I’ve struggled with depression my entire life. It’s like having an unwanted roommate living in my head. No, that implies multiple personality. It’s more like a heavy, wet, woolen blanket that settles down over the top of me at unexpected times, for an unknown duration. And it blocks out the sunshine. Yeah. That’s it. And while the blanket is weighing me down, the air is the consistency of chocolate pudding, which makes it really hard to move.
So depression, for me, is a heavy, chocolate pudding-covered, sunshine-blocking, wet woolen blanket. One that nobody can see but me.
Jeez, that makes me sound unhinged. Ah, well. So be it.
But in a lot of ways, I’m really lucky. I hear that some depressed people can’t sleep. That must be horrific. Not me. When I’m depressed, I can sleep entire days away if given the opportunity. I actually look forward to it.
And some people live in a state of perpetual depression. What a nightmare that must be. Fortunately, my depression comes and goes like the tide, only with less predictability.
Because of that, there’s this sweet spot between depression and normalcy that I cherish. It’s always very abrupt and unexpected. One minute I’m plodding along, and the next… whoosh! The blanket gets whipped off, the sunshine dazzles me, and the air is fresh and clean. All tension and pressure is relieved. It’s like some blockage has been released. Blessed relief. The hills are alive with the sound of music. I get to embrace the normal again.
I have no idea what causes this mood conversion. I wish I did. It would be nice to be in greater control of my brain chemistry.
I’m glad I don’t go the opposite direction, though, into mania. That’s a roller coaster ride that I wouldn’t want to be on, because I bet the end of mania is like the very opposite of my sweet spot, and that would be my definition of hell.
On a brighter note, my depression has really made me appreciate those times when it’s not with me. I can’t imagine taking normalcy for granted. I will always know its value. I may not always have joy, but I’ll always have gratitude. And that’s a good thing.
I wrote this for those of you who can relate. Maybe you’re unable to express yourself in this arena, but need to hear your struggle put into words. Maybe you can share this post with loved ones who don’t quite understand. Regardless, please know that you’re not alone. I’m sending you some sunshine to see you through.
A lifetime ago, I was traveling with a friend and having a wonderful time. But at one point I did mention to her that I missed my boyfriend. (I can’t even remember who the guy was, which tells you a lot about the passage of time.) To my shock, my friend got really, really angry with me.
Apparently, she was of the opinion that if you are busy missing someone, you can’t also be enjoying yourself, and I was therefore allowing myself to spoil the trip. To this day, I can’t relate to that mindset at all.
You see, when I am having a great experience, that’s when I tend to miss people the most, because I would dearly love to have the people I care most about with me to share in those joyful times. I can’t imagine thinking otherwise. It seems like a natural conclusion to draw.
I’m not going to start avoiding the good times, just so I won’t miss my loved ones. That would be absurd. And besides, I don’t think that yearning for someone’s company is necessarily a negative emotion.
I genuinely believe that I am lucky to have people that I miss. It means I’ve built up strong relationships over the years. It means that there are people who matter a great deal to me. It means that I know what it is to love.
Life will take you to many places. Sometimes the people most significant to you will be unwilling or unable to follow. They have their own journeys, after all. And sometimes their lives will be cut short, leaving you to forge a path on your own.
So cherish the missing. Revel in the fact that you have someone to miss. Be glad that love is a part of your life. What a gift! It doesn’t get any better than that.
Okay, I confess. One of my guilty pleasures is the show Dancing with the Stars. I just love watching people do something well that I can’t do at all. (Oh, I can boogie with the best of ‘em, but formally dance? Not me. I can’t even walk in heels.)
There’s just something so wonderful about being able to express your emotions with your body. It’s as if dancers project their joy from the very tips of their fingers and toes. It’s beautiful to see.
At the end of this most recent season, I impulse-bought myself a ticket to their live tour, something I’ve wanted to do for years, so several days ago I got to experience that joy firsthand. I was rather star struck, because I feel like I’ve gotten to know all these people, and now here I was, breathing the same air! It made me feel like I was back in junior high school or something.
I was really glad that I brought binoculars, though, because I was in the nosebleed seats, and half the time I wouldn’t have known who was dancing without their help. But once I was able to suss out who was who, I could put the binoculars down and just enjoy the big picture. I left there feeling so content.
It’s magical to bear witness to such glorious artistry. We all have so much potential. There’s just so much opportunity for magnificence. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like good really is capable of triumph.
Here are some of my blurry photos from the tour. What with all the light and motion, my camera wasn’t exactly up to the task, but you get the idea.
My friend Jim told me the other day that when he saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, he was moved to tears. I totally get that. Sometimes you are just struck by the pure, intense beauty of the moment.
Since, for me, these moments are rare, they seem all the more precious. Because of that, they reside firmly in my memory. I would posit that when you are moved to tears, you are never more firmly in the moment, the now. You are there, man. Totally there, and completely grateful to be alive. It’s the best feeling on earth.
I love both experiencing that and also witnessing it in others. When someone cries while saying their wedding vows, it completely does me in. (And I don’t even like weddings, usually.)
I remember when I took this picture. I had finally gotten my first bridgetending job, after a lifetime of jobs that I absolutely hated. I was standing on the balcony, watching the sunrise, and thinking how lucky I was to be able to witness this miracle, and to be getting paid for something I love to do. I’m glad the camera had automatic focus, because it was hard to see through my tears.
Wishing you moments of absolute and utter joy, dear reader.
Recently, a friend introduced me to this Youtube video of S. White, a Taiwanese street performer. Now I can’t stop watching it. Not only is she a very talented drummer, but I can’t look away from the pure joy she expresses while she does her awesome thing.
I can’t help but envy her. She’s 23 years old, and she clearly loves what she does. I didn’t find something I loved to do until I was 36. I was meant to be a bridgetender. (It’s not nearly as exciting as what S. White does, but it suits me.)
What shocks me is that so many people never find their joy. I think the mistake people make is focusing on the big money instead of the personal bliss. Yeah, you’ll probably always be sitting pretty, financially, as a lawyer, but what’s the point if you wake up every morning dreading the day ahead?
Life is what is happening day in and day out. You can’t live for the occasional high of the next big purchase. There are too many long stretches in between. And while a Mazerati may make you smile while you’re driving it, it won’t make you smile when you tuck in to bed at night and look back on your day. Things won’t keep you warm. Experiences will.
Instead of finding a career and trying to cram yourself into it, find out what you need in life to be satisfied. THEN find the pastime that will provide you with those things. I guarantee you that if you do that, everything else will fall into place.
The other morning, I went into the kitchen to fix some breakfast for me and my dog, and the entire room was full of rainbows. It didn’t last long, and no, I wasn’t hallucinating. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Diamond-like drops of water were hanging down from the awning outside my window, and the sun was out for a change, and at the perfect angle to cast its light through those drops, causing the rainbows. The mirror in the kitchen also happened to multiply them. I stood there for a moment, embraced by color, thinking how wonderful it is to be alive. What a wonderful life I’ve had and am still having!
Afterward, while poaching an egg, I wondered if my loved ones know I feel that way. You see, I do struggle with depression. I have done so my entire life. I suspect I’m better at hiding that from strangers than I am from the people who are closest to me. I can see how it would be easy to assume I lead a joyless existence.
That’s the beauty of having a blog. You get to put your thoughts and feelings out there for all to see. So, in the event I’m run over by a bus tomorrow, here, for the record, is how I feel about my life.
On the whole, I try to look at every day as a precious gift. I’ve been given ample opportunity to learn and to travel and to experience amazing things. I’ve loved a lot of people, and I’ve been loved in return. I’ve had quite a bit of good luck, having been born in a relatively free country with relatively good opportunities, at a time in this nation’s history when women have had relatively few restrictions, and I have cherished that independence.
If anything, I’ve eaten too well. I’ve mostly experienced decent shelter. I have taken advantage of the brain that I was born with. Even in my darkest hours (and there have been plenty of those), I have never forgotten that most people are far less fortunate than I have been, and I try not to forget that I’ve done very little to deserve this privilege.
There have been enough unexpected rainbows in my life to make me feel grateful. I am, right here and now, happy with how my life has turned out, and excited about what’s to come. Because of that, I fully intend to look both ways before stepping into any bus lanes. I hope you will do the same, dear reader.
In A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, Scrooge utters a line that I’ll never forget: “Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” As detestable as Scrooge may be at first, that sentiment has always made sense to me. Christmas should never be forced upon anyone.
Part of the reason that I see a spike in jumpers at my drawbridge at this time of year is that when you’re depressed, being told that you’re supposed to be merry simply because it’s that time of the year is, well… depressing. It’s almost as if you have to bear an additional burden of guilt during this season, because you’re not feeling all Joy to the World.
And people seem to forget that there are as many ways to celebrate the holiday as there are celebrants. Some people are extremely devout and focus on that aspect of the holiday. Others are secular and celebrate mainly due to family tradition. Some people go all out, filing their yards with a million lights, synchronized to music, and buying gifts for even the most distant of relatives. Others are very quiet and discrete in their observance of the day. Some don’t celebrate Christmas at all. Everyone has a right to keep Christmas (or not keep it, for that matter) in their own way.
I must confess that for a few years, there, I wasn’t really keeping Christmas at all. When Chuck, the love of my life, died in 2014, I just couldn’t find it within me to even acknowledge the day, really. I didn’t put up a tree. I didn’t exchange gifts or go to any holiday events. In fact, I basically did my best each year to keep my head down and pretend the holiday didn’t exist.
Since I’m not a Christian, my Christmas focus has always been about love and family and warmth and togetherness. And suddenly I found myself all alone. I really didn’t see the point in even trying to go through the motions, when that tsunami of grief was liable to wash over me at even the most unexpected of times. I wandered through an emotional wasteland, where all the mistletoe had long-since withered.
This year, though, I’m starting to slowly lift my head and come out amongst the living again. I’ve attended a lot of holiday events both alone and with friends. And while I still can’t justify the expense and effort of putting up a tree and decorating it when I’d surely be the only one to see it, I did decide to decorate in my own special way. The first step was taking my Christmas box out of mothballs.
I pulled out my Christmas lights, and affixed them to my bedroom wall in the shape of a (decidedly abstract) tree. (Those Command removable hooks are one of life’s great inventions.) I replaced those lights that had burned out, and that process made me reflect on the passage of time.
Decorating was a bittersweet experience. I realized that on some level I had really missed my Christmas ornaments. They’re almost like family members that I had been neglecting. Each one has a story. There was the Nisse that my grandmother brought from Denmark. There were the many ornaments my mother made for me, and some that I made as a child. Many are keepsakes that I got during various vacations, which brought back happy memories. Some were gifts from friends. I chose a few of my favorite ornaments to hang on my abstract wall tree, and I must say, they made me smile.
And then, like a blade through my heart, I came across this ornament that I had made for Chuck. I had forgotten all about it. I held it in my hand and tried not to cry. But I decided to hang it anyway, because he will always be a part of me.
Another hard moment: Deeper in my Christmas box I came across the stocking that I had cross stitched for Chuck. I can’t remember if I ever had the opportunity to fill it for him. We only had 4 years together, and I don’t know when I made it. But I decided to hang it on my mantel so that the stocking I made for myself wouldn’t look quite so lonely. (I haven’t had a mantel since 2010, so it seemed worth decorating. Nice to use it for something more than a place to show off my book, which incidentally, makes a great gift. Just sayin’.)
After I finished decorating, I looked around, and felt rather proud of myself. Yes, I’m still alone. Yes there were tears in this process. There will probably always be tears. But I’m home. It feels like home.
To celebrate, I participated in one more tried-and-true holiday tradition: The annual humiliation of the uncooperative dog.
One of my favorite sayings is that a fish doesn’t realize it’s in water until it jumps out of it. I can totally relate to that. I just jumped out of something myself. Epic revelation!
I just got some really, really, really good news, which unfortunately I can’t share with you, dear readers. Just think about the best news you’ve ever heard in your life, and it’s on that level. The news is so good, in fact, that I’m feeling a little nauseous from sheer relief.
And therein lies the situation I just jumped from. Yes, I knew I had been under an incredible amount of stress. Yes, I knew it was making me miserable. But having the problem whisked out from under me like a tablecloth yanked out from under my mother’s best china, with nary a break, is, well, life-changing. There’s adrenaline involved, for sure. I don’t think I realized just how much the situation was impacting me on the most fundamental of levels.
I. Am. Free!!!!!!!!!
That’s an odd feeling. Because up to this moment I didn’t realize I hadn’t been free. I didn’t truly get how shackled I was to my stress and anxiety.
I feel like jumping in puddles! I feel like kissing someone! I feel like a new person. What a gift!
It’s moments like this that make life truly worthwhile. I hope that you get to have a similar experience at least once in your life. And when you do, I hope you recognize it for what it is: a leap out of your personal pond. Revel in it!
I was treating myself to a Chinese buffet the other day, because I had managed to make it through the holidays with my sanity intact. Any excuse will do. Any excuse at all.
I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a mother and her son. He looked to be about fourteen, and he was talking about the kind of things that 14-year-olds talk about. Drama at school, I think.
The mother was trying to talk sense into the kid, and at one point she said, “Don’t be silly.”
My first thought was, “Ah, that’s how it all starts…”
It’s true. At some point in life most of us seem to lose our ability to be silly. We stop jumping on the bed, making snow angels, and having water fights while washing the family car. We start worrying more and more about what other people will think. We place too high a price on our own dignity and reputation. We stop playing.
I think this is tragic. How can one feed one’s spirit without clowning around? How many years do we trim off our lives by depriving ourselves of laughter and joy?
I suppose it’s better that that mother said, “Don’t be silly,” as opposed to “Don’t be an idiot,” but still… I hope she takes a little time to be silly with her son. Because it shouldn’t be such a dying art.
The strange thing about grieving is that it’s often at its most acute during times of pure joy. That seems kind of counterintuitive, but nevertheless it’s true. I frequently find that when I’m experiencing a moment of triumph or ultimate happiness, I’ll think, “God, I wish Chuck were here. He would love this.” And then it all comes crashing in.
For instance, twice in the past few months I’ve had a wonderful time with friends whom I know he’d have loved if only he had had the chance to meet them. Both evenings were rounded out with dancing. And then, as is often the case, everyone paired off for slow dancing. Everyone except me, of course, because my dance partner is no longer with us. Both times I wound up crying. Note to self: Avoid slow dances until such time as you have found someone to dance with.
And then sometimes I twist the emotional knife of my own volition. I have no idea why. Perhaps I’ll bury my nose in one of his t-shirts and breathe deeply. It brings him back for a precious second. But it also brings back the realization that he isn’t truly back at all, and never will be again.
Why do I do this to myself? I don’t know. But just try to take Chuck’s t-shirts from me. You’ll pull back a bloody stump.