In some postings since my move to Oregon three months ago, TGB readers may have detected a lack of enthusiasm. They would not be wrong. I did not address it directly, but it's there. You might have sensed it between the lines.
Among the perceived disappointments that informed my pessimism was living in a suburb, one that is - however conveniently close-in to town - a bit rich and oh-so-cute for my tastes. And, anyway, I'm a city girl.
What I had imagined for myself was living in the Northwest section of Portland with its beautiful old apartment buildings, urban hubbub and a mishmash of shops both necessary and not. Pretty much anything you could want is there, all as walkable, interesting and convenient as my Greenwich Village neighborhood where I lived contentedly for 40 years. But it was beyond my means.
My new home, while well-maintained and nicely upgraded through its 20 years of existence – and particularly the large alcove off the living room for my office – is, well, awfully young, lacking architectural details and charm that I liked so much in the old homes – of one to two centuries - I have lived in for most of my life.
The condominium complex, 112 units among the 14 two-story buildings, is less diverse than I expected or wanted. With the exception of about half a dozen families (I'm guessing from casual observance), it's an ad hoc retirement community. On most days I see only gray hair among the residents I run into.
A nearby neighbor has been caring for her two young grandchildren this summer and I like hearing their chatter and squeals through my open windows. With fall approaching, they will soon be gone.
It has been hard to maintain my enthusiasm for Time Goes By. Normally, I have a running list of 20 to 30 story ideas in various stages of development – some needing research, others partially written or, in many cases, only sketchy notes requiring more thought.
In my ennui, I had willfully ignored those that involve a lot of work, used up many of the simpler ones and had added hardly any. My normal eagerness to get on with them - making choice harder than execution - had flagged. Was it time, I wondered, to let go of the blog?
And another thing: some dybbuk had invaded my head nagging that I haven't yet been in to Portland – only 15 or 20 minutes away by car or public transportation – except for dinner at a seafood restaurant one evening with my brother and his wife.
When I expressed all this to a friend in a telephone conversation a month or so ago, he suggested that I was clinically depressed, perhaps enough to seek medical treatment. Another friend I spoke with a week later agreed. I love and respect these two friends, but I rejected their solution.
Yesterday in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, the writer objected (rightly) to a proposed change in a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that would label normal grief at the death of a loved one a "major depressive disorder." This, as the Op-Ed points out, would lead to wholesale medicalization (not to mention more profit for pharmaceutical companies) of a normal human experience,
"...an unavoidable part of life," notes the writer, Allen Frances, "the necessary price we all pay for having the ability to love other people. Our lives consist of a series of attachments and inevitable losses, and evolution has given us the emotional tools to handle both."
The Op-Ed crystallized what I had been slowly coming to understand since those conversations with my friends; I have been grieving for the loss of part of my identity - leaving behind, with this move and choice of home, a piece of my definition of myself, of my long-held belief in who I am.
Superficially, I appear foolish to give so much value to location and type of living that black clouds descended when they changed. But not so fast. It takes a long time to develop and nurture our privately-held senses of self. Mine, which I began building 50 years ago, is hip, big city, cool, street-smart and up-to-date.
Any reasonable amount of self-reflection would have disabused me of that description – and belief in the value of it - a decade, two decades ago. In one sense I did. The more I became interested in what getting old is really like (see subtitle of this blog) and passionate about the cultural issues of aging, the less I participated in anything that would meet that definition.
But the definition itself didn't change. Beneath new, late-life interests, it remained bedrock – still part of the foundation on which my sense of self rested and thus, my disappointment – and depression these past two or three months.
It is interesting how, sometimes, we know things before we know them. When I accepted that I could not buy into my first-choice neighborhood (the one affordable apartment would have required half again the purchase price in repairs and upgrades), I honed in on the realities for a retired woman of 69 years who would not be moving again by choice: no stairs, in above average condition, affordable fixed costs, easily adaptable to potential future physical needs, close-by neighbors for emergencies, walkable distances to daily necessities and public transportation elsewhere.
Although those existential questions of identity nudged at the back of my mind while I continued to house shop, I nevertheless chose, however reluctantly, a home that met the appropriate considerations of my time in life. I have always been able to trust myself in the practicalities and I traded that fanciful identity for them.
What I learned is that my sense of who I am hadn't caught up to who I am now (and have been for some time), and for these past three months, I have been grieving for what I liked and must leave behind.
The depression has been gradually lifting in the past ten days or so – again, a knowing before I knew what I know.
I can tell in several ways. Last week, I started the series on Dr. Robert Butler's book that we will read together here – something too ambitious for my mood even a couple of weeks ago. I announced an elderblogger MeetUp (the date will change; more on that tomorrow). On Saturday, in a flurry, I added about ten ideas to my list for future TGB stories.
(I also tried to make a design change at The Elder Storytelling Place and screwed up the styling in the footer below the stories. Bear with me – I'll fix it soon.)
I took a break halfway through writing this on Sunday to run an errand. On my way to the car, I met a young neighbor, the mother of those children I mentioned. Due to personal need of the moment the family, now including mom, have moved in with the grandmother.
We had a long, lovely chat and I was pleasantly surprised at how easily and politely the children fitted into the conversation. The two kids, a boy and a girl of about five and seven, were eager to tell me about their dog and cat, and to explain the stickers on their scooters.
Silly me, I couldn't tell those smiling, roly-poly, toothless, pink cartoon drawings were dinosaurs.
Recently, I initially dismissed as ho-hum a study about the healing effects of forests.
"Forests and other natural, green settings," the author reports, "can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness."
During these weeks of darkened mood, I have spent a lot of time in my favorite reading chair which faces this window in my living room.
With this as my backdrop, I've spent more time pondering than reading. Well, more like wallowing in my misery as the sun and whispers of breeze played with shadow and light. Who can say how much this scene contributes to my recovery which has arrived in due course without medication.
I'm more content lately in my home and suburban surroundings. On the main streets of Lake Oswego, tree-covered hills (they would call them mountains in the east) are so close by, I could almost touch them.
They call to mind my childhood in this very town, they feel familiar - which is a good thing when you are finally coming up for air and working on a new sense of self that will more closely match current reality.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Susan Gulliford: Mom's Air Conditioning