Beyond Blue

You sure do learn a lot about a person’s personality and temperament when you assemble a gingerbread house. And even more when you make 14 of them. I’m thinking about patenting this activity as a tool for diagnosing the different kinds of mental illness–obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, eating disorder, and bipolar disorder–because all of them reared their ugly heads yesterday in my panic to produce the stupid things for my son David’s Christmas party, which I (in a very weak moment) volunteered to organize.

As my husband Eric, the Zen Buddhist and architect he is, precisely sawed graham cracker pieces to fit perfectly together, I frantically slapped on some vanilla icing to David’s scraps.

“The bloody things keep cracking!” I yelled in frustration. “We’re not going to have enough!”

Eric tuned me out. He was grounded in the moment, thoroughly enjoying the art of creating something out of nothing, and anticipating the joy his houses would bring to a roomful of preschoolers who got to decorate them with gummies and M&Ms.

Standing beside this wise man of mine, I learned more than how to design a cookie house. I learned how to concentrate on one thing at a time and to enjoy the present moment–even with my disordered brain.

My old self is definitely back, because only she would be foolish enough to volunteer to organize David’s Christmas party.

I’m investing in life again, which is truly a miracle.

Last year I missed the Christmas party because I was afraid I would have a panic attack and be stranded at the school, unable to drive home. On the way to last year’s Halloween party I got a flat tire because, in a fit of anxiety (my hands were shaking), I hit a curb. I called Eric in tears to come bail me out. He suggested I not drive for a while, until I was confident that I wouldn’t start shaking en route to karate or the grocery store. The trembling continued for months, so I isolated myself in the house.

Unable to drive, I lived like a passenger on so many levels: not wanting to commit to anyone or anything. My suicidal thoughts were so intense last year at this time that I was positive I’d be gone by Easter. My disability colored every thought.

Contrast that fearful, insecure person to this year’s party planner, and you see God’s work.

One of my beloved friends, Mike, whom I talked to every other day last year when I was so down, just wrote me this e-mail: “Great talking with you the other night. You sounded so cheerful and your laughter was deep. I know that won’t be there all the time but it was, is, lovely to behold.”

God is good. Very good to those who wait, even if they cuss him out every day of that wait. He is good to those who are too debilitated to drive and do basic things for long periods of time, but who keep on putting one foot in front of another, hoping that one day they will want to invest in life again.

Now here’s an image worth a holiday chuckle: a dozen naked women in the gym locker room rushing to get their pants on to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

“I wish they would just kill the music,” one woman says, and we all laugh.

For the moment the gym is my support group. These women, I’m guessing, are going after the endorphin buzz during the holidays because alcohol and recreational drugs don’t work anymore. Like me, they can’t pray or meditate right now either. Every time they close their eyes, they have visions of the angry Santa Clause at the mall, infinite check-out lines at Toys-R-Us, and the crisis of no stocking-stuffer ideas. The only peace available to me and my soul sisters is acquired by getting our heart rates into the fat-burning zone—running, cycling, or climbing the calories away to the North Pole, where we will eat them up again.

If it weren’t for the two-hour childcare limit, I’d stay on the treadmill all day this week, getting off only to consume candy-cane cookies and coffee. That’s how much I love Christmas.

Three-year-old Katherine was demoted from an angel to a star in her preschool Christmas pageant. It called to mind the pangs of devastation I felt in the fifth grade when I lost out to Marci Simons for the part of Mary. Maybe I needed some re-wiring in my brain back then, or maybe I was psychic, because Marci went on to steal my boyfriend five years later.

“A star is better than a walnut,” said the barista at my favorite coffee joint. She was also demoted from an angel (to a walnut because her third-grade teacher decided the class was going to represent a cornucopia instead of the nativity scene–Mary and Joseph were so “last year.”)

Honestly, I was a little bummed out for Katherine, because I still remember my lines as the Angel Gabriel: “Be not afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.” I recite those lines a lot as a person with a fragile brain chemistry. I say them especially on the dark days when I am afraid.

And I call on my angels. All of them. Even the ones that got demoted.