Where’s the Joy?


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It seems that I have dropped into my – almost annual – birthday funk.

It is not my birthday yet…but it’s coming.

There have been a few years where the day has come and gone without the usual feelings of depression and sadness   but they are a rare exception.

It’s not the age that bothers me.

Sometimes it’s the lack of accomplishment, though that was more pertinent when I was younger. I had a whole list of things I had hoped to accomplish by the time I turned thirty – or even forty – but I never really thought I’d have anything left to accomplish if I was still around at this age (I’ll be turning 63), so I am not disappointed. Still being here, I guess, is an accomplishment!

Sometimes it’s loneliness. My mother used to say I was ” the most anti-social” of all of her children (I’m sure she meant that in the nicest possible way!), and she was probably right. Usually, I’m not bothered by being alone; often I relish it. Not on Christmas, though, and not on my birthday.

Sometimes it’s just that I am generally overwhelmed and exhausted.

Sometimes it’s remembering other years, and the losses that have marked the passage of time.

Sometimes it’s just habit.

I have just had an entire frenzied month that included two trips to the mainland, an open house, a class reunion, a memorial for a dear uncle and three weeks with my granddaughter here on the island. All of my sisters have been here for a wonderful, fun week, as well as nieces and nephews and friends and cousins…and I’m tired.

This is a busy time of year here on Beaver Island. The Fourth of July festivities were followed in quick succession by the Beaver Island Music Fest; Museum Week, including an art show that I participate in; “Baroque on Beaver” concerts and activities; a Bike Fest; “Meet the Artists” at Livingstone Studio, which I also participate in; Home-Coming Weekend, and now Jazz Fest. Add to that the people that come for birding, kayaking and camping, or just the basic warm weather and  beautiful beaches. Visitors to the island mean customers in the stores. Though we appreciate the business and love to see the people come, all who work in the service industries feel the strain by the time August rolls around.

Clearly, I have too much on my plate. I wonder about my sanity in taking on the Beaver Beacon. Even with good help – and my partners are wonderful – it is a huge responsibility that seems overwhelming much of the time. I cut my hours at the hardware to make time for the news magazine, so my income hasn’t changed – except for the things I’ve had to purchase and the times I’ve had to supplement it’s bank account out of my personal funds – but my stress level certainly has.

This month, that features many birthdays and wedding anniversaries in my family, also holds the sad memories of many losses. Both of my parents died in August. So did my sister, Sheila. My Grandma Thelma died around the end of August, when I was a child.

Though I loved my Grandma, I was a selfish child. Her death affected me mostly because I didn’t get a birthday party that year. My poor, harried mother – with seven little children and another on the way, with a husband who worked long hours and didn’t like hospitals, with no brothers or sisters to help, with her mother dying in the hospital – gave me a hug, handed me an unwrapped chapter book (my precious Heidi, that I treasure, still) and said, “This year, this will have to do…happy birthday!”

What?! No party? No balloons? No festivities? Does nobody love me? Does no one care? Am I the least favorite child in this whole family? I embarked on a major “Feeling Sorry For Myself” jag that became so enjoyable in it’s intensity, it became habit, and an almost annual tradition. It is with me, still. I recognize it, and even laugh at myself most of the time for my childish mournfulness (“My sisters will all be gone by my birthday, and I’ll be alone…and my kids will probably forget to call…and I have to work…”)…but I know to be careful, too. What starts as a little self-indulgent self pity can turn into a major depression if I let it go on unchecked.

Clearly, I have matured. I work at avoiding depression; I look for joy. I spend my birthday with good intentions and good memories.

This year, in fact, I think I’ll mark my birthday with a list of 63 joyful things I’d still like to accomplish in this life!

10 responses »

  1. You seem to worry so much about what you have not accomplished I fear you miss the daily joys of living. Stop sometime and look at the accomplishments that were never on your list. I see every art piece of yours I own, and I have many, as a “Cindy accomplishment”. Think of everything you’ve dealt with and survived as an accomplishment. The fact that you’ve managed, pretty much on your own to achieve your dream of living on the island, especially through the winters, a major accomplishment, one that I, myself have bragged about having a friend who has done so.
    Like most people there are a lot of things I wanted to do but have not, but there are so many more that I have done that I never imagined I would. If there is one thing you really think you must do, by all means, concentrate on that and do it, but sitting around counting your “didn’t do s” will bring nothing but disappointment. In my eyes you will always be a person of many accomplishments.
    Happy Birthday girl, pick out one of those 63 candles and look at as me trying to show you some light.

    • Thank you for this, Bob! You always do show me the bright side. I do worry too much, I know, about what I’m lacking, what I’m missing (or missing out on) and what I haven’t done. I’m getting better about reminding myself to focus on the good. Gentle reminders from friends like you are always helpful, too. Thank you!

  2. Hi Cindy
    63 is not so bad compared to my 78. I do try to keep busy, but have had a major setback with coming down with Glaucoma.

    Try painting where you are working with the right side of your brain. You cannot think of negative thoughts this way.

    I think one of the worst partl of getting old is that so many people you knew have passed away, but there is nothing yhou can do about this.

    I was wondering whether you are still active controlling fragmaties on Beaver Island.

    • Hi Bill, Thank you for reading, and for this good advise. Sometimes I just need to “wallow” a bit, before giving myself a good shake to appreciate all that I have. Glaucoma has to be a tremendous challenge; I am so sorry to hear that! I agree that the loss of friends and family is hard, and seems to be a larger and larger part of life. My two year commitment to the Phragmites program was up the first of this month. With many other demands on my time, I’ll be leaving the program as soon as this year’s treatment is finished, so around the first of October. They are working on getting a replacement now. Take care, Bill!

  3. You’re still a young 63 and I’m 78. Try that one for size and you will be depressed. I get very depressed at all major holidays and prefer to be alone. I have no idea why.

    Cindy you’ll be just fine. You’ve done a lot in your lifetime but I identify with you.

    • We are both going to be fine, Yvonne. Personally, I don’t think a little gloom and self pity is all bad, as long as you keep a handle on it. We are both strong women who have accomplished a lot. Thanks for reading, Yvonne, and for your comments!

  4. Those dang birthdays. Those dang sad anniversaries. My birthday is in August, and so is the anniversary of my brother’s death. I love your story about the birthday you had while your grandma was dying. So like a child to be so self-centered. But we’re always the child we were, deep down, no matter what age we are. We want people to take notice, at least once a year no matter how old we get.

    With the addition of years on our minds and bodies we have the opportunity to look at anniversaries and birthdays in a different way. We can celebrate all of the lives in small ways. While I was in Europe this summer my sister and I visited a lot of churches and cathedrals. In each we lit a candle in honor of our brother, whose death actually paid for our trip. Funny how life is, huh?

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I hope you can celebrate your life and the lives of all who have gone before you in special little ways.

    • What a perfect comment, Sara, to how I’ve been feeling. To always be “up” seems to somehow deny the pain of loss, or the object of that pain. I think – in my life, at least – I need to strike a balance. The sun is more appreciated when there are shadows, too…that kind of thought process. I’m so glad that honoring your brother’s memory was a part of your trip. Whenever my sisters and I get together, we light candles for the missing sisters, to acknowledge their presence, still, in our thoughts and in our lives. Thanks!

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