deal with depression Archives - Kristen Kalp

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I have a tough time with tenderness.

Kristen Kalp tenderness painting

It’s easy for me to make plans for sweeping changes and short timelines. Throw out all the sugar and cheese and processed foods and bring in the vegetables! Buy the 30-day pass and get to the gym every day! Toss all the plastics and load up on glass containers, reusable bags, and never use plastic ever again for any reason!

Also: productivity. I tend to write books in 6 weeks or less. If I’m not achieving, I’m not living!

And if I don’t want to do something that’s on my carefully-planned calendar? Too bad! Do it anyway!

And if I’m tired and the writing isn’t happening? Suck it up, keep going!

And if I feel like shit for no reason I can discern? Oh well, there’s work to do! No one cares about how you feel, least of all your work ethic!

Tenderness — even internally, in the realms where no one else sees or knows me — is associated with weakness.

If I don’t make fists and rise up in anger; if I don’t fulfill the obligations on my calendar every single day, in the order listed; if I don’t achieve myself into a new financial echelon on a regular basis; if I don’t grow my following by X percent each year; then I’m weak or failing or both.

I have a tough time with tenderness.

It means I have to sit with myself in pain and in mess and listen to asshole brain without actually believing a thing asshole brain says. It means that sometimes, I don’t get as much done as I’d planned. It means that I don’t push myself past the point of exhaustion and waste 3 hours doing a task that would take 20 minutes if I just moved it to tomorrow.

I was consulting with an herbalist since my recent panic attack triggered a look at my health on a more than passing have-a-few-green-smoothies-and-do-weekly-yoga basis.

I told her the basics of my humanity with a great deal of shame and more than a touch of anger at myself:

I am one-third as productive in February as in July.
I dread the coming of October and November.
I sleep far more in the winter.
I have way more energy in the summer months.
I wake with the sun.
I want to go to sleep with the sun, too.

She looked at me with such tenderness as she pointed out that that’s what mammals do.

And, um.

We’re mammals.

It was almost unbearable for a stranger to look at me — the sum of me, having just consulted about my daily cycles and foods and bodily functions — and say that I might be right. Where was the work ethic and the magic pill to make me impervious to weather and the seasons? Where was her admonishment for my clear lack of will power? Where was her stern voice and her berating commentary about my weight?

I expected a quick assessment and an even quicker cure.

Instead, she met me with tenderness.

Ugh. Tenderness.

Tenderness means admitting that instead of being wrong or broken, I might just be an animal who hasn’t lost its instincts.

What if my instincts are on point, and my fighting them is actually causing unnecessary pain? What if I plan for seasonal rhythms, and input to match my output, and to keep on keeping on as the seasons allow — but this time, to do it with some semblance of kindness toward myself?

Hhhhnnnggggggggggg. ::makes assorted straining faces that indicate I’d rather take a pill and schedule myself into oblivion than be a mammal::

It’s so much easier to beat myself up and start a new(!) life-changing(!) revolutionary (!) program than to soften and deepen into my most human spots. Tenderness means admitting to my depression when it shows up. It means taking my tonic for anxiety when I read the news and it’s too much to process. (It’s often too much to process.)

Tenderness means getting help being human in the form of acupuncture and breath work, and talking with people I love about everything that’s going on inside of me instead of trying to give them the buttoned-up, no-worries-here!!!! A++ version of things.

Tenderness means living into the hard places without judging myself for the existence of those places.

It means I’m paying closer attention to the gentle ways change can come about instead of trying to push and strain and achieve my way through each day.

What if I don’t clear the cupboards of every single tasty processed thing in an effort to start over 100% and simply buy less shit-food and more broccoli? What if I acknowledge that change can be and often is gradual instead of trying to overhaul the entirety of my being again and again and again?

What if I don’t give in to the temptation to take on a 30-day challenge and instead, find ways to incorporate nurturing into every single day? What if nurturing and tenderness are one and the same?

OH GOD IT’S SO HARD. (That’s what she said.)

Welcome to Tender Land.

The good news is that there’s less self-flagellation here. When I can be with my humanity — its rough edges and flaws and the wintery desire to go to bed at 6:30 because it’s been dark for two hours already — I can extend that same courtesy to others. Even if you can’t sit with your desire to nap or to eat all the carbs or to check your phone 744 times a day — I can! I’ve been practicing!

If I can be tender to myself, being tender to other humans is far less challenging!

Of course, asshole brain does not agree. If I just push harder, hustle more, put my nose to the grindstone, and try more, I’ll get further. Right?  Like lifting a hundred pounds or running seven miles or sweating in a 105-degree room for 90 minutes. It’s gotta be hard in order to matter.  Laying off, easing up on myself, and/or being gentler with my humanity couldn’t possibly be beneficial. COULD IT?

I took a 30-day sabbatical in which I burned my last business to the ground and survived. No Productivity Police showed up to haul me off to Efficiency Jail.

Likewise, punishing my body for being a body — human and prone to tiredness, sweaty and smelly and alive — hasn’t worked yet. I weigh precisely as much as I did before I decided to do all the punish-y revolutionary things to myself.

What if being kinder to myself lets me be kinder to others?

What if loving the parts of me that are dark and weak (see: depression and my penchant for hermiting) means I’m capable of loving other humans more?

What if refusing to hate my body means I’m more capable of seeing the miracle of being alive that lives in every single body, no matter its shape or size?

What if quietly, lovingly refusing to judge other humans or put them in small boxes means that I’m more capable of finding and voicing nuance and complexity?

What if tenderness is, in fact, the answer?

The world has plenty of go-go-go, scheduled-for-17-hours-a-day, busy busy humans.

We seem to be losing the people who aren’t moving at warp speed. The people who work and play and ponder, fully acknowledging that the most brilliant ideas don’t come at hour 16 of a 17-hour-day, but in those moments when we step away from work and dive into something else entirely.

What if I stop being angry at myself for everything I haven’t yet achieved?

Oh god. That’s so fucking hard.

What if we are not here to achieve? What if we are simply here to love?

And in love, tenderness is always the answer.  (Dammit.)

Tenderness is the answer.

…I still have a tough time with tenderness. But I’m working on it.

P.S.  Tenderness goes hand in hand with learning to live in the body.  Find that and all other That’s What She Said podcast episodes here.

P.P.S.  The struggle part of the story is essential.

For the unsung voices among us.


In honor of Women’s History Month, a poem for the ones who came before.

Dear Grandma

You never once got to stand on a podium
and make everyone listen. You buried your husband
and your son, and you worked all day every day
until you retired to the old brown chair.
No one was ever weighed down by your opinions
or objections or your voice in the world.

You never once got to stand on a stage
and hear everyone’s ears turning toward you.
You never got to be paid for your work:
shuffling laundry and sons from the dresser to school,
burning a line between the sink and the stove
so deep you couldn’t see your way out.

Your husband married you not out of love
or even something like affection, but because your sister
was already taken, and then you settled down and lived
in the same house on the same plot of land
until the old brown chair got thrown out.
Now you sit in the nursing home asking

Where is he, why doesn’t he pick me up
and take me home. For the first time, everyone listens
and answers carefully — repeatedly, relentlessly —
but you can’t hear the truth. Your voice warbles
around the room and returns to you, confused:
Where are you, why don’t you pick me up and take me home.

P.S. More poems here, or in book form here.

I had a panic attack on Saturday. Here’s why that matters to you.

I had a panic attack on Saturday.  One minute I was driving through the city, admiring the cute little shops and the gorgeous weather, and the next a set of invisible hands had grabbed my neck and I was hyperventilating while I pulled my car into a McDonald’s parking lot. I spent the next ? minutes — who knows how long, when every minute is endless? — with my eyes closed, tears streaming down my cheeks, while I tried to catch a full breath.

…and when the panic attack ended, I felt only shame.

Asshole brain didn’t step in and let me recover, it just started kicking me while I was down.  (Asshole brain‘s commentary in ALL CAPS.)

I felt shame that I ‘can’t handle’ modern politics. THIS IS JUST THE WAY IT IS. GET USED TO IT.

Shame that I’m ‘not strong enough’ to exist today. QUIT WHINING, ALREADY, YOU ASSHOLE.

Shame that I’m afraid of the being-rolled-back rights of trans kids, people of color, women, immigrants, and Muslims. OTHER PEOPLE HAVE IT WORSE, YOU KNOW.

Shame that I am having an appropriate, if extreme, emotional reaction to all that which I cannot control. GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER ALREADY.

I tell you this not because I think I’m special for having a panic attack, but because I’ve been taking really, really good care of myself and by my calculations, this shouldn’t have happened. I’ve been sleeping regularly (but not depressed-me-14-hours-a-night-regularly), hydrating daily, and following the no sugar, no dairy nutritional guidelines that help regulate my moods and hormones.

I’ve been unplugging for at least one full 24-hour period each week and strictly limiting social media time. I’ve been reading fiction and enjoying a few HBO shows instead of watching endless reality TV and reading only magazines and rant-y online articles.  (Related: Space is a 21-day class to help you unplug, too.)

In other words, I’ve been practicing what I preach.

Boundaries, more boundaries, and taking care of the basics.  But those actions aren’t enough.

The safeguards that usually make my life a decent and pleasant experience are failing.

Nothing less than impeccable self care will do.

I have to work out regularly. (Yoga on YouTube counts.)

I have to do breathwork to help get out the anger and vitriol that comes as part of feeling helpless. The brilliant Erin Telford calls it ‘energetic hygiene.’

I have to spend time outdoors even when it’s cold and/or dark and/or I don’t want to. …and unless the ocean is nearby, I really don’t want to.

You have to do some version of the same work.

You have to find ways to get your body fed, hydrated, strong, and rested while keeping your brain focused on completing the work only you can do.

You also have to walk the razor’s edge between consuming the news and falling into despair.

That’s tricky, since there are screens at every gas pump touting the latest atrocities and screens at the local diner with scrolling headlines along the bottom and a Facebook feed littered with news articles and outrage each time you open it. (Most people aren’t committed to being the human.)

There’s more vitriol than ever in the air, and it’s affecting me.

It’s affecting you, too.

There’s no way to have made it through the last 24 months in the United States without having been touched by politics, by demonstrations, by uncomfortable conversations, by racist/sexist/xenophobic comments that started with “I’m not racist/sexist/xenophobic, but…,” by watching people you thought you knew say inexplicably wretched things or take wretched actions against other people who share a nation with them.

Unprecedented change requires unprecedented self love.

We all know you can’t give me from an empty cup, but I don’t think we realize how empty our collective cups are at this moment.

We are (rightly) scared and outraged when another headline says Jews/Muslims/people of color/women/LGBTQ/immigrants/kids have been targeted today. We are horrified when events beyond our control play out in ways we wouldn’t have chosen for our worst enemies, let alone our fellow citizens.

Fear and anger burn energy like nothing else.

They’re a quick battery drain that leave you feeling hollowed out and absolutely bereft of joy. The behaviors you might have gotten away with in the past — skipping meals, skipping sleep, living on lattes, giving up on workouts, jamming your calendar with clients and saying you’ll catch up ‘someday’ — won’t do anymore.

Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because you’re still a human.  You still have a body with very physical limitations, but new demands are being placed on that body each day.

We are all human, and we are all struggling right now.

We’ve got to take a stand for what we believe in, and also the homes from which our beliefs arise: our own bodies.

That sucks. It sucks to stay home and sleep when you’re tired instead of going on some sort of adventure with your friends. It sucks to eat only truly nutritional foods and say “no” to sugar and to alcohol and to any foods that make your belly hurt. It’s freaking hard to delete your social media apps and spend time offline.

It’s easy to take shitty care of yourself and to worship at the Altar of Busy, but that isn’t what the world needs right now.

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” — David Orr

Let’s go and be the peacemakers and the healers, the restorers and the loversBut first, let’s rest.

Let’s fill our cups and nourish our minds and be fully conscious of the poison we agree to ingest whenever we consume the news or social media at this particular point in history.

Let’s take truly admirable care of ourselves first, and let’s go heal the world second.  It’s the only way to lasting change for any of us.



P.S.  Taking impeccable care of yourself is an everyday act of rebellion.  Here are 50 more.