Geese, Golf Carts, and Unexpected Laughter: A True Story About Depression

For a fair stretch of time a few years ago, I was depressed. I still functioned in the ways that you're expected to function when you're an adult. I worked. I parented. I showed up. But I was a shell of myself.

I'm a positive person by nature, and I have strong faith in the Lord. These factors aren't mutually exclusive from depression. With every bit of resolve and emotional fortitude left in me, I tried to not appear like I was struggling, even to myself.

I still remember the afternoon when I realized how long I had been lurking in the shadows and how dark those shadows had grown. My husband had invited me to ride along in the cart when he went golfing. (If golf were a love language, Joel would speak it fluently.) I accepted the invitation.

I don't recall if he played all 18 holes or just 9, but I do remember that we encountered a flock of geese wandering the course, which apparently is common on a golf course. Flying rats, Joel had called them. Then he steered the golf cart toward the next tee box, cutting through the middle of the gaggle of geese so they parted ways, honking and lifting a few feet off the ground, as we drove through their midst.

Something about the scene, I'm not exactly sure what, struck me as comical. I smiled. It was a genuine smile. Then, inexplicably, the situation morphed from mildly comical in my head into oddly, irrevocably, ridiculously comical. I mean, all those flapping geese wings! The honking! The random way they scattered! My smile brimmed over into a laugh, and the laugh wasn't forced or fake. I couldn't stop my shoulders from shaking and my chest from heaving in laughter simply because Joel had driven our golf cart between some geese.

While Joel walked to the tee box and I wiped tears from my eyes from my weird display of laughter, I noticed the blue of the sky and the green of the grass and the pleasing way the fence edged the side of the golf path. My breathing felt fuller, as if my lungs had been released from constriction. More than I could express in actual words, I felt something in my heart: I'm feeling a real feeling right now, and that feeling feels happy. This feeling had been absent for so long I hadn't known if I was capable of feeling it again. 

That's the moment I realize that I had been depressed. The resurgence of a normal feeling — in this case, happiness — even from such a peculiar source (honking geese, really?), highlighted that I hadn't had normal feelings in quite some time. I had been wrung out, hollow, numb. But here I was, shoulders shaking and tears brimming from laughter.

None of it made sense, but it was something, and something felt better than nothing, which had been my default.  

Since then, life hasn't been all rosy, of course, because life is messy, and people are messy, and circumstances can be hard. But I confidently can say that it's much better — or, more aptly, that I'm much better. I talked with my doctor to address the physical elements of depression. I sought guidance from a trusted counselor. I'm in much closer community with an amazing group of faithful friends than I was then, which has been invaluable. (Good friends love you through your things, and in turn, you love them through their things right back.) 

And God. Oh, the care and goodness of God to handle all my feelings and prayers, all the chaotic emotion and numbness that I flung his way and cast at His feet. What healing he's brought to my heart. Along with the psalmist, I can testify that the Lord is the lifter of my head.

The void of feeling, the numbness, the dearth of happiness — it wasn't permanent. It was temporary. I'll never forget that first glimmer of hope, one that came in the weirdest of ways: geese, a golf cart, and unexpected laughter.


Just Go to the Concert

Have you ever listened to the band NEEDTOBREATHE? Even after over twenty years of incredible music, they're sometimes described as the "biggest band you've never heard of."

I've always wanted to see them in concert. A few months ago I had the chance. My oldest daughter texted me when the band released their upcoming tour dates, asking if I'd be interested in going with her and two college friends to see them. The catch? The concert was scheduled for a Wednesday night in a city three hours away. Even so, I checked my work calendar. It was the worst potential Wednesday of the semester to do such a thing, but after a few minutes, I texted her back:

"Absolutely. Get the tickets."

Was it a long day of work, followed by six hours of round-trip driving? Of course. Was I tired the next day? Undoubtedly. After gushing for a half hour about the concert, did the three teenagers with me fall asleep in the car on the way home, leaving me alone with my own thoughts for the rest of the long drive? Yes, they most certainly did.

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Even now a few months later, I occasionally reflect upon that night. It's the only Wednesday evening of the entire fall semester I specifically remember. It would have been easy to skip if I based my decision on convenience alone, but really, how could I have passed up the opportunity? 

Of course, I've missed other opportunities, like one night in college when my roommate asked me if I wanted to go Christmas caroling at Joe Paterno's house, which was slightly under a mile from our dorm at Penn State. Of course I wanted to go, but it already was late and I had been studying for a final exam I had at 8 the next morning.

I still remember how my roommate and friends stomped snow off their boots as they entered our dorm two hours later. I hadn't moved from my desk. "How was it?" I asked.

The group was so excited that each person talked over the others:

"It was amazing!'

"We were so nervous to ring their doorbell that we stopped at three other houses to practice."

"Sue Paterno opened the door and she was in her bathrobe. She stepped outside in her slippers to plug in their Christmas lights!"

"Coach Paterno asked where we were from and we all said, 'Penn State' at the exact same time. He laughed and said, 'I gathered that. Where are you girls actually from?'"

"I can't believe it started snowing as we were singing. It was magical!"

This took place over two decades ago, but I still remember particular details, like how Joe draped his arm around Sue's shoulder as they stood in their front doorway, backlit from the warm glow of light in their house, and snow started to fall while my friends sang Silent Night.

For the life of me, the one thing I can't remember is what class I was studying for.

Sometimes you need to choose the less convenient, but better, option. I don't remember the final exam that happened then, and I won't remember run-of-the-mill Wednesday nights that happen now. But I'll always remember this one particular Wednesday night when I traveled to Pittsburgh to watch NEEDTOBREATHE in concert with my nearly nineteen-year-old daughter and her two friends. 

If there's ever another opportunity, I hope I'd do the exact same thing again. Just go to the concert.

Never heard of NEEDTOBREATHE? It's high time to remedy that. They've released too many incredible songs to list even a fraction of them, but you can't go wrong with this sampling of seven. Seriously, pause everything else you need to do today and do this first. Do it. Do it now.

Brother (perhaps their most widely-known song, for good reason)

West Texas Wind (sung poetry that'll make you feel all the feels)

Banks (a love song with a growl at 2:56 that's absolute perfection)

Hard Love (amazing vocals, amazing lyrics)

Carry Me (sounds like a prayer I want to pray daily)

Lay 'Em Down (one of their oldest, but what a wildly satisfying drop at 2:15)

Multiplied (also from the archives, and one of my personal favorites)

Actually, let's make it a sampling of eight songs, with this incredible, stripped-down, ruggedly live version of Survival (featuring Drew and Ellie Holcomb) that, as the kids these days say, absolutely slaps:


Perfect Peace

A few days ago, I watched the opening episodes to season four of The Chosen at our local movie theatre. I heard about the series in passing a year ago, but I only began to watch for myself last fall when three separate people told me how deeply the show was impacting them over the series of three days.

After a few episodes, I understand why its reach is wide and profound. (If you haven't watched, I can't recommend it enough.) In the most recent episodes, we witness a brief exchange between Peter, the disciple, and Gaius, a Roman centurion. As Peter leaves, he offers the customary Jewish departure, "Shalom, shalom."

Gaius asks a question that we, as viewers, might have asked ourselves, "Why do you say it twice?"

Peter responds that "shalom" once is peace, but "shalom, shalom" is perfect peace, complete wholeness.

I've followed Jesus for thirty years, and I'm still in awe of His gift of peace. A few weeks ago, over an Olive Garden lunch of soup, salad, and breadsticks, a friend told me about her husband's recent surgery which removed a malignant tumor. During the whole process — the discovery of the tumor, the leadup to surgery, the waiting for results on the tumor's malignancy, the post-op checkup — both she and her husband had remained in complete peace.

She told me, "I knew it was serious, but somehow I never was upset. Neither was my husband. I wondered whether we should be more worked up about it." As my friend reflected, she only could attribute it to the perfect peace of God, a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that guarded their hearts and minds.

What kindness from the Lord. 

I've had many days when I'm grasping for whisps of peace in the midst of turmoil, confusion, or grief. Many times, my level of peace feels like the "shalom" (not "shalom, shalom") variety: peace-ish, but not quite perfect in its wholeness. 

But peace isn't the absence of struggle, pain, or hardship. It's the presence of God, even in the midst of a storm. I can trust a God who is both powerful and close, both all-knowing and intimate, both unsearchable in His greatness and deeply caring.

Whether or not I see it in my circumstances or feel it in my emotions, God's peace is perfect, complete, and whole. It's deeper than what's happening around me or even within me. It's a peace anchored in the Lord himself, who doesn't shift like shadows, who remains a strong tower and fortress, who understands and comforts those who grieve, who upholds us with his mighty right hand.

Shalom, shalom, indeed.

Walking in Winter

There's no bad weather, only bad clothing.
Scandinavian Saying

I'm grateful I live in a location where I experience all four seasons. Some people love winter. Others hate it. I fall into the category of people who tolerate winter well. Trust me, in a few months when the weather finally breaks, I'll welcome spring with arms wide open, but now, I'm holding steady and enduring with good cheer. 

I've never been into winter sports, though. I don't ice skate, I don't ski, and I don't snowboard. Given this, most of my winter exercising has been done indoors at the gym to shield myself from the weather. But given some current troubles with my shoulder, I can't go to the gym or do much vigorous movement, which leaves me with one main option: walking.

I've always enjoyed taking walks when the weather is warm, but I've never been a person who takes daily winter walks. It's not as bad as it seems. For one, last Christmas my husband bought me a heated vest, and this thing is legit. It feels like I'm wrapped in a heated blanket, yet in a socially acceptable way. On occasion, I've even been known to describe it as "life-changing." You might think I exaggerate, but I've said what I've said.

Besides the heated vest, there's another reason why winter walks aren't bad: winter is surprisingly beautiful when you're exposed to its beauty. This evening, for example, I witnessed this sunset: 

Even on days when the sky looms dark, there's something tranquil and serene about its starkness. It's hushed and peaceful. I catch whiffs of the wood stove smoke from the house on top of the hill, which just might be one of the best smells this earth has to offer. 

When I'm warm and comfortable inside, I sometimes want to stay that way. Inertia is real. Still, I head outside because I know this to be true: I've never taken a walk and felt worse for it. Especially not now with my heated vest.


Snow Days

At the risk of sounding old, I'm going out on a limb to say that schools these days are getting soft. Even the university where I teach — a university that used to never, and I mean never, cancel classes — canceled classes this week. 

Did we actually get snow? Well, yes. We got some snow. But did we actually get SNOW, like real snow, full-on drifts and piles of snow, or pelting onslaughts and avalanches of snow that would necessitate a cancellation? Not even close.

So what's a girl to do? I'll tell you: I'm going to wear sweatpants, and I'm going to stay cozy, and I'm going to drink tea and pet my cats and read a book. I'm going to utterly enjoy whatever cancellation is granted, whether it's warranted or not.

Life is hard enough sometimes. If snow cancellations is one area where it feels a little softer, so be it. I'll manage in my slippers.


Celebrating Cat Adoption Days

On our refrigerator calendar, today's square is flanked by two special days: yesterday marks the one-year anniversary of adopting our cat, Chip, and tomorrow marks the three-year anniversary of adopting Peanut. As someone who never owned a pet until adulthood, I'm still surprised by how much joy they add to life.

Peanut, a diminutive cat who fits her namesake, continues to be sweet and shy and (in my humble opinion) the most adorable thing ever. Chip continues to behave like a dog. They're a good mix. 

Of course, Peanut often guards my laptop when I need to work. 

And, on occasion, she tries to fit into a lunch box.

Most recently, Peanut has taken to extending her paw and gently placing it on my bad shoulder, as if she senses I'm hurting. How she knows this, I can't fathom, but it's comforting.

In contrast, Chip has no such internal sensor, but he's delightful, too. He's relentlessly friendly. He runs crookedly, like he can't entirely figure out how to propel himself forward in a straight trajectory. We occasionally ask him, "What are you thinking about Chip?" and then playfully answer that he doesn't think. This seems to fit who he is. If he spoke, he very well might sound like a middle school boy. Bruh

Happy adoption days, Chip and Peanut. I'm grateful you're in our lives.


Frozen Shoulder, Why Hello Again.

Once again, I'm going to have to put my dreams of competing on American Ninja Warrior on hold. I've been diagnosed with frozen shoulder. Again. 

My first bout of frozen shoulder occurred pre-pandemic, five falls ago to be exact. It started with minor pain and stiffness, but within two months, I had lost all ability to raise or rotate my right arm, making daily tasks like getting dressed, washing my hair, or sleeping a painful challenge.

For the sake of diversity, this time my left shoulder is affected. In good news: I'm right-handed, so I can still use my prominent arm freely. This is a plus, although with my left arm out of commission, I'm unable to normally reach for my seatbelt or, as I discovered last week, to pay the hourly fee at a parking garage kiosk without first opening my door and climbing out of the car.

Over the holidays, I had a conversation at a college football function with friends of ours, a former NFL player and his wife. He shared how he recently strained his shoulder while lifting heavy equipment into his truck bed. I winced, asked what his diagnosis was, and told him that I had frozen shoulder. He replied, "Frozen shoulder? I don't know how to say this, but that sounds not real."

I get this. The phrasing sounds benign, but saying adhesive capsulitisis, the official term, not only sounds fake but also pretentious, so I'll stick with the colloquial "frozen shoulder," as if Elsa accidentally "let it go" with a chilly blast toward me.

The internet hasn't made me feel better, either. A quick Google search on "frozen shoulder recovery timeline" shares depressing things like this:

Stage 1 (Freezing): Slow onset of pain last from 6 weeks to 9 months. As pain worsens and radiates down the arm, the shoulder loses motion, hindering mobility and daily activities.

Stage 2 (Frozen):
Slow improvement in pain, but immobility remains 4 to 9 months.

Stage 3 (Thawing): Shoulder motion slowly returns to normal over a 5 to 26 month period.

Essentially, given where I currently am in this freeze-thaw process, if I level out immediately, I could "return to normal" as soon as November or at some point 39 months from now, which will be right around when my college freshman is a college graduate. 

Give or take, of course.

When I saw an orthopedist last month, he asked if my pain stemmed from a sports injury. I was tempted to quip, "More like a sports bra injury," but given that he was a young male doctor, I didn't think he'd find my womanly perimenopausal humor funny, or even understandable, but gah, have you ever tried to put on a sports bra with frozen shoulder? Impossible.

So now I stay the course. I move more gingerly than I'd like to move. I see an excellent physical therapist twice a week, do exercises morning and evening, and have a nightly appointment with a heating pad before awkwardly propping myself up on pillows to attempt sleep. I also I remember the valuable lessons I learned last time and sweet moments of care, knowing that all things, including frozen shoulder, are temporary.

The Second College Drop-Off

This past weekend, my oldest daughter moved back into her dorm for her second semester of college. I wrote about the first college drop-off: a process filled with rolling carts and stacks of clothes, desk lamps and extra-long fitted sheets, Command-hooked twinkle lights and posters for the cinderblock walls, school supplies and four-by-six area rugs between the beds.

I wasn't prepared for it, but this second drop-off hit harder. I hugged her goodbye in the parking lot, then watched as she wheeled her suitcase and hoisted her backpacks, one on her back and one on her front, as she followed my husband, who carried her laundry basket of winter clothes.

You see, the winter break had felt so incredibly normal. All five of us had been under one roof. We resumed the familiar rhythms: I bought snacks that she liked, and immediately reverted to her habit of leaving her dirty clothes on the bathroom floor after she showered. On evenings when she hung out with friends, we waited until she returned home to turn off the outside lights and lock the front door. It was just like old times.

But as I watched her recede from view down the sidewalk, I realized that her default absence, not her daily presence, is the new normal for our family now. The winter break was a break from the routine, but this? This is the reality; this is the routine. 

That's why the second college drop-off hit harder than the first. I know how quickly semesters pass, which is why I know how the breaks between those semesters pass even more quickly. Even though I've always known it, this second drop-off reinforced that our time with our kids is finite. We raise them so they can leave and live their lives, as it should be. Circle of life stuff.

Still, I'd like to add that before she turned the corner and disappeared from view entirely, she looked back over her shoulder and smiled. I'll take it and treasure it in my heart.


Let's Chat: Hello 2024

Happy New Year, dear readers! The end of 2023 slipped away with a host of activities: wrapping up a semester and submitting final grades, traveling and returning home, preparing for Christmas, actually reaching and celebrating Christmas, more traveling and returning home (again), then ringing in the new year. It's now 2024. Let's go!

And by let's go, I mean, sit right there and don't go anywhere. Make yourself comfortable. Join me on this first installation of a Let's Chat post, 2024-style. We'll meander between topics, letting the conversation take us where it wishes. 

Changes of Scenery. I mentioned that I traveled twice around Christmas: once from Pennsylvania to Florida and back to visit my parents, then from Pennsylvania to Georgia and back to attend the Peach Bowl. When I first arrived in Florida, my immediate response was that it wasn't real. Blue skies, sunshine, and palm trees in December? Is this some wonderful hoax? After a day, however, the tables turned and I began to believe that my real life in Pennsylvania where I'm an employed person who does mundane things like making grocery lists wasn't real, either. 

All of this was very confusing. Reality and alternate reality were working at odds. I chalked it up to the fact that, apparently, I'm like an infant who can't remember that her hand exists when it's covered up by a blanket. When I'm in Pennsylvania in December, places like Florida don't exist. They're covered by a blanket. And when I'm in Florida in December, places like Pennsylvania don't exist. Blanketed, all the way.

I'm back in Pennsylvania for the long haul now. Hello darkness, my old friend.

Another Semester Starts. Another semester always starts. That's just the nature of semesters. They're like tides, either coming in, or going out, or occasionally pulling you under. We start on Monday. I'm not going to endeavor the mental gymnastics to tally how many semesters I've started, and I'm certainly not going to bother with the distinction of how many of those were in the role of student instead of instructor, but suffice to say, it's a lot.

Everything is prepared, as it should be. This is not my first (or tenth, or twentieth) rodeo, given that semesters come in fall, spring, and summer varieties and I've taught all of them for a gazillion years. I've finalized my syllabi. I've published my Canvas sites for each class. I've visited each of my classrooms, walking up and down each row, running my hand along every desk to pray for each student who will be sitting in them next week. I'm ready to go.

Goals and Stuff.
I've never been a person to make New Year's Resolutions, but this year, I have a few. For the sake of accountability, let me itemize them:

  • Give up Dr Pepper. Granted, I've given up Dr Pepper before, but I fell off the wagon so hard during the pandemic that I would have taken Dr Pepper through an IV if you would have offered it to me. You might be like, "But Robin, wasn't the pandemic four years ago? Haven't you gotten past that yet?" and I would say yes (to the pandemic being four years ago) and no (to not getting past it.) But now it's time. Even though a part of me is crying as I type this, I'm prepared to swear off happiness in the form of delicious liquid sugar running through my veins.

  • Write more. Years ago, I wrote amply and effusively. It was a practice, a discipline. Let's blame everything on Covid at this point, because at the same time the pandemic (and my Dr Pepper usage) spiked, my writing tanked. Of course, goals need to be concrete. You can't just "write more" or "get healthy" or "eat better," but rather you need a plan. Given this, my plan is to form a habit of posting twice a week on this humble blog. (Mondays and Thursdays sound nice.) 

  • Use a planner. Why I'm blaming this on Covid, I don't know, but somewhere along the line I went from a person who had a planner (think: organization and structure!) to a person who wrote things down on scraps of paper, to a person who had occasional thoughts that flitted in my head like Post-It notes being rustled by an oscillating fan -- tentatively sticking there, but potentially blown away at any moment. Somehow, in my currently hopeful January frame of mind, I think a planner will definitively change things, that it will revive the best and most disciplined parts of me that have been dormant. I'll keep you posted.

How about you, dear reader? How has your new year started? I hope you are well in every way possible, and please let me thank you for joining me here at Robin Kramer Writes. You could be reading anything, but you're here. I'm honored.

And now, 2024. Let's do this!


The New Calendar

A glimpse into my uncensored thought process when buying my 2024 calendar:

Practical Me: Choose the black and white option.

Decorative Me: But this other calendar is more colorful and has whimsical drawings of plants along the borders.

Practical Me: Black and white always works. Are you sure you like plants that much? This is a 365-day commitment, you know.

Whimsical Me: You're in a rut. You should try something new besides black and white. Plus, plants are cheerful. Live a little, woman!

Practical Me: But that font on the plant calendar is ALL WRONG. I mean, it's not as bad as Papyrus or Comic Sans, but clearly, it's not going to win any typography awards. Can you emotionally commit to a bad font for 12 months?

Decorative Me: Point conceded.

Practical Me: I should note that the black border will blend nicely into your refrigerator. You won't even notice this version once it's hanging up.

Decorative Me: But isn't that too predictable? Won't you want some life and color during those doldrum months? On top of that, can you even consider this a "transition" to a "new" calendar if it looks just like last year's calendar?

Practical Me: Oh. Ooof. I hadn't considered that. (pause). Really, Robin. This is just a calendar. Just. A. Calendar. This is not a lifelong commitment.

Irrational Me: Well, technically, it's still a pretty big commitment. It is a whole year, after all. You better get this right. You're going to be dealing with this choice for 365 sequential days.

Detail-Oriented Me: Actually, try 366 days. It's a leap year, you know.

Exhausted Me: I can see you're stuck, so let's simplify things. Look here at this entirely new third calendar option for you to consider. That'll help.

Every Other Part of Me: That doesn't help at all.
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