Tiny Revolutions №13: Check Yourself Before...You Know

tell me how you really feel

ice cube GIF

I recently broke up with someone. It had been a short but intense relationship: the kind where we went immediately from being total strangers to spending almost all of our free time together. This is extremely unusual for me, but I went with it because it felt right—right up until it didn’t. We fell apart even faster than we had come together. It was messy and confusing and painful when it ended, but it was absolutely, completely finished.

And what I noticed in the immediate aftermath was that the emotion I felt the most, even more than sadness, was fear. An intense, cold fear. Of being alone. Of sleeping alone. Of confronting the huge vacuum that opens up when you break up with someone. Those lazy weekend mornings when you used to lounge about drinking coffee together until you went about your day. And then all the nights after.

As I approached the first weekend after it ended, I found myself in a tailspin, wondering how I would fill the hours and convinced that I was doomed to eternal solitude.

But then something pretty great happened. I had the presence of mind to pull my head out of my ass and asked myself how I was *actually* feeling right at that moment. Apart from the assumption that every day after this would bring me a step closer to dying alone and having my corpse picked at by my dog before the neighbors found me, what was really going on?

Yes, there was loneliness. Yes, there was sadness and disappointment. There was shame, because here I was, dealing with another “failed” relationship. But there was also relief, because there was a reason it had ended. And there was gratitude—for making it through an intense situation and remaining intact. There was even a tiny glimpse of hope that maybe one day there would be a relationship that ended on a less fraught note, or maybe didn’t end at all.

I was able to remind myself that there would be so many more moments, if I could just remember to actually be there for them. The fear that I was feeling only had a small amount to do with reality — it was my anticipation of the loneliness itself that was harming me and causing me to suffer. And so it felt like a choice — either stay worried about the future or keep returning to right now. What’s actually happening as opposed to what might happen.

I’m writing to you from a sunny spring day with a light wind that’s floating the sweet smell of jasmine my way every so often. What’s present for me right now is gratitude that I get to experience this beauty and that I get to write about it, and that you are reading about it. I’m a little bit lonely. I’m a little bit sad that I don’t have anyone sitting across the table from me with a reassuring smile. But that’s just something that I’m feeling right now. Maybe I won’t feel that way tomorrow. Or maybe I won’t even feel that way in 20 minutes.

Onward.


I’ve been thinking (and reading) a lot lately about how researchers are discovering more and more about how the diversity of the microbes in your gut impacts your mental health. Blah blah blah probiotics, the intestinal biome, etc. But it was kind of a lightbulb to read this article about how for all our focus on eating fermented foods and drinking kombucha and the like to get more probiotics into our systems, we might be overlooking something even more important: the necessity of eating enough fiber. It is fiber, after all, that feeds the microbes. So eat your beans.


Need help making a decision? The body never lies.


“The brain does not honor the kind of anachronistic distinction between thought and feeling. Thought and feeling are absolutely intermingled in the brain, and so there are no areas of the brain that are exclusively dedicated to one and not the other. There’s a lot of interconnectivity.”

One of my favorite things to read about is how science is catching up to something that some people (ahem, Buddhists) have instinctively known forever: that there is no separation between our bodies and minds. Here’s a great conversation between On Being’s Krista Tippet and leading neuroscientist Richard Wright. It’s ostensibly about the role of feelings in the classroom, but it’s so much more than that. (Note: there’s a transcript if podcasts aren’t your thing.)


Dolly.


A poem for spring.

Image result for philip larkin the trees

I’m off for a meditation retreat with Angel City Zen Center this weekend, which I’ve recently discovered is home to a thoughtful and welcoming group of people. If you are curious about meditation, let me know if you’d like to join me for one of their group sits. (And regardless, wish me luck at staying silent for three days.)


Before I leave you, I have a little experiment I want to try. Will you go here and answer two short, anonymous questions? I want to know how *you* are feeling right this very moment. This will take you no more than ten seconds.

😘

Sara

p.s. Thanks to my dear friend and reader Stephanie, who supplied this photo that refers to a question I posed in an earlier issue.

p.p.s. Want to know a secret?

p.p.p.s. Thank you for reading this far! If you know someone who you think would like to join this tiny revolution, please have them subscribe here.

Tiny Revolutions №12: Sweet Relief

sometimes it really does get better

I came across an article recently about how while we have learned much more about treating depression in the past twenty years, there is still a lack of research on recovery. According to the New York Times, “in trying to understand how people with depression might escape their condition, scientists have focused almost entirely on the afflicted, overlooking a potentially informative group: people who once suffered from some form of depression but have more or less recovered.”

I’m surprised but not surprised by this. It runs parallel to all my reading about depression -- and I’ve done a lot -- which focuses on the experience. How you feel trapped and at a dead end and Churchill’s Black Dog and all that. I remember when I was first diagnosed in 2009, my aunt, a psychiatrist, looked me dead in the eye and said, “you can and will get better,” and I held on to that promise like the lifeline it was. I knew getting better would involve meds and therapy, but beyond that, ???

So here’s what it’s looked like for me this go-round. The biggest thing, this time and last? Putting an end to the chaos. In 2009 I was working an extremely high pressure job that I hated. In 2018 I was a freelancer with a failed startup and an erratic client load. In both cases, I felt completely out on a limb, with no support whatsoever, and the extended period of knowing my world could crumble at any minute was one of the biggest contributors to my depression. So I fixed that. In 2009 I was in a better position financially and I took an extended leave of absence from work. Last year I was just straight up lucky, and a full time job came along exactly when I needed it.

There were lots of other things I did too, of course. I pretty much quit drinking, at least while I was at my lowest. I went to stay with my sister and her family for a while, and then later, my parents. Again, I was extremely fortunate that I *could* do these things. Many people don’t have the option. But if I had to point to what helped the most, that was it. Otherwise it’s been a gradual process. Allowing myself to feel, and to rest, and take long walks, and to just be without enormous pressure to provide or produce or whatever. I didn’t escape entirely, of course -- I was still working a full time job -- but I did alleviate the burden somewhat.

So how do I know I’m better? That’s also been a slow process of recognition. But here are some signs of life:

  • I’m listening to music again, and with the frequency that has been normal for my entire adult life. That slowed almost to a halt during the worst of it.

  • I can come across shittiness in the world and shake it off. This is a big one -- in a more depressed state, bad news can stick to me like tar.

  • I started tweeting again. That may sound weird, but it’s almost like I feel free to speak again, and that I might have something to say — and that it’s worth the effort to say it. I have interest in engaging in a dialogue with the world in a way that I didn’t for a while.

  • I SOMETIMES SPONTANEOUSLY FEEL LIKE DANCING. My dog is rather alarmed at this development, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to actually feel this way. It had been a while.

Most of all, I just don’t feel like I’m in a state of emergency constantly. I’m not ecstatic every day, but I can breathe. It’s not like I missed any of these things when they were gone. The creep of symptoms is one of the most insidious things about depression — bit by bit you lose yourself.

I hope to be here for a good long while, but I’m just trying every day to appreciate and enjoy it regardless. And I want to spread the word to anyone who’s in the middle of a hard time that it can happen to you, too. That there is hope.

Season 4 Starz GIF by Outlander

Onward.


Do you know what elation sounds like?

Here’s a weird and pretty much NSFW audio map of vocalized human emotions. Unless you are home alone, I suggest headphones.


How my journey with depression goes back thousands of years

Enjoyed this short essay about the loooooong history of depression with examples of medical accounts from the Ancient Middle East.

“The wealth of sources for the Cuneiform medical tradition provide a unique opportunity to explore some of the earliest known expressions of human suffering and offer a reminder that we are not alone in trying to find ways to describe our own experiences of suffering, and to treat them.”

Also:

“Reliance, for example, on bodily metaphors like that of the heart (libbu), suggests that there was no separate category for mental health and illness and, accordingly, that there was no special stigma attached to mental distress. The physical and mental were continuous in a way that removed the need for added stigma.”

So 5,000 years ago we weren’t as blanketed in shame about our mental ailments, huh? Got it. Here’s hoping we can tackle that one.


Speaking of destigmatizing mental health issues, I found this tweetstorm about living with ADHD brave and interesting.


A tweet that is true:


And some lyrics that are true:

“And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine”

Here’s a good read on the occasion of the 30th (!) anniversary of the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine.” I was in 7th grade when this album came out, and they were the first band I saw in concert without my parents. It’s funny to watch this video now and see both how of its time it is, and yet timeless too. I hope the girls are proud.


Maybe you need this today:

breathe in help GIF

That’s all for this time. But tell me, are there signs you’ve noticed that indicate that you’re in a pretty good place, mentally? What are they?

😘

Sara

p.s. If you got this far, and you liked what you read, I’d appreciate it if you shared with a friend who might too. They can subscribe here.

Tiny Revolutions №11: The 10 Year Challenge

Hopefully we're all "better" than we were

Me in White Sands, New Mexico, in 2009.

2009 was the year I learned to meditate. I took a class at the Shambhala Center in Eagle Rock, in the easternmost reaches of Los Angeles. I attended one of their free introductory classes on a weeknight after work, and in a quiet, dusty room with the hushed noises of the 134 freeway in the background, I learned that my thoughts didn’t necessarily mean anything -- that they were just thoughts, things that came and went, not unlike the weather. And that I didn’t have to believe them.

And thank god, because being tortured by my thoughts is sort of my jam. My first reaction to meditation: “Why did no one tell me this before?”

I’d like to tell you that this was a turning point in my life. And maybe it was. But not how you’d think it would be. Reality is never so pat. In a perfect world, I would have become a devoted student and practitioner of meditation, and I would have headed off — or at least mitigated — many more years of self-hatred and disappointment.

But no. My introduction to meditation was actually when things got interesting, because while it gave me a way forward, it also showed me that I had such a long way to go. And I was so drained then that I didn’t think I had it in me.

So instead I had what one might call a breakdown. I took a leave of absence from my job and I got adequately medicated and I went to a shitload of therapy. And eventually I got better.

What I didn’t know in 2009 that is abundantly clear to me now was how absolutely married I was to there being only one way to be OK in this world, and it was more or less the way most god-fearing Americans do it -- get educated, get married, get a job, get a house, get some kids. For a variety of reasons both inside and outside of my control, my life hasn’t followed that structure. And yet I clung so tightly to this story that, the older I got, had less and less to do with my reality.

I am, at heart, a deeply conflicted person. I was raised to live one way and I live another, and while it is the only way I can live (believe me, I have tried otherwise), it is hard to not still measure myself by the yardsticks of my childhood.

It’s not an atypical story: so many millions of us leave the places we are from to make their lives in a city far away, among people whose values more closely mirror our own. You can see that drama writ large in American culture. Indeed, it feels like the quintessential American story -- to have the audacity to abandon familiarity in search of something better. Particularly when, as in my case, the familiar isn’t unbearable, but more of a suburban sameness that, while not terrible, just never really appealed to me.

And the reality is that sometimes the gamble pays off — we read about those stories all the time — but sometimes it doesn’t. And you can’t ever know whether it will. My own search for a life that suits me is still a work in progress, and there are so many days when I wish I had taken a “safe” road, but I didn’t. I couldn’t then and I still can’t now, and I just have to live with that. And I’m acutely aware that if I had, I’d be wondering what would have happened had I struck out and cast my fate to the wind the way that I have now.

What I have noticed, however, is that the less it feels like the gamble has paid off, the more depressed I am. Last summer felt like a dead end, personally: I was broke, in bad shape professionally, unhappily single, precariously perched in every possible way. But things change and fortunately they changed for the better.

The searching mind isn’t one for easy answers, and that’s a hard thing to come to grips with when you are a type A. I’ve always been ambitious and by my very nature I want all the goddamn answers and I want them now so I can bend the world to my whim. But that’s not how it works.

So if anything, my 10 year challenge has been to try to reconcile the facts of my life. There’s medication and there’s therapy and those things are helpful, but ultimately it is meditation that is critical. Just reminding myself every day that there is nothing but the present moment. And that each moment is new.

Despite almost every message we get in our daily lives about all the ways we could be better, we’re all fine. You and I are alive and we write and read emails and exist in relation to each other and just by virtue of that fact, we’re performing a hire wire act and that is A LOT. That is ENOUGH. The point of life is just to live and that’s it. Some days it’s bad and some days it’s not so bad and some days it’s fucking great.

As a side note, I’m feeling a lot better these days. So much so that I’ve been asking myself if I want to keep writing a newsletter about living with depression. Because once you’ve escaped quicksand, it’s not something you want to spend a lot of time thinking about, you know?

But I’m going to keep going and trying to evolve this format. If you have ideas for things you’d like to see me write about, please let me know. And thanks for being along for the ride.

And now on to some things that have inspired me lately…


I thought planning nothing would allow me to do everything, but in fact I just did nothing.

I loved this piece by Darcie Wilder, a young writer I admire, about the importance of establishing a daily routine if you’re a freelancer or gig economy type worker. Being a certain type of young and cool New Yorker, she took her experience to a pretty extreme place (up all night, avoiding going out, etc.), but I recognized a lot of the deleterious effects of dealing with large swaths of unstructured time.


Follow Friday

For those of you on the ‘gram, one of my favorite feeds of late is Nitch. It’s basically just short profiles of famous thinkers and their associated wisdom. This post is a prime example of what you can expect.


Speaking of people who’ve known all of the above…

Image result for quincy jones

One of the best things I’ve watched recently is the excellent documentary on Quincy Jones on Netflix. There’s the music, of course, which is wildly impressive, but even more impressive is the man. Watching his trajectory from poor kid from the South Side of Chicago to Broadway arranger to big band leader to film composer to music (and film) producer to media and broadcasting mogul is pretty astonishing. His foibles with women and his family, which are many, are never far from the forefront, but somehow you never doubt his heart. It’s an inspiring portrait of a great American who struggled with his share of demons and roadblocks but never lost hope in the process.


Um ok:

But maybe one day we’ll cure depression by fixing the microbiome? Go science!


Never forget what we’re up against


So, in the words of the late, great Mary Oliver:


And in case you didn’t know how I feel about us all:


Have a great weekend, y’all. Watch the Super Bowl if you must, but definitely eat some fuckin’ nachos.

😘

Sara

p.s. 10 years is nothing. Take it from John McPhee:

“A million years is the shortest time worth messing with for most problems”

Tiny Revolutions №10: Welcome to Yin Season

beats decorative gourd season by a mile

Image result for she gone

I really worked myself over this Thanksgiving. Which kinda surprised me, because I didn’t really feel like it would be that bad. Being an expat from my hometown, I’ve spent all of my adult life making these kamikaze missions home for the holidays, where I’ll cram in family and friends and excursions with the kiddos and trips to the park and shopping and too much food and a zillion drinks and on and on and on. As I’ve gotten older I’ve made sure to always fit in exercise too because it’s so much worse when I don’t. But even still, this particular trip about killed me. I didn’t take any days off work, which was a mistake, although necessary. I thought I could do it! I thought I could power through!

I actually did power through. I didn’t take a single fucking nap, and I woke up every morning with the *toddlers*. I caught a cold mid-week, but still I kept going. No rest for Aunt Sara. I left on an early morning flight on the Saturday after Thanksgiving patting myself on the back for making it through the onslaught. I went out on a date that night.

And then Sunday arrived. And I was gone. Like OH SHIT, SHE GONE. What does gone look like for you? For me it’s like I’ve had a slow leak in the tire of my existence and only realized it after I’d been riding on the rims for a few days. Ouch. I’m not really one to stay in bed all the time. My love of naps aside, I’ve never been that great at chillin’. Too wired. So I just keep going and going. Getting up early, working, going to the gym or whatever. Keeping the lights on with nobody home.

So I’d say conservatively it took me a week of being back in LA to feel like I was back to normal. It wasn’t just the physical toll of the travel and the events — it was that combined with the emotional toll of being in close quarters with my batshit family. (It was a great week, but I still got in two full-fledged shouting matches. Sigh.)

I’m bringing this up because I got all in a snit the other day about how fucked up and annoying the popular notion of “self-care” has become.

When you think of self-care, what comes to mind? Is it a massage? A spa weekend? A snuggly new cashmere sweater and a mani-pedi? Ugh. I fear that’s what has happened to the concept — it’s been hijacked by the marketers of luxury goods and services to mean something you have to spend a lot of money on. A friend in my ladies chat group mentioned that she saw a question in the comments section of Jezebel where someone was like, “what are some good self-care suggestions for people who are short on time and money?” And that just made me sad.

You know what’s a good self-care practice? Doing nothing. Not always possible, of course, but when you’re exhausted, there’s nothing else like it. You don’t need CBD oil or a jade roller. You can just exist and maybe throw on a bad movie in the background. It’s fine. You have permission. When was the last time you did proper fuck all?


Image result for yin

Speaking of doing fuck all, I keep thinking about this newsletter Russell Brown, an acupuncturist here in Los Angeles, wrote last year about Yin season, and how it should be required reading at the beginning of every winter.

Yin is yours and you deserve it. Take your winter. The balance of your entire life, if not all of existence, is entirely dependent on it. 

You should feel as rewarded and celebrated for doing nothing as you are for doing everything else. Slow down and do so with kindness, tenderness and patience. This is the correction for life’s hardness, not “hot yoga three times a week.”

See through the spell of “I have too much to do to slow down.” To repeat that to yourself means that the advertising of a deranged world has worked on you, too.

That’s just a snippet. Read it, really. It’s so wise but it’s also a beautiful piece of writing.


Maybe you’re not into fuck all? Here are some other free alternatives (h/t Move and Groove newsletter).


Image result for deux cire trudon

I’ve always felt smell was an underrated sense, and ridiculously expensive perfume is one of my many interests that I can in no way afford, so one of my favorite discoveries of the past few years is perfume samples. Did you know that you can get small vials to try out for cheap or for free before you commit to a $100+ bottle? You can read more about how — and get some great suggestions for some unusual fragrances to give as gifts — in The Dry Down. (My favorite perfume this year is Deux by Cire Trudon, btw, and I highly recommend it if you have any interest in smelling like an enchanted forest.)


Came across this project called Friends with Secrets that consists of transcripts of three different peoples’ text exchanges with their therapists. Some of it’s interesting, some of it’s eye rolling, all of it’s pretty raw. It’s amazing how brave these people are to put this stuff out there. It’s also amazing how much easier it is to spot someone else’s damage and fucked up ways of thinking than it is to spot your own.


Have you listened to the sound of the winds blowing on Mars?


I’ve recently been indoctrinated into the cult of Esther Perel, a Belgian psychotherapist who is doing truly fascinating work on the dynamics of relationships. This interview in the New Yorker is a good intro.

We come from a model where relationships, in our village lives, in our communal structures, were very clear. The community gave you your sense of identity. You knew who you were. You knew what was expected of you, and you knew how to behave. You had a lot of certainty, a lot of belonging, zero freedom.

And we have urbanized, and we have moved, and we have taken on radical individualism and aspirational materialism, and all of those things have created a playing field in which relationships are undergoing rapid changes. We have no idea how to handle them. Rules have been replaced by choices. But at the same time we have massive uncertainty and massive self-doubt. Every second book about relationships these days is about belonging and loneliness.

Read it here.


I’ll just close out with this, the most Yin season-iest — and most beautiful — song I discovered this year: Jessica Pratt’s “This Time Around”.

What’s new with you?

😘

Sara

p.s. I’d love it if you’d share this newsletter with someone who might appreciate it. They can subscribe here.

Tiny Revolutions №9: Over the River and Through the Woods

+ a screen time out got me in my feelings

rainbowroad_11_skyreplacement_nograin.jpg

I heard from a friend that another friend forwarded her the last issue of Tiny Revolutions and asked her if she should be worried. I guess I sounded pretty down.

Oops. In my defense, this is a fucking newsletter about coping with depression! Hahaha. OK seriously though, I wrote a whole thing about how you shouldn’t worry about me, and the fact that I’m writing this is a good sign and blah blah blah. And that’s all true. But now, cut to my having skipped a newsletter in my usual bi-monthly cycle, I feel like I need to make something else clear: that my *not* writing this also doesn’t mean you *should* worry.

The whole reason I started writing this newsletter was that I wanted to help normalize being a crazy person. Because, honestly? Diagnoses notwithstanding, I don’t actually think I’m that crazy. Or at least not crazier than most people I know.

That said, one of the reasons I’ve been off schedule is because I’ve been taking my own advice and have severely limited my screen time with the help of the new Apple controls. I was in the habit of picking up Instagram 15 times a day and each one of those times could be a rabbit hole. And that can still happen, but it’s much rarer now.

The surprising thing is that I just find I’m not as interested. More and more I’m reminded that the only connections that matter are the ones you make one to one, either in person or digitally.

So yeah, it’s put me off writing a newsletter, I’ll admit. But hey, I’m still here. I love writing this because I know it helps me when other people share their struggles, so I’m trying to return the favor. And of course I love hearing back from you. So write to me and tell me something.

Onward.


Image result for insight timer app icon

Another reason I’ve been MIA is that I went back east for a couple of weeks last month to spend time with my dear aunt, who is very ill with cancer, and yes, that was as hard as it sounds. But a bright spot is that I got to introduce her to meditation, and she is crazy about it. Have I talked about the Insight Timer app here? It’s free and you should get it and friend me on there so we can thank each other for meditating together. It also has some cool social features so you can see all the meditations I do for building self-belief and awakening the heart and letting go of attachment and everything else. I know I just talked a lot of shit about social networks, but this is different, and seriously, I love it a lot.


Ever wonder if you’ll ever hit your peak, or that maybe you already had it or you missed it because you were binge drinking (or binge watching)?

A study published in Nature found that about 90 percent of people will experience a “hot streak” in their career, which is that span of a few years when a person’s greatest, most effective work is produced. And — here’s the good part — your hot streak can appear at any point in your working life, meaning that it’s never too late (or too early) to hit your peak.

It’s not too late!


Did the above passage resonate a bit too much? You should probably click here.


Those Silicon Valley wizards are working on an app that can tell if you’re depressed before you know it yourself. This cracks me up because if it gets any kind of adoption, I think a lot of people who would sooner die than admit they have problems might get some unpleasant news. Still and all, I’m for it. Let’s all stay healthy.


hungry holly hunter GIF by MGM Christmas

Do you need to prepare for the “emotional storm” of the holidays? I sure as hell do. Here are some tips.


Speaking of the holidays, here’s a timely reminder courtesy of the excellent Bojack Horseman.


Here’s a favorite poem from the recently departed Tony Hoagland. RIP, sir.

I Have News for You

Tony Hoagland, 1953 - 2018

There are people who do not see a broken playground swing as a symbol of ruined childhood  

and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.  

There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool and think about past pleasures unrecoverable  

and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians. I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings  

do not send their sinuous feeder roots deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives  

as if they were greedy six-year-olds sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;  

and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.  

Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon? There are some people, unlike me and you,   

who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as 
            unattainable as that moon; 
thus, they do not later
            have to waste more time 
defaming the object of their former ardor.  

Or consequently run and crucify themselves in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.  

I have news for you— there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room  

and open a window to let the sweet breeze in and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.

And finally, I’m still in LA but I’m also plotting some time away this winter. Easing out of my comfort zone with little forays here and there, just to see how it *feels* to exist in another locale. That’s neither here nor there, but I just kinda needed an excuse to post one of my favorite songs from The Glands.

What’s new with you? How you feeling?

😘

Sara

p.s. I’m back to writing again and I’d love it if you’d share this newsletter with someone who might appreciate it. They can subscribe here.

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