Last year I planted a crepe myrtle tree in my yard. For those unfamiliar with them, this is what they look like in bloom, coming in a wide assortment of colors. I thought it would make a nice splash of color in the the spring.
Now, I’m not all that surprised. Not because my gardening skills are on par with my cooking skills, which is to say the smoke detector gets a workout in our house. Not because trees and bushes have a high mortality rate in the first year. Not because it was a hot,dry summer.
No. I wasn’t surprised because there was so much death in my life in 2017, I began to feel like a trainee for the Grim Reaper. I lost a lot: three human family members, three furry family members, and my very first horse–the one I bought as a teenager and hid his existence from my parents until I could prove I was capable of paying for him. The one I’d had for thirty years.
Most of these deaths were not unexpected. Old age and cancer both tend to give you lots of warning. It was just bad luck that the timing made all of them come together in the same year.
It was more than just the deaths, though that was bad enough. I also lost my belief that we as Americans were, for the most part, decent, honest people who stood up for the little guy and did the right thing. A belief fostered in part by such comics as this one, where Superman encourages students to embrace diversity. (There’s another, more modern image somewhere of Captain America supporting the same–only the crowd he’s depicted with is actually diverse–sadly, I can’t find it right now. I suspect it was fan art) I lost my faith in our government as an agent for the commonwealth. I lost hope that we’d ever have fair elections again, or that we’d be able to stop a breathtakingly corrupt administration from converting our democracy to an autocracy. Sure, corruption existed in politics before now. But the sheer scale of what’s happening now worldwide is all too reminiscent of the rise of fascism in the 1930s. And we all know how that turned out.
Somewhere along the way, I lost myself to depression. I found it challenging to go on social media. I didn’t have the mental energy to comment on people’s posts. Every day, the news continues to be terrifying and disheartening, which didn’t help. I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms. I gained weight. I was still functional, but just barely. So no, losing one crepe myrtle among all of this wasn’t even a blip on the radar. The only reason I share any of this for background to the point of this post.
Recently, a thing has been going around my Twitter timeline in which someone posted something to the effect of “we’re nine months in to 2018–what have you accomplished?” People RT the original tweet, adding what they’ve achieved as part of the sharing.
I have very mixed feelings about this sort of thing. I am not trying to disparage the person who posted it–I just can’t help but feel on some level, subconsciously or not, by the very nature of social media, this kind of thing turns into a brag/competition thread. There is nothing wrong with bragging, mind you. Hell, I think far too often most of us diminish rather than celebrate our victories. But this kind of post falls into the the same category of year-end retrospective posts for me: a means of comparing yourself to others and finding, once again, you’ve fallen short.
In part because if you haven’t lost 50 pounds, gotten married, won the lottery, run a marathon, taken a dream vacation, landed an agent, had a NYT bestseller, won a major literary award, etc. etc. then you haven’t accomplished enough. And I have to tell you, when I look back over the past nine months and look at what I’ve achieved, compared to everyone else out there, I DO come up short.
But I came across one comment on the Twitter thread, which said, “I’m still alive.” And you know what? That is a mighty accomplishment indeed. It made me think about the things I’ve done in the last nine months a little differently.
So here’s my list of achievements for 2018:
- I’m still alive.
- I learned to make and like green smoothies, the thought of which used to make me gag.
- I’ve come to appreciate my body as is, with all its flaws, and know I need to take better care of it.
- I’m starting to reconnect with the things I love, things I’d shut out during my depression. I’d lost so much I was afraid to love anything else–and the scary thing is this wasn’t a conscious decision–I just withdrew my engagement. Even when I needed it the most.
- I recognize I probably need professional help to manage my depression.
- I’ve started meditating.
- I’ve started playing brain games on Luminosity.
- I wrote and published a book. People are leaving enthusiastic reviews, which is nice.
- I’m playing around with fanfiction again because it makes me happy and life is too damn short not to take your happiness where you can find it.
- I’m still alive.
Some of these may not seem like very big accomplishments, but they are bigger than you know, especially the self-acceptance part. And I repeated “I’m still alive” twice because we don’t often give ourselves enough credit for toughing it out through bad times.
This past week, while preparing for some major renovations at the house, I discovered a small determined leafing of what I thought was a dead tree.
What do you know? That crepe myrtle is still alive.
I’m moving to a safer, better place so it can grow. Where I can keep a eye on it, and shelter it from bugs, storms, and the relentless heat. Where it can thrive. Perhaps that’s my biggest accomplishment for 2018 so far.
I’m glad someone’s moment of empowerment inspired your own. We too often compare ourselves to others which is really a horrible way to judge anything. No one else walks our paths but us and our pain and our joys are uniquely are own, as are our accomplishments. An accomplishment that brings outside praise doesn’t mean it will improve your life our your own state of mind. Remembering the little things that make up the real moments that matter are so very important and so often overlooked in our society. And yes, getting out of bed in the morning can be a huge accomplishment. As is getting yourself out of the house, into work, and being productive for a crappy paycheck. Lol. Everything that you do that takes effort is an accomplishment and every step that takes us closer to inner peace and happiness are the accomplishments that really matter in our lives.
Hope you and your tree continue on your journeys to wellness, and thrive.
I’m still working on that inner peace thing! Most days I feel like an extra in Mad Max’s Fury Road. 🙂 I know all that anger isn’t healthy–and while I know some of it is valid, I also know it too is another expression of depression.
But my I’m starting to get some health issues. If I don’t make some big changes–and stick to them instead of just talking about them–then medication is in my future, and I don’t want that.
I hope to replant the tree in the spring. Fingers crossed we’ll both do well. 🙂
I so needed this, McKenna! I thought I’d been having it rough but you’ve had more of the same sorts of experiences I’ve been having since late 2016 and in a shorter amount of time.
What you and the other “I’m still alive” person have said is a blessing – especially numbers 1, 3, 4, 5 (I’ve been getting that for nearly a year now), 6 (will be starting soon), 9 and 10.
Thank you so much for posting this.
I’m glad something I said is beneficial to you on your journey. I’m honestly tired of being the person that bad things happen to, you know? I don’t want that to be part of my story any longer, and since we’re the creators of our stories, we have the power to change them.
I’m also learning that grieving doesn’t have a timetable–and that each loss has its own course. So much in this country, we’re given 24 hours to attend to our losses and then we’re supposed to buck up and move on. That very mindset is part of what makes it so hard to process our grief, I think. We assume it’s dealt with and shove it out of sight, where it doesn’t quite fester, but it certainly molds.
I need to work on five. The idea of talking to someone is tough, but I need to do it. I’m glad you are finding the help you need.