Saturday, November 7, 2015

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch? are my thoughts on Glinda. As I prepared myself to step into her shoes again, I read all of the "conspiracy theories" suggesting that Glinda was a power-hungry, manipulating bad witch. I love the theory, but I disagree. 

Dorothy longs for adventure, to see new places, and to make true friends who understand her. My Glinda knows this, and therefore, sets her on a path to experience all of those things. The Wicked Witch of the West, although frightening, turns out to be an easy-to-defeat foe. (And Glinda is always keeping an eye on things and just a quick bubble trip away should Dorothy and her friends get in over their heads.) Dorothy must learn that she has power of her own and that even the scariest monsters have grave weaknesses. She comes to realize that the truest friends met along life's path may not look the way we expect them to look, but those unlikely companions hold our hands and stick by our sides through the darkest and most uncertain times. Like every child, she must also learn that there really is no all-powerful wizard who can solve our problems for us.  "She had to learn it for herself!"

Glinda is a good witch!  She watches protectively from the sidelines while Dorothy sets off on the adventures she always dreamed of having.  She allows Dorothy to experience beautiful and awful things.  If Glinda had immediately sent her home, Dorothy would never have been content in Kansas.

Don't think for a moment that I don't see a bit of myself in this story.  What a perfect show for me and my family to revisit during our first year back in North Carolina! As a young adult, I couldn't wait to get away from here and see the world.  During my ten years away, I met the most wonderful, unexpected friends.  I saw beautiful places, and I experienced different cultural traditions.  I also suffered through darkness, depression, anxiety, and homesickness.  And I wouldn't trade that journey for anything. I agree with Dorothy, "There really is no place like home." But I didn't truly comprehend the richness and wonderfulness of home until I left it far behind.

So...for me a wicked and conniving Glinda just doesn't jive. Let the haters hate, but I know the truth, and besides, "Only bad witches are ugly!".

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Finding Friends Along the Yellow Brick Road

A Muslim hipster, a vegetarian drag queen, a good ol' boy from out in the sticks of Randolph County, and a feminist who loves mystery novels all walk into an audition... No, it isn't the beginning of a tedious joke; its exactly the sort of thing that regularly happens when my local community theatre group holds auditions for shows.

It's easy to gaze upon your smart phone and feel a bit of discriminating superiority as you read acid-tongued tweets about those "other people" who disagree with your political, social, and religious beliefs.  Viral memes which ridicule anyone who could possibly support idiotic candidates or policies are so easy and fun to share.  It is now simpler than ever to lump all of those ignorant buffoons together and dismiss them into the category of persons for whom nobody has time.  Sometimes I yearn for the pre-social media days when I didn't have to know that the nice lady I just met at the gym was a member of the Facebook group "Albino Lesbians for Sara Palin", but those days are gone, my friends.

I adore the opportunities to sing, dance and perform that the Community Theatre of Greensboro affords, but my favorite thing about working with CTG is that it has allowed me to develop real and deep friendships with people I might otherwise have dismissed or simply never encountered (including my wonderful husband).  Rehearsing and performing together creates trust and intimacy among cast members whether they come from similar or completely different backgrounds.  When we work together to perfect a scene, when we help each other learn lines or harmonies, when we collectively hold our breath and behold a cast member's spot-on portrayal of a character, we form a bond and we find common ground despite being told by the rest of the world that our differences make us incompatible.

I am so in love with the cast of this season's production of The Wizard of Oz.  Something rather wonderful and magical is happening with all of us because we respect, trust, and admire each other.  If you're in the area, I would encourage you to come out and see the show.  A cast of nearly 100 has worked with such commitment bring new life to a favorite classic story.  With so many people of different ages, abilities, and world views working together to produce something so magnificent, I started to wonder...perhaps Congress should try working together to put on a musical? I'd like to see more shimmying across the aisle and less division, wouldn't you?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Meandering Path Somewhere Between Michigan and North Carolina

Recently I have had this niggling desire to write.  It has been a niggling desire that I have hushed up with social media, Food Network, and Utz potato chips. If I am honest, I have been unmotivated to empower my writing self because I am afraid.  I am afraid that I do not have anything new or relevant to say.  Additionally I have realized that most of my obsessive thoughts spiral around my children, and, as they grow older, I do not feel as though I have permission to write publicly about their experiences.  Sharing an anecdote about the cute thing your three year old did at the park is completely different from venting about your fourteen year old’s friend drama.  (I was recently mortified when I read a blog in which a mother had written in detail about her daughter’s experience with puberty along with a self-congratulatory description of all the cute things she had done as a mother to make her daughter’s first period a “special celebration”.  Could you just die?)

All of that being said, that niggling voice still calls out to me regularly. Most often, it clears its throat while I’m in the shower.  While I’m waiting for the conditioner to work, I mentally fuss about with a few different opening sentences.  By the time my feet hit the bath mat, I discover that some kid at my house has gotten into some summertime shenanigans, and any in-process word constructions dissolve like sugar cubes on a hyperactive five-year-old’s tongue.

Here in sunny North Carolina I find it much easier to cut myself some slack.  When our family lived up in Michigan, I had to be very mindful about my behaviors and habits.  In order to combat my weather-related seasonal depression, I forced myself to write, exercise, and interact with other humans.  On many days, I had to force myself to crawl out of bed and stay out. Here there is no need for such discipline.  I am energized and ecstatic when I accomplish a lot in a day, and I am content when I do nothing but feed my kids cereal and play Old Maid on the front porch.  It’s all good.

However, it probably isn’t ALL good.  I’ve been very sluggish when it comes to making new friends and committing to anything.  I have only plonked my behind in this chair to write one other time this year.  I’ve been stoned on sunshine and the indescribable euphoria that accompanies seeing one’s childhood home with different eyes.  Instead of inspiring creativity and any sense of urgency, I feel like the embodiment of a Southern drawl, slowly and contentedly oozing through the days.

No longer needing a rigid checklist of things to do, I feel a little lost--happy, but lost.  Somewhere between Michigan and North Carolina, there is a happy medium.  I’ll update you in six months and let you know if I’ve found it. 

Friday, January 16, 2015


Here I am in the place I’ve longed to be for ten years.  I’m back.  It all feels rather surreal. 

Thomas Wolfe had already warned me that I couldn’t ever really go home again.  I knew this.  I have never been this age, had these children at this point in time, or been the me who lives in this skin in this place before.  Everyone here has also grown and changed.   The roads have changed.  The barbecue, hushpuppies, and sweet tea, however, all seem to have remained constant.  Praise the Lord.

I am elated to be back in North Carolina.  Yesterday I ate my lunch outside in the sunshine.  Folks up in Michigan are buried under a foot of snow and enduring sub-zero temps as I shut my eyes and feel the vitamin D being absorbed through my cheeks.  It is wonderful.  But I am impatient.

I feel the burden of impatience when I wake in the morning.  I want to feel at home at home again.  Reinventing myself here should feel exciting, but it feels daunting, overwhelming, and even a little baffling.  What if I invent a self that is all wrong, a self who isn’t authentic?  Anxiety creeps in as I slide between the sheets at night.  What if my children are never happy here?  What if I have made the worst mistake ever?  Breathe.

My eldest daughter was determined to be unhappy here from the moment we indicated that a move might be in our future. Her first day at school satisfied her expectations.  Everything here is different, and therefore, bad.  There have been lots of tears.  We have both cried as we contemplated the perceived awfulness of starting over in the middle of middle school.  The horror!

Fast forward one week.

The older children have finally started to smile more.  This mama has started to breathe normally again, and I have put down the M&M’s and Doritos in favor of homemade meals that make this new place feel a little more familiar.  Hanging family photos and cooking big pots of soup make everyone feel more cozy and settled.  Family trips to the cinema and the Krispy Kreme doughnut factory remind certain twelve year olds that life may indeed still be worth living.

Bit by bit I have begun to calm my impatience and embrace the new journey that lies ahead.  We are all learning new and valuable lessons.  “Starting over” may not be easy for a ten or twelve year old, but they are developing skills that cannot be learned when one never leaves her wonderfully supportive and nurturing comfort zone.  Throughout this journey we have bonded and been reminded of how much we all love and need each other. 

This morning my oldest daughter was excited about taking a test on 100 Latin and Greek root words.  “I shouldn’t have to take this test because I missed the first part of the unit, but I have memorized them all, and I am going to kill it!”

Everything is going to be okay, friends.  We're going to kill it here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Prickly Beast (not to be confused with the pickled beets which are delicious and full of antioxidants)

There is something new in my life, friends: anxiety. Of course it isn't completely new. I have always been a worrier. But this past winter, after I declared a fragile victory over my customary seasonal depression, an extra-ordinary sort of anxiety took me on. Unlike depression which I have worn like a heavy cloak, anxiety seems to wear me. It inhabits me from the bottoms of my feet to the top of my scalp. It is prickly and uncomfortable. Unlike depression, once anxiety has it's hooks in, it will not allow me to hibernate or mentally check out.

Anxiety is also much more difficult for me to write about. It feeds on my insecurities. It plays games with my ego. It fills me with doubt. It is circular and exhausting causing me to replay, second guess, and over analyze various moments from my day. I feel as though a foreign energy has invaded my mind. No matter how much I try to appease it with logic or calming affirmations, it riles me repeatedly. It insistently whispers that I am incapable, unremarkable, and downright foolish.

The internal arguing is exhausting, but sleep will not come. Within the last year I have turned to a variety of over the counter sleep aids to help quiet the voices in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes I numb my mind by binge watching political dramas or mystery series on Netflix when I should be sleeping, or mothering, or simply being present in the moment.

Clearly I have not learned how to defeat or even tame this brute yet, but before I go running for a Xanax prescription (which may indeed be a necessary course of action at some point), I'd like to explore some other options.

Simply acknowledging that this is a problem I'm dealing with is an intimidating first step. Hello, my name is Meredith Carson, and although I think I hide it well, I am plagued with doubt and anxiety...on occasion...but I'm not crazy, you know. I want you to know that I totally have my act together...except when I don't.
This is why talking about personal mental health issues is so difficult. If I tell you that I am experiencing these feelings of unworthiness and apprehension, there is a chance that you could pounce on me while I'm in this state of not-so-adorable, vulnerable honesty. You could tell me that my doubts are not unfounded, that I truly am incapable, unremarkable, and downright foolish.

Damn. Anxiety just happened again, y'all. It just serpentined it's way right onto the page I am writing.
Let me try that again. I, Meredith Carson, am a delightful and talented person who occasionally suffers with bouts of anxiety. I am not alone. I wish I were more on top of it. I wish there were an off switch that I could access to make it all stop, but for now I am just learning to cope.

A friend suggested that late night, deep yogic stretching may help during anxiety ridden, insomniac moments. I'm completely willing to try this. Journaling might also be an effective form of therapy, but I'm not sure. Worst case: journaling would offer horrifying, lasting evidence of my circular, irrational thoughts. Best case: journaling would cure me, OR Sarah McLachlan might take a page from my journal and adapt it into a hit song on the adult contemporary charts. It could happen.

Recently I have been focused on trying to limit anxiety triggers like: too much social media, electronic devices after 10 pm, alcohol, and caffeine. Sounds fun. I know. But it is making a difference. In the past I have also written about honoring my introverted nature by intentionally planning for quiet downtime, guarding against overstimulation, and spending face to face time with genuine, caring, adult friends. All of this is more important than ever, and as challenging as ever with three energetic kids in the house.

I'd like to conclude on a hopeful and humorous note, but truthfully, I'm feeling more hot and bothered. Sharing this is difficult. I want to appear confident and in control, but I do not always feel confident and in control. Sometimes I feel like I'm back in middle school and that I don't really know anything. Anxiety warns me that if I admit this, I will lose your respect.

I KNOW this isn't true. We all have our middle school moments. Most of us expend a lot of energy trying to conceal them. I am hoping that shining a light on this prickly beast will rob it of some of its power and also offer you, dear reader, the chance share what has worked for you during your long and sleepless nights. Got any pearls of wisdom for me?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Radical Self-Care in the Winter Months

Over the Christmas holidays, my four year old brought home a wonderfully endearing, imperfect, asymmetrical, knobbly-looking stuffed bear that was given to her by her ingenious preschool teacher, Mrs. Carbary.  Lili's assignment was to name the bear, (no problem.  Sugarbear, of course) and to write in the bear's journal about his winter adventures.  One day as we sat at the kitchen table and I took dictation, this is what Lili had to say about Sugarbear's state of mind:
I wondered if Sugarbear and I were kindred spirits because there are many winter days when I am hungry and every fiber of my being tells me I should eat chocolate and mashed potatoes and follow this action with a long nap.  I too am "made for summer...days" and tend to feel shivery, lethargic, and unimaginative during the cold, dark winter months.

This year the cold months in Michigan have been exceptionally sharp and stinging, yet somehow I am doing okay.  After many difficult winters battling seasonal depression (also known as SAD), I think I may be on to something: radical self care.

A friend introduced me to the term "radical self care" last winter. I nodded approvingly at the idea but didn't put much stock in it.  Radical self care sounded like something for which a busy, low maintenance girl like me would have no time.  I pictured weekly pedicures and spa treatments, indulgent dinners in fancy restaurants, and hours of uninterrupted, silent meditation.  To be clear all of those things sound great, but they do not add up to radical self care.  I couldn't truly imagine achieving a zen-like state of radical self-care without completely neglecting my children.  I had it all wrong.

Radical self-care doesn't actually mean making oneself as comfortable as possible or indulging every fantasy.  For me it means:

  • Dragging myself out of bed every morning. resisting the urge to hibernate under the blankets where it's warm on days when the outside temperatures are double digits below zero. (Honestly does anybody have time for -18 F?)
  • Taking my vitamins and supplements every day. (Particularly life changing supplements for me are: Vitamin D, B Complex, and high doses of Omega 3 fish oil.)
  • Resisting the urge to ingest only simple carbohydrates.  Potato chips, why must you be so delicious?  I feel best when I prepare and eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and limit refined sugars.  Yes to carrots!  Up with people!
  • Exercising even when I don't want to.  I always feel better after a group exercise class like Zumba or Pilates.  A walk outdoors also does wonders, but only when the temperatures are above 20 F.
  • Getting light.  Natural sunlight is ideal, but there are days when I rely on my full spectrum light box.  Spending time outdoors, when possible, makes a world of difference.  I like to tromp down a snowy track, hug a slumbering deciduous tree, or throw a snowball at a snarky neighbor whenever possible.  A long weekend in sunny Florida this past month also lifted my spirits and helped to recharge my dying winter battery.
  • Being part of a community.  This is, perhaps, the most counter-intuitive, item on my list.  As an introvert teetering on the verge of depression, my natural m.o. is to dig into my burrow and watch Murder She Wrote in my sweat pants, but regularly scheduled meetings/outings with close friends, singing in church, and interacting with other parents at my kids' schools (instead of burying my nose in a book) is an important part of caring for myself.
  • Sleeping.  Getting the right about of sleep is obviously crucial.  Too much leaves me feeling demotivated and useless.  Too little sleep causes me to feel stressed out, run down, and grouchier than that dirty green guy on Sesame Street.  Generally I try for 7-8 hours per night and my rule is: no going back to bed after getting up in the morning.  I have stuck to my rule approximately 98% of the time this winter, and I'm good with that.
Doggone it!  I didn't intend to write another list, but look at what happened!  Here is another even better list published by Psychology Today, which describes how parents can commit to radical self care.

Of course none of this means I am enjoying the frigid temperatures, the blustery winds, or the claustrophobia-inducing, mile-high snow drifts, but I am coping well and doing my best to acknowledge and savor moments of joy when they arise.

Friday, January 3, 2014


We are now in the depths of winter.  I am maintaining my position perched well above Depression Valley with occasional visits to the Island of Aggravation and the Coasts of Over-stimulation.  'Tis the season.

Christmas vacation always reminds me of how fragile my grip on psychological wellness is.  My circadian rhythms are thrown completely out of whack during the holidays. My senses are bombarded with flickering lights, unusual aromas, noisy chatter, and a clutter of new stuff. I also feel overwhelmed by the emotional needs of my ever present family.  To be clear most of them have not asked me to fully take on the burden their emotional needs, but I just cannot seem to help myself.

I have felt particularly overstimulated and aggravated this week.  When my Monday morning exercise class (my last chance for group exercise before Friday) was canceled, I felt an emotion that reached far beyond frustration.   I felt utterly defeated as I climbed back into my icy car and drove back home where I felt out of sorts for the rest of the day.  Walks out in the freezing cold, and solitary exercise simply do not lift my spirits in the same way that an exercise class can.

On New Year's Day I was still annoyed.  After New Year's lunch (black-eyed peas, ham, rice, yadda yadda) my girls and I sat down with a stack of magazines and some poster board, and we created vision boards for the new year.  I was insightful enough to realize that a list of New Year's Resolutions would not be the best motivator for me.  My older kids jumped right in, completely on board.  My four year old cut out every picture of a cat she could find and glued all of them on to her florescent green poster board.  Brilliant.

I covered my vision board with words and images that I hope will describe my emotional life throughout the year: Spontaneous Happiness, Invincible Summer, Balance, Wellness, Organization, etc.  I cut out pictures of bare feet and sunflowers, raw fruits and vegetables, a laughing family, and a happy child cooking with her mom.  As I sat with my girls and used my hands to cut and paste, I felt productive and peaceful.  Everyone was busy, engaged, and quiet. It was divine.

Best of all we cannot fail to achieve the goals and dreams illustrated on our vision boards.  We can look at them each day and remind ourselves that we envision more peace, that we expect to become  stronger swimmers, that we should make time to honor a desire to read more good books, and that we should pause daily to appreciate the cats of the world. We can also add new words and pictures as the year goes on.  Win!

My new year will really start on Monday, January 6th when I have to start waking up in the dark at 6:30 in the morning to ice skate with my eleven year old down to the bus stop.  Does my vision board remind me to put my "feet on the floor" every day?  You bet your Granny's booties it does.  There is a not-so-small part of me that is looking forward to getting back into the rhythm of that horrible weekday schedule with my early morning light therapy and sensible diet.

I feel like such an impossibly grown-up adult writing these words, but I am happy to be an adult with a very determined grip on my perch here above Depression Valley.  I know how easy it can be to slip right off.  I am keenly aware of the fragility of my position at this time of year.  And when I start to panic, I vow to lean on the vision of my duck-lipped four year old and to stop and appreciate a cat.
Happy New Year, Lovlies!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Feet on the Floor

Back at the beginning of the fall, in anticipation of my undoubtedly imminent seasonal depression, I tried out a new antidepressant drug.  The medication that I used last year was just so-so and carried with it some unwanted side effects, so I started out with a very low dose of the new drug.  By the end of the first day I felt like I was wired on caffeine.  Toward the end of the second day I had developed a pounding headache which was exacerbated by the drug induced insomnia.  Clearly this new drug was not the miracle I was hoping for.  I returned the mostly unused bottle to the pharmacy for disposal and made up my mind that we all just needed to move to Colorado where life, I  imagine, must be perfect.

Colorado was not a realistic quick fix, so I took a few deep breaths and decided not to panic.  I was not ready to let go of the deep contentment that had settled over me during the summer months.  I continually meditated on a favorite quote by Albert Camus: "In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."  I was determined to make this quote true for me.

Today is December 13, 2013.  We are approaching the Winter Solstice.  Temperatures have been in the single digits all week, skies have been gray, and snow has been sporadically falling.  I am almost superstitiously hesitant to announce that I am drug-free and doing really well.  Of course I am not through the winter yet, but I am cautiously optimistic that I am on to something.

Here are the main changes I have made so far this season which seem to be yielding very positive results for me:

1.     Supplements: Daily I am taking high doses of Vitamin D and DHA Fish Oil along with a regular multivitamin.  Both of these are available over the counter in your local pharmacy.  I also regularly take Melatonin in the evening before bed.  Fewer hours of daylight mean that I often don't feel tired at the of the day.  The melatonin (a naturally occurring hormone produced in our bodies which helps to control sleep cycles) allows me to feel drowsy and get to sleep so that I can wake up dark and early feeling somewhat rested.

2.     Feet on the Floor: I wake up at about the same time every morning, and I put my feet on the floor.  I usually wake up at about 6:30 am so that I can see my eleven-year-old before she heads off to the snake pit called middle school.  It is dark as pitch at 6:30 am during the non-summer months up here in Michigan, but I do it every week day.  Since it is so dark, and the roads are often slippery, and I am a slightly over-protective mother with a completely overactive imagination, I also walk my kid down the street to the bus stop every morning.  I bundle up and tromp through the ice and snow with her.  I make pleasant conversation and harass her about the fact that she really should be wearing a heavy coat when it’s 4 degrees outside.  When the bus comes, I wave to the bus driver and walk back home with Jack Frost nipping at my nose.

3.     I do not go back to bed.  This is a rule that I have made for myself, and it has made such a huge difference.  My mother always said that when you crawl back in bed in the morning, you force yourself to complete the worst part of your day (dragging your sorry behind out of bed) twice.  That finally makes sense to me.  I think it would be difficult to get settled back into bed after my arctic jaunt to the bus stop and back anyway, but I have simply decided that that is not allowed (unless I have the flu or something, which could totally happen since I have not achieved superhero status yet).  Staying on my feet ensures that I will not hate myself later in the day for having not accomplished the things on my “to do” list.  (Now don’t go and get all philosophical on me.  know that my worth as a person is not tied to what I accomplish, but when winter depression has me in its grip, my self-esteem plummets even lower on days when I have been inactive and unproductive.)

4.     Light therapy:  I continue to use the new light box that I purchased last year.  I try to use it as soon after I awake as possible.  This means that it is usually still dark outside when I’m using mine.  I have my lamp mounted above the computer so I can sit and browse stupid websites or poke around on i-tunes or write lesson plans (see #5) while getting my daily dose of light therapy pretty effortlessly.

5.     I got a job!  In addition to what I consider my primary job: being a loving mama and home manager, I said “yes” to a part time job opportunity at my church working with elementary aged kids and music (two of my most favorite things).  This gives me a sense of purpose (even more of a sense of purpose than I had doing everyone’s laundry and dishes- go figure!).  It is also a weekly challenge and opportunity to flex my creative muscles.  Being creative makes me happy!  Getting paid to be creative makes me feel honored and appreciated.  Whoo-hoo!
6.   I exercise!  Self explanatory?  I have found group exercise classes that I really enjoy, and I attend Zumba and Barre classes about three times a week.  There is fun music and a party atmosphere in Zumba, and the Barre classes make me feel stronger, leaner, and more flexible.  Studies have consistently shown that regular exercise can be as effective as prescription strength anti-depressants for individuals who suffer with mild to moderate cases of depression.  I am making exercise a priority this year.

7.    I read books.  I have read several books about seasonal depression that have been helpful to me.  Understanding that I am not alone and that I am not crazy has made a real difference.  Two books that I would wholeheartedly recommend are: Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder by Norman E. Rosenthal, MD and Spontaneous Happiness: A New Path to Emotional Well-Being by Andrew Weil, MD.  Both of these offer real tangible advice about digging yourself out of a bad winter funk.                                                                     
If you are suffering from seasonal depression or any other kind of depression or mental illness, prescription medications may be necessary for you. I consider myself very lucky in that I have the summer time to remember and reestablish what my "happy normal" feels like. Once you have descended into the pit of depression, you may not even realize just how low you are. You may not even remember what a "happy normal" day feels like. When lethargy and hopelessness become the norm, drugs may be needed to help you hoist yourself up to the next level.  I am not dismissing the benefit of drugs for some, but I am so happy to not be using them myself right now.  Now I know that if I have a weird day, it's me and not a drug side effect.  I also feel more empowered and responsible, and that is really working for me at this time.

I hope to report in February and March that all is still well.  Not all of my days are great.  Of course they are not, but I am feeling on top of things at the moment.  Getting back into the routine after the Christmas holidays always presents a colossal challenge for me.  When the crazy Carsons come to visit, their late night, low brow, raucous behavior throws my fragile circadian rhythms for a loop, but my determination is strong. FEET ON THE FLOOR!

Stay happy, my friends.  And if you're not happy, be honest, and do not be afraid to ask for help.