Betsy Whitt

I read. I write. I think. I live.

Category: On Life (page 1 of 3)

Dipping My Toe In

It’s been so long since I wrote anything of substance–not just here on the blog, but almost anywhere. Yeah, I’ve written a couple of good emails here and there, but my letter writing has fallen into a black pit of nothingness, and even my private journaling has been spotty at best. It feels very strange to string words into sentences in order to send out to the world at large again. I feel a bit out of my depth.

To tell the truth, I’ve been feeling a bit out of my depth about a lot of things lately. The last 12-15 months have been consumed by The House: buying it, moving into it, painting over the ugly, renovating the bits that were falling apart. It ate my life. When I wasn’t at work driving, I was at home painting or running electrical or laying tile or mudding drywall.

I’ve hardly read anything in the past year. At least the few books I did make my way through were worthwhile ones, but with so little writing going in, it’s not too surprising that there hasn’t been writing coming out. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve gotten a lot done–it hasn’t been a bad year. It’s just been a skewed one.

Now that we’ve reached a major resting point with the house work, I find myself staring at the prospect of having quite a lot of time on my hands that hasn’t been available. There are many things I want to do–many things I’ve had to stop doing and want to return to doing. There are several new things I’d like to do.

It’s hard to know where to start. How do I get back on track after such a long and thorough derailment? Which track should I even be on?

I’ve been so focused in one direction for so long that I’m not sure how to balance my time lately. I’m so used to being unbalanced that anything else seems foreign.

So I’m back. We’ll see where things go.

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Radical Waiting

A friend posted this on Facebook a few days ago, and it resonated with me.  I think I’ve read it before, but it struck me again as deeply true. From Henri Nouwen, one of the most profound thinkers I’ve ever read:

To wait open-endedly is a radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that He molds us according to His love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.

Why is it that our world is so concerned with control?  I struggle with this often myself, trying to plan out what will happen or what *should* happen, when I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m talking about.  But I still talk.  Maybe it’s time for me to be quiet and let someone else speak, eh?

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Favorite Colors

When I was little, my favorite color was pink.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s very cute that Betsy was a typical little girl who liked pink girly things. You’re not seeing the sinister angle. The other side.

See, I went a little bit overboard on the pink. If it came in pink, I wanted it in pink. I had pink jeans, not blue jeans. I had pink tires for my bicycle. I played with Barbies not because I particularly liked them, but because everything came in pink. When we moved across town and into a new house, I got to pick the carpet that would go in my room–without a second’s hesitation, I picked the pinkest carpet I could find in the store. And then I tried to convince my parents to paint the walls pink, too. They stopped me at a pink border around the top of the wall, but for years I was still happy because the white walls of my bedroom looked pinkish because they reflected all the other pink in the room. I had pink curtains, pink sheets, a pink bedspread, pink stuffed animals. . . . it was amazing. I’ll have to find a photo and scan it so you can get even the beginning of an idea of what it looked like.

It was great until I entered my teenage years. Then I revolted against pink, though I couldn’t do much about the carpet. I never, ever wore pink clothes. I changed the curtains and everything else, and tried to pretend my pink phase had never existed. Halfway through high school, I convinced my parents to let me take down that awful pink border and paint the walls and get new carpet (which they probably only agreed to since they knew I’d be moving out and they’d be buying new carpet for the room anyway, since no sane empty nesters have one pink room).

It wasn’t until I was out of college for two years that I voluntarily bought anything pink again, and that was half because I found the perfect laptop bag for 75% off its normal price simply because it was pink. So I’ve been easing myself back into a judicious use of pink for the last three years or so, and I think it’s going pretty well.

But the funny thing? Even back when my favorite color was pink and everything I owned was pink, my favorite favorite color was orange.

Why?

Because I liked orange popsicles best.

Ah, the complexities of childhood.

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Remembrance

Today is April 6th. I always notice when this date comes around, though I haven’t mentioned it to many people.

Four years ago, my grandmother died. She was terribly special to me, and I still miss her. In the months following her death, I often found myself thinking I ought to call and tell her this or that, or that I would put it in my next letter, and it always came as a shock that I couldn’t. It still happens from time to time, but nowhere near as often.

There have been a lot of changes in the family in the last four years–marriages, babies, cross-country moves. Life moves forward and takes us with it. The missing is no longer sharp and sudden, but gentle, savored because it also brings memories of traveling and sitting up close at the opera and her exclamations when I described a teammate’s injuries while playing Ultimate frisbee, and the day when she wouldn’t hug me because my dyed hair and painted face alarmed her.

Yes, that really is me.

I don’t think I’ve posted a picture of her before, so here’s one I’ve always liked. I was showing her plans for a quilt.

Three years ago, I wrote a piece in memory of her life, and I read it again every year. In case you’re interested, here it is:

In memoriam

My grandmother died a year ago today. I have not yet attempted to put my thoughts and feelings into words, though the pen or the computer is my preferred method of expression in most cases. At times I question whether I have truly grieved for her, but more often there is a quiet acceptance of her absence. I miss her painfully, at times. I miss her interest and her wisdom. I miss being able to write her letters. I miss sharing my life with her, and hearing her excitement about my crazy ideas. But I also know that she is in a much better place, and I will see her again. I know that she knows about my crazy ideas and is still excited about them.

Let me tell you about her.
Continue reading

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A Conversation about Depression and Writers

Aussie writer Colin Rowsell has posted an excellent entry in his blog about depression and its effects on writers. There’s already a great conversation happening in the comments of the entry, but many people are spreading the word on their own blogs as well. I thought, since I’ve dealt with depression quite a bit and talked about it a few times here, that it was a great opportunity.

I’d recommend reading the original post to get the full context, but you can just go ahead to my answers to the questions he posed if you prefer.

WHAT TO DO:

* Read the questions below.
* Choose some (by no means necessarily all) that you’d like to answer.
* Either write into the comments section, or email Colin privately on (if you email, I will respect your privacy to any extent you want, the default is complete anonymity)
* If you like, add a tiny bit about yourself – eg ‘I’m a 22 yr old female aspiring writer’, ‘I’m 46 years old, used to be an emu farmer, and have 3 books in print’, etc. Also add any further advice that isn’t covered under the questions.
Finally, tell anyone you know who might be interested in being part of the conversation – the further we can retweet and link this, the better it’ll get.

For anyone who’s not acquainted with me, I’m a 26 year old female, pursuing publication. I’ve got a husband, a dog, and a cactus, and I have a bachelor’s in Music (voice) and a master’s in Writing Popular Fiction from Eastern and Seton Hill Universities, respectively. There’s a history of depression in both sides of my family.

Depression

1. What is depression?
It’s walking around in circles through hip-deep, sucking mud, just to figure out what to have for lunch.

2. How is it different from just having a bad day?
There’s no reason for it–there might be a trigger event, but there’s nothing solid to point to like, “My boss has been hounding me unfairly all month.” It’s just there.

3. What does it feel like on the inside?
For me? All my thoughts get tangled and move in circles. I’ve got a lot of things to accomplish, but I don’t have everything I need to start the first one and the second one will take a long time and I probably won’t get anything done and really I’m incapable of finishing ANYTHING so I might as well lie on the couch and watch the same movie over and over all day. I can’t process conversations, I can’t even follow printed directions. I tend to forget to eat, and if I do remember, it’s often not worth the trouble of making all those decisions about what to have and how to fix it.

4. What can it look like from the outside, i.e. from the perspective of friends/acquaintances?
I think sometimes it looks like I need more sleep, but I learned very early on how to have a “normal person” mask in public, so I doubt many people even notice. My husband is very familiar with my warning signs, though, and so is my mom, and they are both good about stepping in.

Personal Experience

5. In what way is depression a part of your life?
It’s like my hair. It’s a part of me, it sprouts back even if I were to try to shave it off. Some days are great, and it cooperates. Other days, it’s a miracle to pull things together enough to go out in public without drawing stares. If I take care of it, it does better, but there are still good days and bad days.

6. If you live with depression, how/when did you first realise it? Was there a formal diagnosis at some point?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect I can identify my first major depressive episode nine years ago, during my freshman year of college. Since then, I’ve been at a fairly constant low level of chronic depression with several other severe episodes scattered about. I self-diagnosed six years ago, after the second major episode (four months), and with my husband’s help self-treated until a year ago, when I went to a doctor, got officially diagnosed, and got meds for it.

7. What were some early experiences with depression that had an impact?
Isolation, forgetting to eat (I look at photos from that time and realize how very, very thin I was), ruining relationships (family, friends, boyfriend). Once I identified the initial symptoms of a downward spiral, I set up methods to pull myself back from the edge.

8. If you write, how does it affect your writing?
Well, when I can’t accomplish anything or put together thoughts that run in anything but circles, that’s not a great thing for writing. I’ve learned to allow myself down time as a natural part of my productivity, and to find other things to occupy my time instead of retreating to thinking about how little I’m ever going to get done and how useless it would even be to try.

9. What have you found useful for coping? What’s NOT useful?
Finding activities in which I get tangible evidence of progress–quilting is great, because at the end of each step, I have stacks of Things I Got Done staring me in the face. A long walk outside, preferably in the sun, also definitely helps. Allowing my husband to make plans with good friends and then dragging me along can help turn around my mindset by the end of the evening. My medication has done wonders for my chronic depression–but it took thinking about it as a medical condition, like diabetes, that has to be treated regularly and seriously before I caved and went to the doctor. But there are still greater fluctuations that I have to be aware of even when I’m consistent with remembering my meds. Adjusting my expectations so that I work with my depression instead of against it is important, too. NOT useful for me? Watching TV or movies, talking to someone who is being super-productive, “just cheer up, everything will be fine”. Reading is neutral… it does have the advantage of being able to see my progress, but there’s usually a bit of guilt because I feel I *should* have been writing.

Advice

10. What advice would you give to a young person, interested in writing, who’s beginning to realise that depression will be part of their life?
Well I’m not sure that being a writer necessitates having depression, but for the young or new writer who deals with depression, I’d give the same advice as I would to anyone with depression. Know your treatment options, use whatever support networks you have access to (I have one friend whose coworkers are closer than her family in many ways), and make the best informed decisions you can for your own situation. Don’t let depression be an excuse for not doing what you dream of, but don’t kid yourself that it won’t be an obstacle; and know that it might be more of an obstacle for some than for others.

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Two Things

One: Does anybody know how to get the WordPress Stats page to give me the day-by-day line graph of how many people visit instead of the indecipherable bar chart thing? It will give me the line graph consistently for a while, and then all of a sudden the stupid bar chart, and then after a week or two it goes back. I have no idea how to change it, and I’ve looked everywhere I can think of. Help? Anyone?

Two: I’m fighting depression. Funny, because things have gone so well for over a year now, since I caved and went to the doctor about meds. Not that I haven’t noticed it here and there. Give or take a few days, early December and early March tend to be harder on me than the rest of the year, and that puts me solidly in, well… danger seems like such a dramatic word. Anyway, it’s logical that I’d be having a bit more trouble these days, that’s all I mean to say. And I have been. But I’m doing what I can, moving forward in baby steps, at least. Better than standing still. But it’s wicked hard to focus, and really easy to get frustrated and give up.

Not very witty or melodramatic today, sorry to say. Maybe tomorrow.

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mai wizdum – it iz going!

So I finished the edits on the paper and sent it off yesterday. Picked up a new batch of books at the library, and my momma flew in to baby me after I get my teeth ripped out this morning. Matt will be helping, but he has a full load of work and school this week, and it seemed unfair to make him get behind on all that especially when Mom was willing to come and help.

Plus, now I have an entourage to care for my pitifulness, because believe me, I intend to be quite pitiful.We are about one hour from DOOM. And by DOOM I mean, of course, the pulling of wisdom teeth.

My plan for the day beyond that is to sleep and watch Pride and Prejudice and then maybe sleep some more. If I get really ambitious, I might read. And that’s about it.

See you on the other side of wisdom.

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Note To Self:

Dear Betsy,

Please double or triple check that you’ve entered your express bill payments online in the right rows. Otherwise, you may misplace four thousand dollars and trigger a money meltdown the next month.

Tell yourself all you like that it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t tuition-paying season. You still have every right to feel sheepish.

And strangely triumphant.

Better luck for the future,
Betsy

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Irony

I can spend hours–days, even–with my niece and nephew and be appropriately taken in by their adorable cuteness, willing to make a fool of myself in public making funny noises and faces to make them laugh, and be perfectly happy to hand them back to their owners and walk away with nary a twinge of “I want one for myself.” I’m not sure I can express in words how not-ready I am for kids of my own.

On the other hand, less than an hour and a half on a horse this week and I’m all looking up prices for tack and boots and figuring out that it’s much cheaper to adopt a rescue horse than to buy one. And, you know, there are horses in my book, so it would be a research expense. Yeah.

I think that’s rather telling. Right now I have much more of my former 6th-grade self in me than the future mother-type I expect will come out at some point. On the other hand, horses don’t go through rebellious teenage years, so maybe they’d be a better bet in the long run. . . .

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Commitment

I’ve been thinking and talking about various aspects of decisions and commitment and expectations and guilt with several people today, and I’ve been reminded of one of my favorite quotes, by a woman named Anne Morriss, though I know nothing else about her:

The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

I have found it, so often, to be true.

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