S.A.D. in October

Before I found this platform, Facebook was where I put a lot of my poetry and some of my journals. Today when I opened my FB page I found a FB memory at the top of my feed that was a journal entry from one year ago today. It was startling familiar. My posts, exactly one year apart, are nearly identical. A pattern is apparent. Here is the memory that FB shared with me today:

“It happened again this week. Lots of things contributed to its arrival. It had already started  by the time I recognized the signs. When I realized what was happening it was too late to prevent it. Once the sequence has been initiated this far there is no reversing it. When depression arrives all I can do is take care of myself while I ride it out.

Depression isn’t a feeling you can decide to get over. It is an unannounced and unanticipated life sucking brain betrayal. I am a smart woman. I am a strong woman. I am vibrant, creative, and beautiful and I have people in my life who value me and love me.

It doesn’t matter.

When this shit hits, it is powerful and at its worst it takes everything I have not to give up.  Most people have never experienced what it is like to be pressed to the floor in despair, unable to out think your own misery. People say things like “Buck up!” or “You don’t have anything to be sad about.” What they don’t realize is that when I am depressed I can not make my brain feel better no matter what I do. In a very real way I am suffering from a physical illness. My brain is literally sick.

Normally I can alter my emotions by altering my thoughts. When I am depressed,  I feel hopelessly unhappy. No matter what thoughts I generate, this heavy heartedness won’t go away. The emotional mood stays regardless of the thoughts I think. Sadness sits on my chest and refuses to move. Positive thoughts or outlooks have little to no effect on how I feel.  It is  crippling to experience the loss of internal control over my own emotions. I start to fear I will be stuck in this emotional state.

I try to tell myself that what I am experiencing is a just a part of my brain that has run amuck. The problem becomes, which part of myself do I trust? Would I be in this much pain if things were really okay? Not being able to trust my own thoughts and feelings is terribly defeating. It feeds the machinery of hopelessness.I begin to feel that I might never be able to feel happy again.

Today was the first day I felt any better in awhile. I had to self-medicate to get started. The chemicals kicked open a mental door which allowed me to see the world differently – it let the light in. Sometimes, to break negative thought cycles I have to chemically disrupt them.

This evening I stood in the kitchen. I mean I really stood there – grounding my feet on the ratty, permanently dirty linoleum we will someday replace. I felt my lungs fill and my ribs expand kindly to accommodate them. I felt both relax in concert. They did their jobs perfectly. With my nimble, sensitive fingers I felt the tough, smooth skin of the tomatoes from my garden, testing each for the give in the flesh that betrays its over ripeness. I focused on the intimate details of that ordinary moment and

I. Was. Still.

Such a soft, delicious peace stole into my soul.

It was like the warmth I experience when I think of my most happy childhood memories.

It was like an unexpected 70 degree day in February when your skin hasn’t felt sunlight in so long it has forgotten the sensation.

I stood in that place and felt the neural pathways linked to pleasure engage. The fist of depression that held my mind hostage fell open, like a blossom, and peace was upon me.

I allowed myself to surrender to that space. I gave all of my attention only to the things happening exactly now. I palpated the red fruits, sliced them, felt the skin resist and then split beneath my dull knife. The light from the window fell weakly into the run down room mixing with the happy sound of a sitcom playing on Netflix.  I felt warm, comfortable, peaceful, and content alongside my depression. Although the low was there, I felt at home with myself.

These moments in the midst of melancholy are really important and significant to me. Having them reminds me that this weight can and will dissolve.

Once I surface again, for awhile, I live in fear and try to prevent depression from coming back. I know it will probably return. All I can do is structure my eating, exercise, work, and thought patterns to set up scenarios that give me the best chance for prolonged happiness. No matter what I do, I have to accept that in all likelihood, depression will come around again and I need to know how to take care of myself when I am in that space.

What matters is what the woman at the helm does when the hurricane descends, when the wind and waves punch her ship and force her to the floor.

Does she struggle to grab the wheel and fight the elements with all of her strength?

No.

She knows she cannot steer the ship in this weather. Exhaustion will overtake her and make her useless. She could die in the attempt.

It appears her vessel will capsize. Does she tie an anchor to her ankle and dive into the abyss to control her own destiny? To force, if not salvation, then peace?

No, that journey is later. This is not the last day.

Instead, she acknowledges the storm. And she does what she can to protect the ship. Then she ties herself to the mast and focuses on the sun she knows is above the thunderhead. Because even though she can’t feel it, she knows it is there. It is worth surviving this even if her mind can’t believe it right now. No tempest is eternal.  One breath at a time through each pitch and yaw. In. Out. In. Out. Through thunder and salt. This too shall pass.”

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HS 10.16.2016

Mythical Fish

I need to write. My computer crawled through updates before allowing me to begin. Goddamn technology and its plodding fallibility that I should be bound to wait on electrons and connections by a machine. I need to document the mood and inspiration when it besets me. I need immediate release when the chemical landscape in my brain is ready to be transcribed into language. I cannot put thoughts down fast enough on paper with a pen. I need a screen. And a keyboard. I fear now the mood might be lost. But I will try – I know the words are still there. I must breathe and allow the frustration to dissipate so I can transition from exasperation to contemplation.

You see, I watched “The Hours” this morning as I have watched it many times. This film resonates with me in the way a conversation with a kindred soul might. The burden of life, the dear escape of imagination and creation, I live these things too. Not all of the time, not every day – but I have held the black bird of suicide in my tired and thoughtful hands. It was not repugnant. It is only death. It is the final peace. When I am tired to my bones, those onyx feathers glint quietly in the corners of my thoughts.

My week, these past two weeks have been filled with new and exhausting work. What a price! To give up the precious seconds, the hours, the weeks of existence to wrestle with certain technicalities which drain me. So I soak up this Saturday, nestled in bed clothes, absorbed by the dearest thoughts I experience; those unimpeded by worries and concerns of the other beings in the world. I explore my own interior landscape carefully, as a scientist or a philosoph– gently moving, prodding, and observing, taking notes and simply absorbing, tasting. I can never predict what comes from these mindful meanderings. I am never mining for something of predetermined meaning or value. I only know it is the ultimate satisfaction to reflect and write undisturbed by obligations or worry. What comes from this work is less relevant than that the work occurs.

These moments of solitude are necessary and indeed are the nourishment my mind requires for peace, for sanity.

For all my complaints about the necessity of being engaged in other work to earn a living, I recognize the necessity for that as well. Left alone too often I stagnate and stink and rot into dependence and melancholy. Perhaps when I am truly ready to write for months at length, potentially for pay, I will thrive to be entirely left to my own devices all day. Who can know? That time is not now. But it is coming I think. Yes, it is coming.

I sense the arrival of this moment like the changes in the weather announcing an impending season. The form of my story I already know. It is a fish brushing past me, my bare feet and ankles aware in a muddy current. I know of its existence for its fin has scraped my skin and its sides have slid through my ankles, glancing off my medial malleolus, that bony protuberance. This slippery creature’s general shape is familiar. I have seen others. But you see, this fish is MINE. She has never been seen before. Not by anyone. Can you imagine the breathless delight I must feel to glance at the oil spill shimmer of her scales when she surfaces,  exposing her shining spine to the air? Do you know the warmth and comfort of holding something beautiful and yet unuttered within you?

I live for many things, not least these moments in which the world calls me idle, when in fact, I am doing the most necessary and intimate work I can do. How else might one produce a mythical fish?

HS 9.19.2015

blurry-fish
Photo credit:unknown

An Evening Conversation With Myself About Nothing in Particular

An Evening Conversation

With Myself

About Nothing in Particular

Forewarning – I will not spellcheck most of this and certainly typos will abound. I don’t care – I just feel like talking/typing to capture the experience of this moment as I live it.

I am writing now for the entertainment of following my own thoughts. I’m not saying my thoughts are always graceful or clever, although sometimes they appear to be to me. I am saying I enjoy thinking just to see where it will lead and to discover what I might feel. God this could be so boring for other people to read now that I’m rereading this. No more rereading. It’s cocking the whole process up.

It is Monday – Labor Day to be exact…so September, and early. I am sitting contentedly in Redbud Forest of The Rosebud Cottage Garden of Cottage Manor. I like to name the different parts of our tiny downtown property. It makes it seem more magical to me.

I am tired but at peace. The air is warm and pleasant. I recently buried my nose into the velvet center of a thickly petalled pink rose.  Its breath was sweet and smelled faintly of peaches at the back. I thought to myself, “how lucky I am to have these hours where nothing at all is required of me but that I do what I like and enjoy how I feel”.

It took me a very long time to create this situation for myself. I believed that I had to earn a certain amount of money or perform certain kinds of tasks to have worth. All my time and mental energy was either absorbed or interrupted by those thoughts. I let go of that. My husband and I have both worked hard to create a life where I am free to have these kinds of days. Too few people of the world have such golden hours and I wish they did. Perhaps we would be more peaceful a species. But I digress. I have no interest in speaking on politics. Too thorny, too spiney. Too pokey and hurty. No, only pleasant thoughts for now.

Beneath the eldest redbud, (who is really only a sapling), I recline in a wicker (plastic) chair we got at Lowes. Just now on the summer side of the autumn cusp, this adolescent tree has the wingspan and the breadth of leaf to provide the very first useable shade. It was this very shade I imagined I would sit under when I planted it. It is satisfying to partake in the success of an idea realized. I wanted this and so I made this happen. This kind of satisfaction is good. Satisfaction is more concentrated when it is immediately experienced. At least it is for me. But this garden has been a long time in becoming so diluting the satisfaction is bitterness. Bitterness that my vision wasn’t realized in one season but many. Lingering is the resentment that I had to work harder and wait longer for what I wanted. Such is life. Still, it is nice to be here, now, out in the open evening air, protected from the hot sun.

The mosquitos are either lazier now or they are less in number. For the whole of August they were as unbearable as the humidity. Together, these things made porch sitting impossible. The only way I could tolerate it was to wrap myself entirely in a blanket, with only my face exposed, so as to protect myself from being constantly irritated and lightly punctured. In this way I could only ever be out at night and even then only briefly. Obviously a human body wrapped in wool is not in its happiest state on a humid summer night. Being human, you would think I could have predicted this. Or maybe used bug spray. But – bug sprays often have cancer causing ingredients and I was honestly just too lazy to find any or purchase or make an alternative mosquito repellent. Instead I sweat. For about five minutes.

Alright, I have moved inside. I was wrong about the mosquitos. They were only hiding and waiting for me to relax so they could practice guerilla warfare. I attempted to spell guerilla as “gorilla” and thankfully spell check saved us both.

Inside, my cottage is very messy. I am in transition in many areas of life and this is always mirrored in my housekeeping. Things are everywhere on the floor because my head is everywhere else. I moved the stacks of mismatched pillows off the window seat to make room for myself.My garden explodes in rose blooms outside the window. Although the sun is obscured by a neighboring house, it remains bright in the garden, the white fences reflecting what light is left. I fold my legs Indian style to balance my laptop. I open the window. I listen.

The insects have begun their courting rituals and chirp and whistle fervently. An air conditioner hums one hundred feet away. It’s rhythmic sounds are comforting. There is a young child next door, his piccolo voice producing staccato notes. His father near him responds; a low tenor hum shaping a language of rolling “ohms”. Their duet is short. I can not understand what they are saying. Their words are sanded of their sharper consonants as they are pushed through the thick air and the cracks in my tall fence.

Stacked behind the whir of the air conditioner and unintelligible conversation are infrequent and erratic crescendos of growling sounds. These are the revving engines of trucks and cars arriving and exiting Madison on 421. What used to be unwelcome noise to the country girl of Michigan is a seductive symphony. I now love these sounds.

It took me seven years to fall in love with Madison. Seven. Doesn’t that seem such a long period of time to not love the place you live? I loved Michigan, my home state – even when the weather turned to shit. It’s the scenery of nostalgia for me. And I don’t love easily things that are unfamiliar.

The pain of resisting my life here was more uncomfortable than the pain of the idea of giving in. And the fear of what giving in might mean for me. I had my reasons for not wanting to accept this life here in this small town so far from my family but I was miserable with depression from resistance. From living in a stagnant reality where I only longed for what was not. Finally I said fuck it. I looked at the place I lived with eyes and mind willing to discover what was beautiful about it. I actually tried to find things I liked. I decided it was okay to make friends with the people and the scenery here. It was obvious I was staying so I started to participate in and accept what was in my present. Worth it. Now, with only my perspective and perception shifted, I adore living here. The same kind of mental restructuring has allowed me to rediscover my husband, and myself. Shit – once you get a bit of a handle on this kind of thinking- once you realize that you have some power over your own mental comfort, the world becomes a much more tolerable place.

I haven’t really much to say, no agenda on which to persuade you. Neither do I wish to inform you of anything in particular… it is just a beautiful night and it’s been a truly good day. I wanted to sit with someone and just talk out loud about whatever came to me in these succulent moments before the moon.

HS 9.5.2016

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The Wilderness

I have been lost since I graduated college. Adult life has been a mystery to me. School made sense. Classes were laid out, routines were in place, expectations were clear. At the end of that road was an award of sorts, a degree. What I was going to do with it wasn’t really the point. The point was I would earn it, I would have it, and somehow I was then certified to be an adult whatever that meant.

I liked school. I have been pleasantly afflicted with a deep love for learning. There is almost nothing I like better than to understand how things are connected, how they work. The minute details of events at the molecular level fascinate me. Oh the intricate mechanisms of a chemical reaction. The personality of particle behaviors and the psychology of an atom. Why does an electron move from vibrating around one nucleus to another? To understand this even in part feeds my soul as well as my brain. Learning these facts is like a tasting a particularly delicious piece of candy. Maybe a skittle or a dark chocolate truffle. But also profoundly moving like a hymn, or a prayer. Science is my spirituality.

My bachelor degree is in biology and chemistry. I chose to study those subjects without any desire to work in a scientific field. As moronic as that statement and the following one may sound both are true. I went to college because I loved school, because I received a full ride for running, and also, because what the hell else was I going to do? It was the natural next step but not because I had a career in mind. I had no plans beyond learning botany or biochemistry for pleasure and qualifying for nationals every season.

But May 2004 arrived. A diploma was earned and suddenly I was displaced. I had my first real job in a lab in South Bend, Indiana. I got my first apartment. And I entered depression almost immediately. College, school, all my life experience had prepared me in no real way to live outside of a system of highly structured learning.

I was adrift for over ten years. During that time I was married and divorced then married again. I wore many hats and none of them fit comfortably. Lab jobs especially were an abysmal failure. It’s almost hilarious how painfully blind I was to my own inner compass. I hated working in labs for most of my college science classes.  Every Tuesday and Thursday I endured the torture of being stuck in a soulless room filled with humming machinery while I crunched numbers and prepared samples.  I was in hell if that process took any longer than three hours. Four hours or longer frazzled my nerves and brought out the profanity in me.

How on earth did I expect to find satisfaction in a lab job working forty hours a week under those exact same conditions? The unfortunate truth for many of us is we have been taught emotionally to do what is expected of us or what seems practical instead of listening to and trusting our internal compass. Most of us are not taught introspection or to give value to the input from our emotional minds. I was taught by example to value practicality over preference and I felt a degree in science made the most sense. I loved learning about scientific subjects so that must mean something right? Also I knew I would have no problem landing a job with a degree in science. It never occurred to me whether or not I would want to keep it once I had it.

I returned to school after the whole lab thing didn’t pan out. I earned a teaching certificate in hopes that I might somehow use my original degree, thereby validating the four years I spent earning it. To be fair, I believe I was very good at teaching. I am organized, creative, compassionate, and at times, I love to be the center of attention.  I enjoyed the personalities of all of my students and I was able to predict a lot of the hang-ups they might encounter learning a difficult concept. I prepared stepping stones to understanding whereby I led minds carefully to each idea that eventually linked to the larger picture. First the trees and then the forest. I made space in my mind and in my classroom for students to be liked for who they were. I did everything I could to be as good at teaching as I could be. It was not sustainable.

I now recognize that I am unchangeably introverted. Navigating my internal world consumes most of my life energy. Thinking about and interacting with other people all day was a slow drowning. I tried so beautifully hard to make it as a teacher. Why could I not be like everyone else? Why did going to work feel like it was killing me a little bit each day? I felt like a failure for so long. Why could I not adapt to what most of the population is able to do easily? Why was a forty hour work week so punishing for me that I could hardly convince myself to keep living?

I was not prepared to fail. No part of my training had prepared me for this scenario. That I might not succeed at having a normal career never occurred to me. Yet here I was, with all the correct qualifications and skills to be a teacher, or a lab tech, or a case worker or whatever and no matter what I did I was miserable. I wanted so badly to understand what was wrong with me so I could fix it and move the fuck on with my life but there was no simple answer. I was utterly lost. I had literally come to the end of a rope. I had no understanding, no inkling of how to behave or what to think. I could not proceed as I was and I could not imagine how to proceed differently.

What does one do when one finds oneself an outlier to the mathematical question of life? My answer was to fight to be included, to force my sweet soul towards alteration. I ripped myself in places where the pattern required an opening and sutured and silenced the openings where a seam was dictated. I injured myself to be acceptable. I am not exaggerating when I say I became suicidal. Life as I made it was worse than annihilation. If I were not, at least then, at LEAST then, I would be at peace.

But there is another way my love. There is another way and I could not have seen the path for me because there was no path. All my short years I had been shown a paved road. Sign-posts in friendly bright colors at expected intervals met me, reassuring me that I was heading in the correct direction. I graduated college and the pavement abruptly ended and I stood terrified at the perimeter of the woods of my own being in the vehicle of my beliefs and education . All that I owned, all that I was was either inside or about that car and suddenly I could no longer use it.

I took a chainsaw to the wood to make space for the car and I felt every felled tree like an incision in my skin. As I lay mourning, choking on the sawdust of my own raped soul, not even a quarter of a mile into this unruly wild, I knew with everything in me that I would rather expire than go forward as I was. Let my atoms return to the larger universe and perhaps be reorganized into something more successful. I whispered kindly to the fallen how deeply sorry I was for their massacre. I explained humbly that I had to try. I had to know beyond all doubt that I was unable to drive through this. Then I accepted that I must abandon what I used to believe I had to be and find out what I really was.

It’s an attractive idea – a calling. The notion that if we listen in the correct direction there is an instructional lyric on the wind, a purpose-filled melody vibrating through the universe waiting for us to tune in and finally understand what our life is supposed to be about. I can not connect with the idea of a calling that can be translated perfectly into a paycheck, a position, or a fixed identity associated with something I do.

If I have one, my vocation is to be alive, to listen quite literally to my body and its rhythms – Every. Single. Moment. And to honor and trust what I find there. And to understand and learn about what I find there without asking it to mutate into something more acceptable.  My career is learning about being this human and how to connect with, nurture, celebrate, accept, and love other humans. I earn money by working part-time doing what is livable to me to provide just enough for me to live modestly. I don’t care about status and I don’t equate acquiring with success. I am lucky enough to have a husband who is comfortable with being the primary provider. I am deeply, timelessly grateful for this gift. I must say that even if I lived alone, I would work just enough to provide for myself so that I could live as I do now with many hours to dedicate to wandering with kind inquisitiveness through my own personal existence.

All of us come to the wilderness. It may be a through a loss of a loved one or the loss of a skill we associate closely with our identity. It might be a change in employment or simply ageing that brings you here. We all, invariably, come up against the unbearably unknown through loss and change. There will be plenty of people who have a prescription for this situation.  You may find what you need or part of what you need in the words and experience of others. To those of you for whom no advice has yet helped, I offer you perfect permission to abandon all instruction.

You can neither know this place nor navigate it as you have your past life.

No one else has gone before you here – your internal universe is private with large and subtle variations from everyone else’s so there is no path and no correct answer.

To survive and to thrive, into your own mind you must go.

Go gently as a respectful observer.

You will know what to do when you are able to truly face what you find inside of yourself

even if it is only what you must do at this moment on this day.

In this wilderness, this lost place, you are safe dear one. You are safe and exactly where you should be although you did not plan it. Relax and breathe and as you are able to, explore this place honestly. It may hurt profoundly at times and that’s okay too. The key is to be honest with yourself, to embrace what you are even if it doesn’t fit what you think you want or what you expected or prepared to find.  Peace is found in accepting and working with what is. Here, in your own new world, to know the forest, you must first be brave enough to see the trees.

HS 8-13-2106