The Weight of Despair

It’s ten pounds.  Despair weighs  160 ounces.  It’s the amount of weight I’ve gained since this school year opened.

I KNOW I wrote only last week about sharing light and happiness.  It’s just. . .  it’s just that. . .  Well, I suck at short term memory now, and well, this–

My husband loves going out for breakfast, so that is what we did last weekend.  We were seated at one of those horrible circular booth/tables in the corner, which I KNEW was where we’d be seated. I hate circular booth/tables in the corner–the seams on the naugahyde always seem to bisect somebody’s ass crack, usually mine, and no one can ever be seated at quite the proper distance from the table.  I also KNEW that they’d not get my egg right, and I KNEW that the tone for my Sunday was set. How hard is it to cook an egg over hard?  I mean, come on!  When I ask nicely that there be no gushy center whatsoever, it doesn’t seem like it should be akin to the difficulty requesting an organ for transplant.  So as I slid my pathetic, runny-centered egg–eeewwwww–onto my son’s plate, any chance at happiness slid right off with it.  It’s totally normal to mist up at breakfast twice, right?  It’s a pathetic analogy, but one that captures my malaise–the analogy sticks.  Slides, actually. . .

I watched President Obama’s farewell address two Tuesdays ago, and misted up throughout his speech.  His oration was dignified, heartfelt and inspiring.  When he called out his wife–Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side–I needed tissue.  I’m not one to wax political, but I do pay attention.  A point he made was one that struck a chord with me, and one I’ve tried to advance personally.

The outgoing president spoke about our growing ideological insulation:

For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.  The rise of naked partisanship, and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste — all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.  And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.

Absolutely.  We seek congruity; we seek the company and comfort of those whose philosophies we share.  We want validation; we want to be surrounded by others who remind us just how right we are.  Think about it.  Scroll through your “following” link on Twitter–bet you don’t follow too many with whom you fundamentally disagree.  How many Facebook posts and people have you hidden this election season?

Since Obama’s farewell address, I’ve made a point to read conservative op-eds in our daily rag.  I watched some of the confirmation hearing of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos–look kids, a grizzly bear!  I’ve read Facebook posts from friends whose income triples my own, exhorting me to “just get over your loss, you whiny liberals–WE lost eight years ago and you didn’t see us marching, so let’s all be friends now.”  I tried.  I am trying.

I feel ineffective at work, so I seek comfort in Swedish fish and Ghirardelli squares.  See, I live in Wisconsin where the morale of public educators has already been crushed.  I’m routinely reminded that my ability to lead and effect change is a dead end.  They don’t want excellence; they don’t want us to get something that no one else gets.  So instead of others seeing our speech-language pathologists’ professional development and saying, “Wow!  Speech does awesome stuff for their people, we should do that too!” they say, “Why does Speech get that when no one else does?”  And then Speech maybe doesn’t get that anymore.

I feel ineffective against my son’s disease, so I seek comfort in frosting-slathered cake.  Mostly I just chow the frosting part, but I can put away the frosting, people.  See, I take him to occupational therapy and watch his frustration grow.  I see him work harder in that gym than I see him work anywhere else, and it’s wonderful and horrible.  Wonderful that he works hard, horrible that he has to be there.

I feel ineffective in my daily battle against the scale.  See, I was an overweight kid, shamed by my loved ones and classmates for being the fat one, and you know what?  That never leaves you.  Even when you’re well into, and I mean WELL into adulthood, whispers of “THIS is why you’re not going to the prom” and “THIS is why you’ll never win the conference 100-meter-dash” still echo.  So I seek comfort in Doritos and Nutty Bars.  And if you think that eating more crap is the opposite of a remedy for an increasing LCD readout every morning,  you are correct.  And even when I have a wee concert binge coming up–the friends and musicians I live for–I’m just not myself.

When you see me, most of the time I look totally normal, plus the ten pounds.  I still crack wise and laugh and smile most of the time.  I don’t think I look like someone in despair.  My last post?  Bringing light to the world?  I am such a damn liar, hey? But I do, I mostly still view the margarita half full.  The “anniversary” of my boy’s diagnosis socked me a bit harder than I expected, and with it came the avalanche I neatly outlined above.  Avalanche of malaise seems paradoxical, but today it fits.

There was some kind of to-do in DC last weekend, have you heard?  I haven’t watched a live news feed since Thursday evening.  I cannot bring myself to listen to the cheesy poof tweeter-in-chief’s voice.  Very sad!  I will try.  I don’t get how slightly less than half the inhabitants of my country–land of the free, home of the brave–can be OK with this behavior.  I guess all you have to do is feel more entitled, more deserving than the person on the rung below yours to make this OK.  Maybe if I listen more intently to the other side, I’ll understand better.  Not agree.  Understand.

I am trying, Mr. Frost, I am.  I don’t wanna brag or anything, but my nature is good, my core being is of service to and goodness toward others. But what if alternative facts and tantrums we have seen are the best of their nature?  I know, Wendy. Keep reading, keep listening. . .  And if you’ve read this and want to educate me about just how wrong I am in my core beliefs?  Please, please help me understand.  Like no time in ever, I’m listening.

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5 thoughts on “The Weight of Despair

  1. Stay away from the political stuff. Don’t read it, don’t watch it. Two thirds of it is made up by people on the net just to get you to read. the other third? whether you watch or not, it will happen. whether you make yourself miserable over it, or learn to deal with it, it will still happen.

    I’ve gotten very good at ignoring what I can’t change, and i think I’m better off for it. Takes practice, but it’s like driving past a train wreck; you can’t stop it, can’t help. Just keep moving.


  2. my friend posted this quote in her instagram feed today.
    She has been through hell.
    So believe me when I say,
    Fear her when she looks into a fire and smiles.

    Keep writing it out. Life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a heartbreaking, heartfelt essay, Wendy. I admire your courage for publishing it.

    One week into this new, tragic presidency, geopolitical stability has already been thrown into turmoil. These are scary times (which has been said all throughout history, I realize, but never more so than right now, particularly with the recent advance of the hands on the Doomsday Clock). Given the unprecedented level of stress all of us are feeling on personal, domestic, local, state, nationwide, and global levels, we need to learn to cut ourselves a little break now and then. Don’t conflate problems; don’t let your anxiety about one thing exacerbate another. You can lose the extra ten pounds — or not — and it’s not going to change you: the kind, engaged, concerned person/wife/mother/advocate/citizen that you are.

    And at the risk of contradicting judyt54’s advice, don’t shut the news out. Don’t leave it on all the time — same as you wouldn’t drink or sunbathe all day — but stay reasonably informed. We need to stay on top of this guy — need to hold him accountable for his actions — and that is going to require an informed citizenry that doesn’t get overwhelmed into paralysis by the seemingly intractable problems we are facing right now. We need more people like you. So cut yourself a break; ten pounds isn’t indicative of a personal failing. Everybody needs coping mechanisms; don’t confuse those with the actual problem they are symptomatic of. Give in to Doritos on occasion, but don’t ever give in to despair.



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