I’ve been in a tough place. Since my dog died almost two weeks ago, I have in some ways crawled in a hole. I’ve continued to work (actually started to work – my first day on my new job as a cashier at a healthy supermarket was the day after I put Buddy down, which was in some ways very good timing,,,to have a new beginning and something to focus my energy right then). I’ve continued most of my self-maintenance activities – which are quite a lot by most people’s standards. I go to therapy every week. I do peer counseling over the phone (30 minutes each way) with my friend Byron every week. I went to a meeting of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance the other night. I talk with my buddy Monty on the phone every week. I talk on the phone with my friend Lynn 2-3x a week. i swim 2-3x a week. I dance on an average of twice a week. I talk with my housemates – especially Tom who is an extrovert and loves to engage. Several friends have called me since getting the word about my dog, and talking with them has been good for me. I got a flood of condolences after I put the word on Facebook and there has been some comfort in feeling a community around me.
All these extraordinary resources and support have not kept me from being in other ways quite lousy. Before this one, I’ve written one blog post in three weeks, At the Sunday dance I was in a miserable place – tight, contracted, depressed – mostly not even able to dance. The same weekend Buddy was dying, I went to parts of the three-day retreat for my entrepreneurship program, where I dramatically expanded my vision for my business – but I have since (until today) done nothing to move those plans along, and that has been seriously discouraging.
And I have been staying in bed. With Buddy, I was almost always up by 7: “Hey, I have a dog to feed and walk – let’s get going.” Not hard, really – I naturally wake up early. It’s rare for me to sleep past 7. I often wake up well earlier. When I’m on the manic side of things, I get up and at ’em. When I’m depressed, I lay there awake, trying to be asleep, getting myself in a progressively more and more foul mood. Until 7.
Now it has felt like there is nothing to get up for. I have stayed in bed until 9, 10, 11, 1. Last Saturday I woke up at 6:30, but kept going back to bed until 1. That’s a very long time to lay there awake. It’s a depressive thing, I know – people with depression do this. At my depression and bipolar support group the other night, there was a whole little conversation about how many of us have done this. But I haven’t done it for over a year. I’ve been miserably depressed at times, but not stayed in or gone back to bed.
Today was different – and I owe a lot of it to my friend Kate.
I’ll give myself kudos for making the call. When I got off work last night, I was in a lousy mood, so I made two calls. I left a message for my friend Johanna – and then I reached my Milwaukee friend Kate. Kate and I have been friends for over a dozen years. We usually talk every few weeks and it had been about that long. She is under a lot of family stress and was glad to first talk about that – and it felt good to provide supportive listening to my friend.
Sometimes you need help from a friend.
Then she turned her finely-honed, intuitive, professional counselor attention to me. She knew and loved my Buddy – and deeply loves dogs – so she gave me great support around that. Then, when I talked about staying in bed, several positive developments tumbled out:
- She asked me if my local friends knew what a tough place I’m in. I acknowledged probably not. After I got off the phone with her, I had a talk with my roommate Tom in which I fessed up. It felt good to do. I had a similar conversation with my other housemate Will today.
- I committed to get up today at 7 a.m.
- Kate suggested that I be a good loving father to myself and take myself for a walk. She also shared her belief that Buddy’s doggie spirit is still with me and that I should practice feeling him with me when I walk.
- Kate knows about my entrepreneurship program: almost took it herself, and completely jumped in my shit when I got depressed and almost didn’t follow through with it. (“It’s not right for me – but it’s totally right for you. You need to do it.” And she was right.) She got me to commit that today I would spend two hours working on my plans for my business.
The commitments I made to Kate turned my day around, though not without some pretty significant wavering. I woke at 6:45 and got myself out of the bed by 7. But then, after a trip to the bathroom, I came back and sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor. I had told Kate that I would call her when I got up (more accountability). After a half-hour of this stupor, I texted her about what was going on. She texted back, “This is a loving kick in the ass – GET GOING!!!” And it worked – I went downstairs and had breakfast.
But then I spent another half-hour doing the same thing before my 9 a.m. conversation with Monty – then afterwards spent 30 minutes more sitting and staring at the desk and another 30 minutes back sitting on the side of the bed. I was precariously close to going back to bed – “I never told her I wouldn’t go back to bed” – but I knew that if I did that my commitments to work on my business and go for a walk would be greatly at risk. And I remembered a woman at the support group the other night who spoke very compellingly of how she reached a point where she knew she had to summon all her force and just will herself out of bed. I felt myself tapping into her determination as I finally headed to the bathroom to shave and, at almost 11 a.m., to get dressed.
Then I spent 90-120 minutes working on my business! That went extremely well and left me in a really pretty good mood. What had felt intimidating and overwhelming and discouraging – developing an 18-day email class on healing through bipolar disorder – now felt eminently doable. I practically did a little victory dance.
Then I wrote a few emails (including one to Kate), paid a few bills, then went for that walk. On the walk I rehearsed two poems – one that I’ll perform at Jubilee in a week and one for a big poetry concert in March. Then I mowed the front yard lawn: the front yard was where Buddy spent most of his waking time, and this was a hurdle for me – but it went fine, felt like a success. Now I’m writing this blog post. In 90 minutes I’ll go dance. At this time yesterday, I would have been pretty nervous that dance could be a lousy experience – today I’m very hopeful that I will have a good time.
Thanks Kate – and your well-timed, virtual, loving kick in the ass.
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