Markers and Scales

April 21

Every night I hold five markers in my hand:
Gray, Blue, Pink, Green, Yellow
A spectrum of emotion
To track my days

I write down the key happenings:
People I talked to
Movies I watched
Tasks I completed

And I assess: what color is today?
For weeks, I was stuck between grey and pink
Devastatingly sad to numb.

But this past week?
Green every day.
It is a gift, this week of good days
Evidence that nothing is permanent.

April 22

A small step today,
Moving my scale from my bathroom to under my bed

I decide this after stepping on it,
Seeing a number I haven’t seen in months
And I felt sad
And immediately felt mad
Letting a number affect
My mood
My thoughts
My value

I decide it’s time for different metrics:
Every day, did I eat
Some fruit?
Some vegetables?
Some fiber?
Some protein?

Every day,
Did I walk?
Do some yoga?
Maybe lift some weights?
Do a few pushups?

Most important:
Do my jeans still fit?

And if I can answer yes to most of those questions
Then my scale is irrelevant
And doesn’t need to judge me every morning.

Cleaning and Irony

April 19

Graph paper
Candy from Easter 2019
Eight small Mason jars
Dozens of makeup samples
Four cans of sweetened condensed milk

As I clean random parts of my home
I find treasures long-forgotten.


April 20

The hardest part, I’m learning
Is not being able to show up
For the people I love
Not being able to fly across the country
And help my sister move
Or help my friend bandage a breaking home
Or even drive across town
And take flowers to a grieving friend

The hardest part is knowing
My distance keeps us all safe:
The most painful of ironies

Concrete Action

I took a break from poetry for a few days to work on this, something that’s been on my mind lately, and that something is concrete action.

I can dream with the best of ’em, and brainstorm ideas and click “like” on inspiring social media posts, but as I age, I’ve been increasingly drawn to concrete action. What is feasible? Practical? Reasonable? Actionable?

This is an unprecedented time for anyone under the age of 103. And navigating the new landscape is tricky and exhausting. I see platitudes blasted on social media from a cross-section of people, and the one thing many of those responses lack is concrete action.

Example: Telling college and high school students that their #1 priority is their mental health and not school.

I absolutely agree. As someone who works like mad every single day to keep the depression under control, this is true. Keeping your mental health in check is vital right now.

What I see lacking in these posts is feasible, practical, reasonable, and actionable steps to make mental health their #1 priority. And as a high school teacher, I know it’s not enough to just tell kids “make this a priority.” They need some structure, some guidance, some ideas as to what that actually means. So let me throw some things out there.

Many health systems have offered telecounseling. My insurance company uses an app called AmWell that offers mental health services. A local hospital system has a counseling hotline. Boys Town offers emergency intervention via phone, email, or text, even in non-pandemic times.

But what if you aren’t quite at that point? You either feel weak (PLEASE DON’T) or that someone else needs it more (NOT TRUE) so you hesitate to utilize those services? What then?

I am not a mental health professional. I must be clear about that. But if you are feeling like your mental health is teetering, there are less soul-baring resources for you to try.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness has a video library, including stories from people sharing their own experiences, as well as other educational resources on their website. Sometimes just knowing other people have been where you are can help you feel less alone.

The CDC has a list of recommendations, including meditation (Simple Habit and Headspace are my favorite meditation apps), checking your diet, exercising, and connecting with others. These might seem too simple, or some days they might seem like too much. These things alone do not “cure” my depression, but they do help keep it at bay.

I’m currently taking a class from Yale University on Coursera called The Science of Well-Being, and holy buckets is it fantastic. My preferred method to manage my depression is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and this course is all about meta-cognition, looking at how our brains are wired by culture and then trying to challenge that wiring. It’s fantastic, and not for nothing: on the days I do anything with the class, I feel more relaxed.

Something else I’ve done is reach out to people. This is not easy for me. My depression brain tells me that I’m a burden and other people have bigger problems than mine and I shouldn’t add to them. But in the past three weeks, I’ve arranged several virtual meetings to connect with people–a couple whom I haven’t talked to in years. It’s been great to catch up in those cases, and it’s been good to maintain the relationships I never let lapse in the first place. And seeing their faces while we talk has been a thousand percent better than texting.

The platitudes are nice, and I do feel relieved to see them; an acknowledgment that none of *this* is normal does help. But following up those platitudes with how to live by them is equally important.

I did not write

April 14

I did not write yesterday

And from 10 p.m. until midnight,
I wrestled with my sheets and pillows.

I turned on the TV, then turned it off
Tried three different meditations
Ate some toast
And though tired, could not sleep.

Somehow my alarm woke me
Which means I did sleep
But once awake
I wrestled with my thoughts and feelings.

I answered emails
I listened to podcasts
I ate some breakfast
(and some snacks)
And though full and entertained and marginally productive,
My mind would not settle.

“I must need a break from my computer,” I said.
So I closed its lid
And swiveled my chair to the left
To see the leafless trees and blue sky off my balcony

Too windy to go for a walk, I deduce
(after yesterday’s forays into 20 degree wind chills)
And I lean back in my chair
Mind racing, eyes swimming
When I realize

I did not write yesterday

Easter Weekend

April 11

So much I could do
So much I should do
So much I want to do
(I think)

But the isolation withdraws daily
From my motivation reserves
And the isolation deposits daily
Irrational scenarios into my thoughts

So instead of doing
I escape
Into books
Into films
Into television shows

Maybe soon I will adapt into the new normal
And complete all the awaiting projects
But maybe not.

April 12

Easter Weekend in quarantine
I spend time with my Jewish roots
Watching “Unorthodox” on Netflix
And a celebrity Seder on Facebook.

What is it about Easter that sends me away from Christianity?
Is it the violence of the Easter story?
(Not that Passover is without violence–especially that final plague)

A friend taught me this week about genetic memory
And this explanation makes sense
Friday and Saturday, my DNA craves connection to my forgotten Jewish roots
Sunday morning my upbringing draws me
To videos of Johnny Cash singing “Were You There”
And a reminder of what my Christian faith has given me.

I return to Whitman:
I contain multitudes.