I told my wife Sheryl the other day this has been the best holiday season I could remember in maybe 40 years. I have felt more settled, more involved with the family, and more at the moment than I can ever recall in my adult life. I suppose there are reasons I can identify for this, and at least a few others I may never know. Here are some of the factors for my change in outlook.
Foremost, I feel healthy. I weathered the storm this year, lost a bunch weight (intentionally) and had my sternum repaired. It was not like 2012, when I started my dissertation with a hip replacement and ended with drug induced Lupus like illness, but it was a big year medically. My A1C hit an all-time low of 5.3. I feel more energized after losing slightly over 100 Lbs. And for the first time since 2011 my sternum is not hurting so badly I can’t take a breath. The fact that I got a Rituxan infusion on Christmas Eve, (after a three-month delay for the sternum surgery), helped me feel better as I headed into New Year’s day. So I feel better, and when you feel better, life is better. It is truly the first time since 1983 or 84 I was feeling better than the previous year. I think that says a lot about how health affects my life.
Second, I was not alone. No, I have never been alone for the holidays. But this year was unique; I was especially connected to others. Most important Sheryl retired this year and instead of being home or at work (I always felt alone at work) by myself; I was with Sheryl. Yes, we are still adjusting, learning how to live day in day out with each other and that is a process. But when you are a depressed person being alone is tough and this year thanks to Sheryl being home, I was not alone much.
In addition, I have blogging. The thought that someone (anyone) reads my dribble gives me a small sense of purpose. Yes, my writing is not a big deal; I mean my writing is as much for me as for my reader. But I like to write, and it gives me something to do with my mind. As someone said last year, thank God your mind has something to do. They were right, if this mind has no outlet; bad things happen.
Third, I have my depression fairly under control. That is saying a lot. I have used drug therapy now for over 14 years, and I still do talk therapy as I have for 15 years, but this year I feel better. Now I need to stress here this is largely because I have accumulated some great tools over the years. My current therapy situation is in a group setting, and that works well for me but the truth is it works well because I have had years of individual therapy. I believe depression is best battled with tools and this year the tools came to be part of my everyday life. That does not mean I am cured, or that I can go off the depression medications? No, I cannot toss the medications or stop therapy, I doubt I ever will. But I have reached a point where I feel I have made progress. Oh, Tom Cruise be damned; the depression medications work well, the proof is in the pudding.
Fourth, grandchildren, did I mention my grandchildren? I mean you have been reading this for what 2 minutes, isn’t it past time I mention our two wonderful sons, their wives, and those three fantastic grandchildren? For me, this holiday season was a wonderful time of being with the grandchildren. From Halloween to Christmas, things clicked. For instance, we got to spend Halloween with the grandchildren in Detroit and on Christmas day we spent part of the day with our son, his wife, and our grandson. Along the way we got to see our son from MI more, our family gathered in MI to celebrate Christmas, and we saw our youngest son and his son more. All this means we saw the little ones
more, enjoyed them more and felt more involved than we have ever been. It was a good month to be a grandparent at our house.
Finally, Sheryl and I planned a two-week vacation to Florida this February. My depression deepens when I think of spending of the entire winter in Indiana. By February each year my joints have swelled, my spirits are low, and I feel lost in the blues of winter. Knowing we can go to a warmer climate (even if it is only a few degrees warmer) gives me hope to keep going. I can say that winters are worse for me every year I live with RA. Each year I seem to hurt more, I am less resilient and I dread winter more. Since Sheryl is retired we get to spend more time away from the cold and that gives me something to look forward too.
Looking forward is one of those great tools I have learned in therapy. When I worked, I always tried to look forward to the next month, the next year, and the next decade of work challenges. This holiday season, I got to look forward trust me looking forward is way better and much more self-calming. When I look forward these days, there is naturally less stress. After all if I make a mistake looking forward to me, I do not have a lot to lose. I still have my family, wife, writing, and most important communities of people with diabetes and RA. Whereas, being wrong about a financial projection, enrollment outlook, a road project or election outcome, might cause me to lose my job. (Make no mistake I loved my job, but I have already lost that). So this holiday season the stakes are much lower for being wrong. Being wrong about my current pursuits just means I can start a new plan. Thank goodness I got to this point. Getting here was difficult, and it was not for the faint of heart. But getting here is nice.