Going Through Hell

When I spoke to a client a few months back, she was “goin’ thru it,” as my husband tends to say when life falls apart. Her kid was in a medical crisis that had caused her to miss exams and fail a class, thus screwing both her financial aid situation and pending post-graduation employment. It was one of those painful phone calls during which, as a counselor, I couldn’t offer much besides: “I am so sorry,” “That’s just awful,” and, “Don’t forget to breathe.”

I talked to her again last week, and when I asked how school was going, she replied, “Great! Graduation’s tomorrow!” She’d gotten an emergency loan, powered through the last semester, had a good job lined up, and all was well with her kiddo’s health. She sounded fantastic.

This conversational juxtaposition reminded me of something my uncle said throughout his many years of cancer treatment: “When you’re going through Hell, don’t stop. Keep going!” In a similar vein, I recently saw a sign that read: Rearrange the letters in depression, and you get “I pressed on.” Sure, it’s kinda hokey, and I don’t know how much weight should be put on the significance of rearranging letters (“live” rearranged makes “evil,” after all), but I still appreciate the sentiment. Sometimes hokey can be helpful.

I need to hold onto those valuable lessons during this season, aka “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (a Christmas song often referenced with pronounced sarcasm). As we all know, this time of year can be less than wonderful. It can mean horrendous traffic, long lines, crowds, financial stress, family drama, travel nightmares, and general impatience/crankiness. And for many, it’s a time fraught with anxiety, sadness, and anger.

Perhaps the best thing we can do to muddle through the next couple weeks is act as one another’s cheerleaders. The next time I see someone red-faced and bug-eyed with distress, I’ll try offering a kindly wave and smile of encouragement. Hopefully they’ll hear the message behind the gestures: “Looks like you’re goin’ thru it, friend, but don’t stop ~ keep going! And don’t forget to breathe!”

Norma v. Jerkface

dsc_0083-1“What the hell are YOU lookin’ at?”

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve teetered along the edge of an emotional Deep Blue Funk. Thankfully (I guess), I’m in my 40s, so I’ve had several years to become accustomed to the warning signs heralding said funk. It’s initiated by an uninvited visitor – an internal entity as destructive as she is unmotivated, whose counsel runs counter to all practical advice for a happy, healthy life. This entity does not want me to be happy or healthy. She wants me to fall headfirst into a vat of doom, ideally to drown there.

I will call her Jerkface.

Because of Jerkface’s crappy counsel, Normal Me (hereafter referred to as Norma) has to intervene several times a day, from the moment the alarm sounds and Jerkface says, “No point getting up. Sleep ’til noon,” and Norma cries, “Get out of this bed immediately!”

So I do, but Jerkface has just begun. For the rest of the day, she and Norma stage a continual debate inside my head, arguing about whether or not I should put whiskey in my coffee, shower, venture outside, exercise, answer the phone, believe in myself, etc. If I manage to drag myself out into the world and interact with humans, they have a field day.

JERKFACE: Did you see how that guy looked at you? What an asshole! Let’s hate him!

NORMA: I think he was about to sneeze. Or the sun was in his eyes. Either way, who cares?

dsc_0003Sometimes you get weird looks. Deal with it.

But when Jerkface stops giving advice and begins her apocalyptic philosophizing, Norma has to get more creative.

JERKFACE: Humanity’s rate of self-destruction will outpace its emotional and intellectual evolution. The world is doomed.

NORMA: You know what else? Kittens are cute.


NORMA: And have you seen those people who use popsicle sticks to put silly faces on hedgehogs? Hilarious!

JERKFACE: Okay, maybe I need to repeat myself. Humanity’s rate of self-destruction…

NORMA: Did I ever tell you about the time I found the Skelly castle in New Orleans? When I was wearing my skeleton shirt?


JERKFACE: No, but so what?

NORMA: That was a great day. I love southern cemeteries. And New Orleans. And fake castles. Maybe I’ll plan a trip to Disney World.

JERKFACE: You really are losing it.

But Jerkface is wrong. Norma’s not losing it. She’s just trying to stay out of the dregs of disastrous deliberation. It’s easy to board a treacherous train of thought, but it won’t travel anywhere helpful. Battles cannot be fought from within the murk of a Deep Blue Funk. If Norma doesn’t keep me positive and thankful, Jerkface wins.

Essentially, this is what I’ve learned after decades of dealing with Jerkface: don’t listen to her. Whatever she says, however convincing it seems, do the opposite. Go for long walks.  Smile at strangers. Laugh with friends. Listen to the Go-go’s. Read the Desiderata. Focus on gratitude. Take deep breaths. And remember all the beautiful moments in life.