Interior Design for the Mildly Depressed

starI recently heard a lecture on interior design and how it links to our personalities as well as our mental health. Hrmmm, I can’t say my gut reaction was particularly positive.

“I’m in a group of new moms, listening to someone tell me that I need to make my house a lovely, aesthetic piece of art so that I can feel more at peace when I’m in it? You do know that most of the week I just look around and think ‘I’m lucky if I keep this place clean!’ right??”

It’s overwhelming to hear a design professional who has never had kids tell me that my home will be better if I can just add some different textures or create pleasing shapes.

Then I take a deep breath. As long as no one is telling me to drop $1000 on a new couch, I’ll listen. As long as I can do stuff with what I already have, I won’t start shouting, “You’re crazy!”

I’m sitting on my loveseat in my living room now, thinking of how much I love fresh flowers in my house. When I think of how interior decorating might help my mind, I think of this:

hearthWhen I clear a surface, I open myself to new thoughts and possibilities.

When I change the design under my glass-topped coffee-table, I invite seasons to shift through the room.

When I keep tall furniture away from my windows to keep the light unobstructed, I preserve my exposure to UV rays.

When I let myself drool over a set of hand-painted Turkish tea glasses, I remind myself that I will use these for entertaining friends, and thus make more plans to have people over.

I don’t condone any level of design that invites perfectionism, nor so I see the good in devaluing this facet of homekeeping so completely that the tired heart can’t find rest in a carelessly-assembled room.

coffeetableWhere does that leave me? Well, I’ll be living in my home for more hours per week than ever before, as I care for my son in his first few years. There will be more babies coming after him, in all likelihood. I sure as heck will need the domestic front to be a healthy place for me.

Start with what you love. This is the decorating advice I’ve been given. Know yourself and begin from there.

I’ve included photos of things in my house that I like. My star light hovers over my tree during Christmastime and then stays there the rest of the year. I hide my TV with a class piece of artwork that makes me think of the 1920s. I slid a kafiyeh from Lebanon, where my dad is from, under the coffee tabletop. Is there a common theme? Uh, yes, I like the color red.

I honestly do believe that a beautiful home lifts my spirits and the spirits of those who enter it.

What do you do to make your home welcoming and uplifting?

Fight for Your Life

fountainI love to make everyone happy.

Now I reread that sentence and mentally insert “which is impossible” to the end of it. That’s the only way the sentence can be consistently true. I strive for the impossible.

I love my family and friends passionately. I am an active member of my communities. And yet it’s delusional to tell myself that I can satisfy every social expectation or perfectly balance any crowd situation. Geeze.

Tip of the day: Setting yourself up for failure is not the way to avoid depression.

So now, for the hundredth time, I acknowledge my powerlessness to make everyone happy and content, and then I realize that the cost of trying to achieve this results in one person almost always feeling unhappy when all is said and done: Me.

And I know it’s not all about me. My awesome parents made sure, in a loving and firm way, that I learned that from a young age that I wasn’t the center of the universe. Being a mother to a beautiful eight month old baby boy has been living exercise in giving nearly all my hours to another being.

So I strive to be an awesome mom and join mommy groups and visit with friends and fill my life with good things, but I struggle to write and push my creative projects into the light at anything more than a snail’s pace. The natural result of me in that kind of habitat: I’m eating chocolate by the handful, having no energy in the evenings except to lay in front of the TV, and whining through most of my conversations with anyone who will listen.

I talked to my husband about this. We planned the start of a rescue. We checked in with our budget. I told him how much I need time to myself. Just a few hours. We discussed the realities of having someone watch our son. I don’t have a detailed plan yet, but I am reminding myself that “figuring this out” is a series of trial and error, not a “get it right the first time or you’re out” kind of business.

I’m writing this post at my kitchen table listening to my son snooze through the baby monitor. But I’m writing. I’m fighting for this part of me that I honestly can’t just let die. I will be a mom and a writer. I can’t surrender my writing and I can’t surrender my son and I don’t instantly become “bad” at one when I add the other to my plate. I’m not slacking as a mom just because I want to write.

Patience and grace. I’ll need piles of this.

I will have to reorder my schedule and my priorities once again. I don’t know what’s getting cut and what’s getting set in stone, but it’s about to happen. I’m gonna fight.

Checkpoints

gateSafety. Somewhere to fall back on if everything else is blown to pieces. The bunker where we re-charge our life force, restock ammunition, and recalibrate strategy.

Checkpoints. Video games place these at intervals throughout each level. As long as we can drag our butts to a checkpoint, we can save our progress. That way, if the alien invaders or the radioactive zombies attack, maim, and murder us, we can always revert to the last save.

Checkpoints. We all seriously need them. I’m being glib in my introduction, mainly because video games were my first strong association with the word checkpoint when I used it in a relational context. But then I realized how appropriate the video game analogy was.

My husband and I are trying to resuscitate the habit of using checkpoints for ourselves, and its not easy. Maybe it’s a little easier than surviving the zompocalypse, but life with a newborn is no Sunday picnic in the park. (Yes I hear you other parents snorting! “Wait till she has more than one kid! Bahaha!”)

This checkpoint deficiency isn’t a newfound need. We’ve just spun into modes of hyper-busyness, and didn’t realize what we’d lost in the midst of it. Until now.

I need time to look my husband in the eye and quietly hear and be heard. I need a space free of interruptions and chores and scheduling sessions. If we’re talking about the ideal setting…a glass of wine wouldn’t hurt. Candles help.

Or maybe the checkpoint is an outdoor walk on a nearby hill, plastered in rain-gear as the sky dumps buckets on both our heads. The fresh, almost-spring air pumps through my lungs and my thoughts swirl into new patterns.

I miss regular date night with my husband. I want to rediscover what new dreams we can build together. There are three of us in the family now. The dreams we plant will include out son, and I can hardly envision what that means.

We reached our first (was it really our first???) checkpoint on a Saturday morning last week while taking a family walk through a downpour on Queen Anne hill. Coffee came in thermoses filled at home. We bought Top Pot doughnuts. George rode in his stroller and stared in wide-eyed curiosity at his world. I listened to James for what felt like the first time in months.

I need these checkpoints. That way, when the radioactive monsters of over-scheduling, laundry, George’s grumpy teething moods, and interrupted sleep catch up with me and scratch into my flesh and howl in my ears, I know that I have somewhere I can fall back on, a place that fed my soul and armed me with the firepower I needed to face the challenge.

I’m slowly resurrecting these checkpoints so I can hit “save game” more often. I think, with these, I just might start feeling a little more safe, a little more sane…

…a little more me.

What I Want(ed) In a Husband

coupleI had a nice long list of things I was looking for in my perfect man.

I wanted my husband to love travel, to dance, to be taller than me, to be intelligent, etc etc etc.

This on the other “perfect” person made me forget that I’m actually an imperfect person who he’s going to marry, and that I might make his life a ton of work.

Of course I’m going to make his life difficult. I’m high-maintenance, I tell myself, but I’m so worth it!

I realized I had some of my priorities backwards, and I wrote about this article for Boundless.org.

Read my article: The Spouse Checklist

Hawk Watch

seahawks_parade

George and me after the parade

It’s a good day to live in Seattle.

This is not breaking news, but the Seattle Seahawks have made their mark as Super Bowl champions and my hometown has erupted in frenzied ecstatic cheering.

A few weeks ago, the news of a victory parade downtown made me shudder—large crowds=stampede, death and mayhem in my mind. Perhaps I was raised by protective parents (okay, fine, I was raised by protective parents) but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! A dear friend invited me to come with her and her family to the parade. In that moment, I knew I’d regret saying no. So, I swallowed my anxiety, strapped my baby to my chest in his Ergo, and armed his ears with earmuffs–the ones that you use for ear protection at a shooting range.

Our bus slowly crammed to maximum capacity, chock full of fans wearing green and blue on every part of their body. Every now and then someone broke into an uncontrollable whoop. It was our day. It was our victory. I once read that fans in a stadium experience something miraculous while watching

George rocking his earmuffs

George rocking his earmuffs

sports—through the function of “mirror neurons” an observer feels the adrenaline rush and thrill that s/he would feel if s/he were performing the maneuvers on the playing field. So, in a strange, psychic sense, Seattle itself had felt itself win the Super Bowl right along with the actual Seahawks. I’m not an avowed sports person, but I stuff like this makes me smile.

We inched our way to a spot in the crowd that allowed us a slivered view of the 4th, the street on which the parade would pass. Onlookers had been gathering since early in the morning, and all prime standing room was taken. I held my arms in a circle around George’s body on my best, and found myself hardly pushed at all. Either this was a nice crowd, or having a baby is like get-nice-treatment card. Either way, I liked it.

Even before the parade reached us, people were screaming. At air. They even told us they were screaming and whooping at nothing but air. When the procession of cars and vans and The Duck (an amphibious truck that gives tourist tours of Seattle over the streets and through Lake Union) finally rolled down the street, the screaming in the crowd was deafening.

“Sea!” Someone would shout. “Hawks!” The crowd belted back. “Sea!” “Hawks!” “Sea!” “Hawks!”

My friend’s younger brother had come with us, and was struggling to see over the tall heads in front of him. All of a sudden, the young man who’d been standing near us for the entire waiting period was hoisting my friend’s brother onto his shoulders, high into the freezing air where he could watch unobstructed. My friends brother is twelve years old and not small for his age. This was no small feat. And he was given this boost by a stranger.

Seattle came together as a community to celebrate a Super Bowl victory that we’ve never seen before in our city’s history. But the best part for me was the community on the street that I saw. A stranger letting a boy sit atop his shoulders so that everyone could share in witnessing a special event.

That was my Seahawks moment. That was my victory worth celebrating.

 

A Fairy Tale Birthright

mosaic

Beauty and the Beast mosaic

Fairy tales are more than stories. In the best of them, we see ourselves in them and incorporate their truths and magic.

I was seven years old when I first saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in theaters. To this day, the twirling leaf in the wolf-haunted forest still makes me tingle.

My mother encouraged her children to practice and grow comfortable with theater and performing from a very young age. Although two of her three children were born introverts, under to coaching, all of us took to the stage with joy.

On our vacation in Disney World last week, my family attended a Beauty and the Beast interactive story (Enchanted Tales with Belle) in which children assisted Belle (who wore her glorious golden ball gown) in retelling the fairy tale. I knew as I watched the children act out the story, that as my heart leapt, it was because my mother had passed along this passion to me, like a glowing torch.

A few minutes later, inside a shop designed to look part of Belle’s French village, my hand stroked a woven blanket patterned after the stained glass scene at the end of Beauty and the Beast in which Belle is united with her prince beneath the glory of the eternal red rose. My mother appeared at my side and handed me a card with the information on the blanket. Already one step ahead of me. She knew that I’d fall in love with it.

She knows me. She understands my dreams as if they were her own because she’s watched them bud and blossom. She’s especially fond of them because she watered them so carefully in my early years.

It takes huge amounts of tender care to nurture a young girl’s dream, and yet my admiration for Belle persevered into my adulthood.

Me, about to touch The Rose

Me, about to touch The Rose

While watching the stage show of Beauty and the Beast, I found myself chagrined and a bit embarrassed that tears sprang to my eyes when Belle crouched beside her dear friend as the Beast slowly surrendered to a mortal wound. I thought I was being overly sentimental, yet as we filed out of the theater afterward, my mom confessed that she’d cried at exactly the same moment that I did.

I share many qualities with m y mother, and this explains some of the eerie connections we experience—but I believe it’s more than that. My mother is a strong woman who passed along a legacy of creativity, love, dedication, and inspiration.

Years ago, I was reading John Eldrege’s book Waking the Dead, and the author mentioned the power of legendary and fairy tale heroes to inspire and encourage us. He suggested seeking a hero with which the reader resonated, and adopting the identity of the hero. The way to find your hero was to ask your close friends and family to think of one they found suited to you.

I felt silly and needy, but the book proposed this exercise as homework and, for better or worse, I’m too conscientious (my friends read this as “goody-two-shoes”) to skip assignments like this. I emailed my family and held my breath.

The first reply came from my mother. She wrote:

Ist thought—Belle from Beauty and the Beast (she loves books, is intelligent yet emotional and loving) She learns to see the beauty in things not so beautiful.  She loves her Dad (though she doesn’t totally understand him).  She’s repulsed by Gaston. 

I can’t fully explain what makes this so powerful for me, or why little girls want to be princesses or why adult women like me still long for regal magic, but I know that royalty is passed along from parent to child, and my mother never once let me doubt that I was beautiful and royal and brave and everything that Belle was. I’m so thankful for that.

Elise_and_gargoyle

I even love the gargoyles

Our trip to Disney World was wonderful, magical, and precious because of the people who came with me. I’m glad to be home and I’m treasuring the fresh memories. I am especially treasuring this reminder that amidst the crazy list of me: tired mother, loving and anxious wife, frustrated and sometimes desperate writer…I’m also Belle.

Splintered Mess

RainWhen I mix up my right and left hands, we all chuckle. When I mix up the brake and gas pedals while parking, someone loses their cool.

More accurately, that someone losing their cool is me: I’m pounding my steering wheel with both fists, swearing and half-hissing half-wailing because I’ve hit the gas while trying to hit the brake, and all because I thought my Honda was safely in park when I leaned out to check the distance from the curb.

But alas, ‘twas not.

I’m in the heart of Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood with cars jammed around me, trying to park for dinner reservations my family made for my brother’s birthday. There’s a King Country Metro bus with a dented panel to my left and a sleek silver car with a splintered headlight directly behind me. My five month old son is in the back seat of my car.

This is my first at-fault accident. My perfectionist, drill sergeant inner voice is blaring in my head. I can’t think straight, let alone park my effing car. (I definitely did not use the word “effing” when I was shouting about it. I used the real word.)

My dad, bless his heart, emerges from the restaurant where he’s arrived early and parks my car for me. I walk the walk of shame, coming forward to claim my guilt and exchange insurance information with the bus driver, and then with his supervisor who arrives in a white van with flashing yellow lights. The supervisor takes down my insurance card and driver’s license details. I feel like a criminal submitting to a mug-shot.

But the bus driver is kind. He tells his transit authority that I’m “a nice girl” and declines his option to involve the police. Of course, it’s obvious that I’m on the verge of tears again, doing my best to hold composure. The bus passengers, who’ve all had their schedules thrown off by my driving blunder, assure us that it’s okay. “Accidents happen. This is what insurance is for,” they say.

After finishing with the transit authorities, my dad and I find the architect who owns the silver car to which I gave the black eye. He’s calm and considerate. He and my husband, who’s also arrived now, exchange small talk about the firms where they work.

At last, I enter the sushi restaurant with my family. The manager has heard of the accident and extended happy hour discounts to our table for as long as we want to order. They are so kind to us. They are so kind to me. My dad says we should all crash into buses more often if it gives us eternal happy hour.

I excuse myself to a bathroom stall where I finally let myself cry and unleash the anguish, frustration, and fear. Instead of hearing more snarls from that inner voice of self-condemnation, I hear myself gasp,

“Thank you God that George is okay.”

My baby has no idea what just happened. He was napping, felt the car jolt, woke up crying, and was whisked off to his grandmother’s lap where he was snuggled and fed rice cereal. His peace is intact and his health is whole.

Five years ago, I would not have been the woman to murmur her blessings so soon after a crisis. I would instead have spent those moments obsessing the what ifs, harping on my foolish mistake, crushing my spirit with self-directed rage. And now all I see, in this private moment of solitude, that my son is well and sound, happy and beloved.

This car crash was a mess. I’ll be sorting it out for days, I’m sure. But this discovery, this realization that, through grace, I have grown more thankful, and more attuned and aware of the truly important things…that’s not messy at all.

It’s downright beautiful.

Friday Five

candleThis week, I’m reviving the Friday Five where I briefly detail five things I’ve learned about life this week.

1. We learn to laugh in stages. I didn’t know this was part of human development, but we actually don’t laugh all at once! Right now, when I tickle George’s belly, he gives off a couple grunts. He’s not at the “peals of laughter” stage. It’s hilarious watching this growth process.

2. All booze tastes better after you’ve had your first child. This may be tied to the fact that I went over 9 months without having a glass of wine. It might also be that I’m still not drinking much at all because I need to be alert to care for my baby. Or maybe it’s a parenting bonus. Either way, alcohol tastes like the nectar of the gods at this life stage.

3. The truth, when told plainly and carefully, is far more palatable than we fear it will be. Many of us are frightened to be direct, worrying about the reaction we’ll get. But the more I’m alive, the more I realize that most people crave direct truth. Sure, you wreck your message if you’re a jerk with the delivery, but that just takes some tact. Speak the truth in love, and it is gratefully swallowed.

4. Children make friends for you. I never thought I’d befriend my neighbors. I’m just too cautious–it comes partly with the territory of living in a rather sketchy neighborhood. But George, on the other hand, is thrilled to grin and coo at anyone. He’s making friends for me. He’s already got a raving fun who’s eight years old and keeps telling me what a cute baby I have.

5. Silence, meditation, reflection–Just because we live in a noisy, chatterbox world, doesn’t mean QUIET isn’t essential to our souls.

For those who celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas to you!!

Lots of love,

Elise

Winter Field

Stripe of Sunlight in Winter LandscapeDecember. My baby’s four month anniversary. Christmas rush. Maternal exhaustion.

Guilt has no place here. It’s really the last thing I need. Outside my home, the frost sheaths the brave blades of grass that raise their heads. Inside my home, Christmas lights offer no warmth as I weep and share two huge, aching desires in my heart: to be a mother to my beautiful son and to still keep writing. It feels as though these two dreams are destined to tear at each other, savaging my insides so that I sway from the tumult.

I continue to face depression, compromise, apathy, determination, failure, and a deep hunger to be all I can be, to not let my gifts and talents be thrown under the grinding, unstoppable machine of Motherhood.

“It’s okay to want to raise your son right now. It’s okay to want to use the gifts God has given you,” my friend insists, eyes intent, face filled with love and truth.

I cry.

I’m overwhelmed by the passion to be so much more than I am currently being, sometimes I feel I’m spilling in two while the essence of Elise drains out the cracks and into the ground to leave a colorless, humanoid figure behind.

This I know –

  1. Jesus loves me and nothing will change that.
  2. I will never ever be alone in this world.
  3. God will meet my needs always, because he’s promised this.
  4. My husband loves me faithfully, sacrificially, and tenderly.
  5. My son is gorgeous, joyful, and the manifestation of a hundred delights to me every single day.
  6. I was born to write. Words are part of my soul.
  7. God did not negate the story-telling part of my soul when my son was born. Not even close.
  8. There is much more to the woman I will become than I can see right now. I’m still growing. I’m still being born.

So this new step is spiritual. And existential. And maternal. And creative. And psychological.

This new phase, as I emerge from my cave may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

“If there’s a way to figure out how to juggle all this stuff, I know you’re capable,” another friend said to me as he prayed for me. I knew he was right.

I’m tentatively, timidly standing on this frozen ground, growing in courage to find and build the new structure for my life. God help me. God have mercy on me.

I step into the open field of ice and light, and spread my arms wide.