally, her teacher Ms. M is terrific. We had her last year, and she switched to teaching Kindergarten, and I'm so glad India's with her again. I feel like she really knows and gets my daughter.

So Ms. M gave me the details as she understood them and asked if I could get India to talk to me about what happened.

Apparently, during recess, India went in to use the bathroom. It's hard for the little kids to lock the stall doors, so often they don't. This was the case.

India was sitting on the toilet, and her stall door was open. Three girls from her class stood and watched her while she was using the toilet, even though she told them to leave her alone.

One of the teachers walked into the bathroom while this was going on, and put a stop to it.

India is very close to that teacher, and cried and cried to her. India was hugely upset. Afterwards, she  refused to talk about it.

My girl is bold and strong, and when she falls down, she typically gets up, brushes it off, and says she's fine.

But this isn't falling down. This is other kids being deliberately unkind. Staring and refusing to leave when you're not in the position to make them go away. When you're vulnerable.

One of them is a friend of hers, but the other two were names India has never mentioned.

Now, Ms. M explained that this is part of a larger climate of subtle bullying going on in her classroom. There are girls being mean to each other in sneaky ways. She said India isn't a target, and that the mean behavior isn't consistently directed at one person.

I asked if India is ever one of the mean girls, and Ms. M said she doesn't instigate but sometimes she will tag along at the tail end of the group.

I think about myself in 2nd grade. I think about Kim.

So, Ms. M has started assigning seats, deliberately separating girls who are tight. She's assigned them places in line, because they were clustering. The school counselor is going to come in and talk about kindness.

Ms. M said that kids don't hesitate to tell her if someone hits them. That's bad behavior; it's obvious. But she said that what's going on now is not necessarily obvious or clear-cut, and she thinks kids don't know whether they should tell or not.

She doesn't know if India would have said anything if the other teacher hadn't walked in.

She said she thinks it's due to the large number of girls with strong personalities in class this year. She's working to shift this mean girls dynamic that's begun.

I broached the topic while snuggling in bed with my little girl. She buried her head under the pillow and said, "Ms. M already told you about it. I don't want to talk about it."

I knew that my daughter would get her feelings hurt by her friends and classmates. That's inevitable. I knew that at some point there would be mean girls.

I guess I didn't think it would start in Kindergarten.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Reunion dinner outfit! Need help choosing!

I know that it doesn't actually matter what I wear to my reunion.

In fact, it rarely matters what I wear ever. I'm actually rather vain, although it's not always evident. Sometimes I leave the house for hours looking like I was dressed in the dark by a mean-spirited chimpanzee.

You should see what I wore to volunteer at school yesterday, which was culottes, because it very warm out, and then my new Sanita clogs which currently feel better with socks on. So.

My son was all, "Uh, do you like those pants?" He did not. I told them they'd look better without the black socks.

You wouldn't know it by some of the things I am willing to be seen in in public, but I love clothes. And shoes. And boots. It's no secret I have a boot problem.

So. With all that said, which outfit do you like for my reunion dinner? It's at a bar/restaurant on Franklin Street. The weather is going to be maybe 50s-ish. Or 75. Or down to 32. Because who actually knows anymore.

The suggested dress for dinner is something along the lines of jeans and a cute top. So I pulled out a couple sweaters I like and was thinking of black pants in lieu of blue jeans. I don't know. I really really don't know.

I  haven't yet put on an outfit that feels perfect. Maybe because I loathe the cold and none of these are sundresses. I don't know. Can I say that again? They all feel so dark and not cheerful and I don't knooooooow.

Option 1. Reddish sweater, black pleather pants, high wedges. Downside: they're actually jeggings and my sweater isn't that long. But I do kind of love them.
 Option 2. Same, except black jeans, and you can see the wedges. Jeans are comfy. Huge bonus is that I'm about 5'7" in these booties. Ha!
Option 3. Black jeans, black sweater, cowgirl boots. I could wear blue jeans instead of black. Can't decide how I feel about black jeans with the boots.
Option 4. Dress with cowgirl boots. Bonus: these boots kick ass. Also, I could wear a cool necklace. Downside, it may be cold cold cold. And my legs are kind of screamingly pale.
What I think it comes down to is: pants or dress; if pants, then pleather/jeans; all black or not; high wedges or cowgirl boots.

Or something completely different?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Ha ha ha, hee hee hee I'm a laughing gnome and you can't catch me

I don't know if you've ever written an internet dating profile.

It's hard to describe yourself in a way that is sincere but not painfully so, and breezy but not contrived. Although maybe now they require less text. Does Tinder require any text?

Anyway, back in aught-five, when I had a flip phone and sody pop cost a nickle, I remember that it took me a long time to even put up a profile, because there were so many steps that required careful thought.

You had to pick a username (one that was not boring and not stupid). I chose Lemon Gloria, because I didn't have a better idea. If you're doing internet dating and have a blog that chronicles your dates, it is in fact plain stupid to use your blog name.

You also had to have a tagline (seriously?), and then write a couple paragraphs about yourself. It needed to be long enough to say something, but not too long because who wants to read paragraphs and paragraphs?

Anyway, I wrote it, and then I read a piece about phrases not to use. One was something about being equally comfortable in jeans or a black cocktail dress. Another was, "I love to laugh." I had to go and immediately delete that line from my profile.

Apparently, saying you love to laugh is stupid and trite, because everyone loves to laugh.

Now, I don't actually believe that everyone loves to laugh. Or maybe they love to, but don't actually do so very often. There are people who will remark that something is funny, but not actually laugh. (I am pretty sure this was on a Seinfeld episode.) There are other people who will smile politely and then you're just left amusing yourself.

When this happens I like to mutter "anal sphincter" and then move along.

Try this. You may be the only one laughing, but it works.

Although none of this happens to me that often anymore because: 1. I am not going on first dates with random people; 2. I'm not actually going on ANY dates with random people; 3. Nick thinks I'm funny. Usually.; and 4. My kids and my mom think I'm hilarious.

Oh! and 5! Maybe even most importantly! I don't work in an office anymore. So I don't have all those regular encounters with people outside my house.

Also: this is why I suck at outlines and figuring out the final points before you start the first ones and making all the things parallel.

So I'm just going to say it: I love to laugh. I do. And! I don't laugh all that often anymore.

Not in a mouth wide open, laugh till you're crying kind of way.

So, anyway, I recently heard a program on NPR on laughter yoga.

Laughter is good for us, both mentally and physically. It makes us feel good, and it actually helps with our health and well being.

And get this: your body does not differentiate between real and fake laughter.

That's the part I found the most interesting. In these laughter yoga classes, they have people fake laugh until hopefully they real laugh.

Since then, here's what I've been doing. I walk around the house fake laughing. I do this when nobody is around because frankly, it's weird.

Go ahead and try it. Ha ha ha ha ha! It feels weird, right?

But your body has no idea. So now I do this. And any opportunity I have to giggle--like if my kids say something emi-funny, I laugh. And then they laugh. And we laugh harder, till we're really laughing.

I'm on a mission.

So a couple weeks ago, I decided to solicit actual, make-you-laugh suggestions from friends. I saved the post so I could always refer back.

And because I love you, and want you to not have to walk around feeling weird about fake laughing, I'm sharing some, most of which I have not yet watched, because we are currently immersed in Stranger Things (which if you are not watching it, why not?).

Some funny suggestions:

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
My Drunk Kitchen
Eastbound and Down on HBO
Youtube video Can't Hug Every Cat (see above)
Tim Conway skits, especially the dentist one
The Office
Modern Family
Arrested Development (until the last season...which was definitely not as good)
Parks + Rec
Love Sick
The Good Place, Catastrophe, Atypical

Maybe you've seen some of these already. Maybe you have other suggestions. I'm all ears.

Also, I had to retitle because I totally forgot that I was going to use this lyric from David Bowie's weird little ditty "The Laughing Gnome." When I first listened to it in 7th grade I thought it was just kooky, but now I imagine this was during the period where he subsisted entirely on cocaine and milk. Seriously. He said that.