Written January, 2013
This morning I felt a familiar weight bear down on me, like an unwelcome blanket in the heat of summer. I woke up with it and knew today would be a fight. The cloudy brain, the anger at tiny annoyances, the ridiculous outlook on life that makes no rational sense but feels so real. Maybe it’s my hormones, maybe it’s because we’ve all been sick and stuck inside for a week, maybe it’s the winter blues, or maybe it’s a perfect storm of all three. No matter, it sucks.
“There’s a deep, dark river rising on the inside.” I heard that in a Matthew Perryman Jones song today and nodded my head. Yes. I could feel the river rising, I was trying to swim for the banks, but my arms and legs were useless in the cold water. I was sad, I was mean, I was the ugly version of me and I hated every second of it, but I couldn’t make it stop. I had to leave the house – my sweet family – and try to regroup. It frightens me when I feel like this. When I can’t reason my way out of a downer, can’t swing my arms fast enough at the moving target of my sinking emotions. When I feel so close to falling off the cliff.
I hate feeling depressed. Because you don’t know when relief will come, or if things will get worse before it does, or if every day after will be full of deep sorrow. The minutes drag on and hopelessness sets in. I have yet to lose a close friend or family member, so I’m sure I haven’t scratched the surface of true sadness, but I’ve felt enough of it to know I despise depression and fear it more than most things in this world.
The only good I see from sorrow (unwelcome, even so) is the wisdom a person can gain. I’ve witnessed it soften the hard-hearted, strengthen the weak, fill the judgmental with grace – mostly when the light at the end of the tunnel is somewhat visible. But many don’t make it that far. Some people become bitter or mean, and some get swallowed whole and never see the light at all. I’ve seen that, too, and I don’t want to end up there. If I have to suffer sadness, wisdom sounds like a better ending.
Once in Hawaii – yes, Hawaii of all places – I felt the weight of true depression for the first time. Marc and I were on vacation in Kauai. This was before kids and in-between a job change within the non-profit I worked for in L.A. It should have been a joyful trip, a mix of exciting discovery and welcome relaxation, but it followed a year of increasing sadness inside me. My funk reached it’s climax while I was in paradise. Terribly bad timing. It felt strange driving around in such beauty, the top of our rented convertible down, balmy breezes blowing through our hair, knowing I should be happy. But I wasn’t. I was sadder than any rational thinking could explain. A hole had slowly been dug in my heart for months and was now hitting bottom. In freaking Hawaii. I touched a hot plate at dinner one night and burst into tears that didn’t stop for fifteen minutes. We drove through Waimea Canyon one afternoon – like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, full of color and astounding views – and I cried the entire time. My whole body hurt. My brain felt cloudy. At times I couldn’t imagine not being sad.
I don’t remember when I started the climb back up to normal after our trip, but the worst was over. I remember that. Starting my new job was wonderful. I felt purpose again and was surrounded by co-workers instead of being isolated off-site. But it didn’t explain the total rebound I experienced. Maybe my hormones were out of whack. Maybe I needed a good cry over a hot plate. But whatever the reason for the descent and eventual return, I don’t want to go back. I have not worked through this one yet. I would be glad to never experience that hopelessness again, no matter what it teaches me or the great artistic material it provides.
I know that’s an impossibility, though. Like today’s weird state of mind, I will find myself in the dumps occasionally. Possibly for an extended period of time. But the good news is that each new day is exactly that. New. Thank goodness.
So really, this new year is full of promise. The light of it might be a tiny speck in the distance, but it is there. I may have to squint to make it out. I may have to pray and reach beyond my own brain for help. And I may need a few hours away from my sweet but loud children to write, ingest caffeine, and be alone. Today, they would all agree. I will certainly face a day like this one again, and I hate that. But at least I can remember that when my strength and reason and serotonin are gone, hope is not. As my mother and grandmother always say, “This too shall pass.” That’s wisdom gained from years of the same hard, sad stuff of life. The longer I live, the more I understand it’s quiet strength.