What Doesn’t Fill In the b l a n k s

I may be lost in the gloom, but there's always the moon.

So a brave internet friend (I’ll call her Alice) has been dealing with a hideous and heartbreaking mess, the place where medicine stops helping the depressive mind. I’m so sorry she’s going through hell (symptoms, side effects, seriously unpleasant stuff). And another friend was inspired by Alice to talk about her own struggles. This company makes me feel a bit braver about my own hell.

I started this blog to talk about the empty spaces left behind when I left my job, when both my parents died, when my son went into a crisis, when my boyfriend moved in and things got hard, but I haven’t talked yet about what fills those empty spaces in the absence of certainty, direction, engagement, purpose. What comes in instead is fear. And self-loathing. And depression. And then the wine—oh, the wine!—to try to hide that cursed trifecta. Which is followed by many empty and pointless calories, filling myself up to fill in the blanks. Except it doesn’t work. It just leaves me more empty. Empty and fat. (I can use that word. The number of pounds I’ve gained makes it a genuine statement.)

When I see friends and former colleagues and they ask how I am, I always want to point to myself and say: Isn’t it obvious?

But of course it isn’t that obvious, because I’m a coper. (And, not incidentally, because I know how to dress myself at this size. But dressing myself three sizes smaller is much, much more fun.)

I hate this public display of my weakness and my pain. And it doesn’t help matters that I wrote a book about a triumphant moment in my life where I faced down weakness and pain, and found the part of me that is both weak and strong at the same time, forgiving and loving even in the face of disappointment and heartbreak. I know I lived the wisdom of everything that I wrote in that book, but I’m still sorry that the triumph left me so quickly, aided by a series of losses in such short order that I’m still stepping out of a cave, blinking into the sun—even though I feel like it’s been too many months of me getting back on my feet. Truth is, I am on my feet: working, writing, consulting, being a friend, mother, girlfriend. But the depression drains the feeling of accomplishment, of worth, out of all those actions, and poses a magnifying glass over my every failure.

I joked with my team at Redbook the day I resigned more than a year ago when my family was in chaos that my next book would be called “Everything All At Once.” A pause. With the subtitle: “A former optimist says Fuck That Shit.” (The subtitle of Falling Apart In One Piece is “One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce.”)

But I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to be jaded, undone, cynical, expecting the worst. I don’t want to be dark.

But I guess the truth is I have to stop being afraid of the dark that lives within me. It’s not a character flaw. Even gaining xx pounds isn’t a character flaw. (The cellulite that comes with it? Definitely a flaw, but not one of character.) I’m always afraid of being discovered to be a fluke, a fake. But I have to remind myself, this pain is real. And so is my strength. In the end, I have to believe in and accept both, in order to overcome.

So here I am, admitting to both.

Wish me luck. Because I feel like I need it. Though I don’t think I deserve it. Because the depression does that, too.

About stacy

I am a writer, author, mother, former magazine editor (last at Redbook), optimist, and, above all, a searcher. I'm still searching for whom I'm really meant to be, after a series of very jarring losses. Since then I've been trying to figure out what's next. Or, in other words, how to fill in the blanks.
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18 Responses to What Doesn’t Fill In the b l a n k s

  1. Rita Arens says:

    I am truly mortified at how many things you’ve had to go through in the past year. There is no explanation for it. The thing your friends can see that maybe you can’t is that you haven’t fallen from triumph. You’re gearing up for your next one. I, too, measure myself constantly by things the world can see – from my cellulite to my job title to my fucking YARD. It’s ridiculous, really, but I’m the sort of person who needs the tangible to show me that I have done something. I’ve always had trouble just being me with no goal to reach for.

    I often think of the rough periods in life as those times you have to let the field go fallow. In the days before fertilizer, if you didn’t let it sit and rot for a year, the soil would be robbed of all its nutrients and become dead and lifeless — while the field is rejuvenating, it looks like nothing’s going on — but underneath what the outside world can see, it’s getting stronger.

    There are few people I have as much confidence in succeeding as you. I can count them on one hand. I know we haven’t known each other long, but you are a pillar of strength, woman.

  2. Julie Marsh says:

    I’m just so glad that more people are talking about the dark. It can’t take away the loneliness we felt before, believing we were alone, but it certainly helps us bear the pain now.

  3. Laura Mayes says:

    You are not alone. We’re in this together. All of us optimists are in this together.

  4. Alice says:

    Right there with you, sweetie. Your putting this out there–it helps. It helps other people. I hope you can see that. xo

  5. stacy says:

    Thank you, all. I feel as if I’ve let out a big exhale. It’s funny, this truth business. It really never lets you down. xoxo

  6. Amy says:

    I have been in that same dark place lately too….I hope it gets easier, for all of us

  7. Al Bacon says:

    Stacy, I think you might want to read Illusions, by Richard Bach, to help you get past this because it teaches that life is an illusion, a movie that you create as you live it day to day. That being said, I will give you something I wrote once in hopes it brings a smile to your face.
    Life is a struggle
    That undoubtedly true
    Some days you are happy
    Some days you are blue
    But when it gets bad
    And your spirit is shrunk
    Just say, “What the Hell”
    And go out and get drunk!!

  8. Heather says:

    Brave woman, you are! I often think they should come up with a better word than Depression. After all, if we treated it more like Diabetes (pancreas can’t hold on to insulin, brain can’t hold on to Serotonin), we could all be more open about it. It’s a proven medical fact that Depressed brains ARE different from non-Depressed brains. Why does no one talk about THAT?

    I’ve often thought of doing a blog on Depression and holding a contest for a new name. Any ideas, people?

    I, too, have depression and I know my shame of it contributed to the loss of my one and only relationship. It sucks. But what sucks more? Pretending it doesn’t suck! I’m so tired of feeling weak. Accomplishing all I’ve accomplished while suffering big time makes me strong. You too! Keep up the wonderful writing and sharing and caring. We need YOU!

  9. Thanks for writing this. The darkness is ever-present, just below the surface. It helps knowing that others are fighting as well.

  10. Rob Smith says:

    Stacy, knowing what you have been through I have to say that your posts display more courage than you may realize. Although I am dealing with major issues myself right now (none of which I feel approaches what you have dealt with) I haven’t had the wherewithal to write about it as succinctly as you (you can see my blog posts to prove my point.) Life is what we make of it and how we react to it is our decision. You have obviously made a lot more right decisions than wrong ones. Being strong and weak is what makes you human – it is the balance that keeps us on our path.
    I hope you are getting through this and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It took me a looooong time to realize that!

  11. Melissa says:

    “But the depression drains the feeling of accomplishment, of worth, out of all those actions, and poses a magnifying glass over my every failure.”

    My brain, it works a lot like yours does. Especially the part I quoted, which was like a gut-punch. That and your “Everything All at Once” title. “Me too!” I kept thinking while reading this, “me too!”

    Fear. Self-loathing. An insane drive to do everything perfectly always. And then beat yourself up when you can’t or won’t.

    One of my big problems is that I never feel like I deserve a break. I don’t give myself enough credit. “I don’t have time to journal/heal/cry/work on my mental health!” I say to myself. “I have to do a, b and c first! And then p, q, r…”

    I wrote about it here, actually: http://sevendeadlydivas.com/2011/05/29/winning-at-life/ and I’m planning a follow-up post soon.

    Your pain is real. Your strength is real. And if you keep sharing? This amazing online community will support you, validate you and challenge you.

    You deserve time to heal. You deserve a break. You deserve luck. You are worthy of being mentally healthy.

    I wish you the best of luck in this fight. You deserve to fight it. You deserve to win it!

  12. Hi Stacy,
    We don’t know each other, but I definitely know the depths of which you speak. I’ve been there, coping with unspeakable upon unspeakable, and someone has said something admiring to me about how amazing I am to be handling all this, and I’ve thought, frankly, I’d settle for being average right now. Enough already!

    But alas, we don’t generally get that choice. Sometimes it’s just one big psychic pile-on. Frankly, I’ve stopped asking myself why, (no one ever answers) and just gotten on with the business of dealing.

    I had a husband for over 20 years who died of complications from a life-long, painful illness – sickle cell disease. One of the suckiest diseases ever. Aside from inspiring me with his relentless ability to not feel sorry for himself (I honestly have no idea how he did it – no other viable choice, I suppose…), he made me realize that things could always be worse.

    He also made me realize that there are hidden gifts in every bit of pain and suffering we experience. They’re not always obvious, but they are there. Trust me, I have found many…

    Honestly, I think this is one of the bravest posts I’ve ever read. Bravo to you. And I definitely think you should write that book. “Everything All At Once.” A pause. With the subtitle: “A former optimist says Fuck That Shit.” Seriously, sometimes life just calls for a bit of snarky, don’t you think???

    Once in a while I think we just need to revel for a bit in how sucky things really are. Not for that long, just long enough to find a laugh somewhere. Drop me a line if you ever need a good joke. I have a dark sense of humor like you wouldn’t believe… 🙂

    Or maybe you would…

    • stacy says:

      I so do believe in the gifts your husband mentioned. I wrote a 100,000-word poem to those gifts and lessons in my book, which is probably why I was ashamed for awhile to admit that I was back in a Hard Place. I wanted to believe that my happy ending in my book would last forever (even though as I wrote it, I made sure to note in the book that it wouldn’t). The knowledge does last forever, though; the lessons, the wisdom, the certainty that this is all enough. I just have to locate where I put that glorious trunk and unlock it again. Thanks for reading and writing, everybody.

  13. Lisa says:

    I’ve “tripped” upon this post via an Alice tweet, and I’m so very glad I did. You hit the nail on the head in more ways than you can imagine. Thank you for talking about your dark. I can so relate. I wish you all the very best–you deserve it. I don’t even know you, but I know you simply deserve it.

  14. I have an ass the size of Kansas because I like to eat my feelings. I eat boredom, insecurity, fear, resentment, sadness. It tastes like chocolate or chips or even a foodie paradise and feels good for about ten minutes and then I’m cursing myself for the weakness. I don’t drink my calories anymore, but that was another hurdle for another post.

    I have found the eating invites self-loathing which hold hands with depression — or is it the other way around? And does it really matter which was there first?

    I love the title of your second book, but I think your inner optimist won’t let you get away with that one.

    Hang in there sista.

  15. KG says:

    You are beautiful, inside and out. xoxo

  16. Shaiza says:

    Still loving and learning from you. L’Chaim!

  17. Roxanne says:

    Yes. You are not alone. Some feelings can’t be willed away, some conditions, like true depression, require constant work and struggle to overcome. Although many people do not understand that, and in their efforts to help simply tell you to “don’t think like that” which makes you feel worse, you should know that you are not alone — and neither am I.

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